I came across this in a Facebook group:

Last weekend I saw this coach yell at her kids non-stop about not “talking”. They were in a 3 person receive pattern and would give away 6+ points away to short balls almost every rotation. Her solution to passing was “move closer”. Good thing the kids couldn’t serve deep or she wouldn’t have scored a point!

My question is this; In any other sport (basketball, football, soccer) even if pros play one way (three point shots in basketball or the jet sweep in football) lower levels know to train and play differently. Why is volleyball missing so much? Is it because we are too big and not enough coaches to go around? Not enough mentors ? Do coaches turn on Olympic Games and then try to teach their teams that offense/defense? In this 4 team pool two other teams were similar. Doing stuff that no way the kids could accomplish yet getting yelled at by the coach.

Of course the first thing that jumps out of this post is how the coach in question is yelling at the kids for not talking. I address the talking bit here. No need to address it further at this point. So let’s concentrate on the main focus. That’s teams using systems brought in from higher levels of play.

Game structure

The poster mentions other sports where lower levels don’t play the same way as the pros. I would push back a little bit there. In those sports there are often different rules in use at lower levels. In some case they are quite noticeable. Other times they are more subtle, but still impactful.

It is probably true that especially in the US there isn’t a lot of structural difference between levels of play. Yes, there are lower nets at younger ages, but the court is the same size. And aside from some variation in substitution numbers, the rest of the rules are basically the same top to bottom.

This contrasts meaningfully with other parts of the world. I talk about that in this post on youth volleyball structures.


The poster – I think quite rightly – brings up the question of coaching. Do we have too many teams and not enough coaches? Anyone who’s worked at the juniors level – probably just about anywhere – will tell you the lack of quality youth coaches is a perpetual problem.

What this means is we have A LOT of youth teams coached by extremely inexperienced coaches. A common example of this is current college players coaching for juniors clubs. They have little training, if any, so they naturally go with what they know. And what they know is how they play. Not surprising that they then teach that.

And yes, there are definitely coaches who look at what higher level teams do and try to emulate them without thinking about the actual capabilities of their squad. I am all for coaches not putting limits on what their players can do. That’s different, though, than trying to have them do things they don’t yet have the physical capability to perform effectively. Or putting them in a structure that doesn’t allow them to develop well-rounded skills.

It comes down to management

Ultimately, my issue with situations like this is in the failure of management at the youth levels of our sport – especially in the US. We don’t have a good structure in place for young player development (e.g. smaller courts, smaller teams), and we’re not doing a good enough job training and developing the coaches working with those kids. Lots of room for improvement in both areas.

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John Forman
John Forman

John is currently the Talent Strategy Manager (oversees the national teams) and Indoor Performance Director for Volleyball England, as well as Global Director for Volleyball for Nation Academy. His volleyball coaching experience includes all three NCAA divisions, plus Junior College, in the US; university and club teams in the UK; professional coaching in Sweden; and both coaching and club management at the Juniors level. He's also been a visiting coach at national team, professional club, and juniors programs in several countries. Learn more on his bio page.

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