July 15, 2008

Basic Volleyball

It is now the camp season in college volleyball - a slight lull between the recruiting season and the fall season. During this summer session of volleyball, I get the chance to work with high school and junior high age volleyball players.

As a sports fan, one of the criticisms that I have heard about college men's basketball is the departure from the basic skill of basketball. College coaches and broadcasters express their frustrations about so many high school age players not having a grasp of the basic skill sets - Yes, these players can fly through the air and slam dunk the ball, but they may not be able to execute a jump stop and pass.

This observation can be applied for too many high school volleyball players - we have focused too much on hitting and have lost some of the basic skills in volleyball. I really can't blame the athletes as they are just the product of the coaching. At the high school level, it even goes deeper than being a product of the coaching, but rather a product of the hiring. Too many high school athletic departments, in regions of the country where volleyball is not part of the athletic fabric of the community, are just looking to hire someone to coach volleyball - High school athletic departments are not looking to hire volleyball coaches. I hear horror stories from campers and players about how their high school coach has no idea about volleyball and was told weeks before the season that, "Congratulations, you the new volleyball coach".

Again I ask, as in other posts, would parent's of football or basketball players allow a high school athletic department to hire a coach who has zero experience playing or coaching the sport? No - but we allow it to happen in our sport.

But, back to my post title - Basic Volleyball. I absolutely believe that players will enjoy playing volleyball more and produce better post high school volleyball opportunities by focusing on the basics of volleyball.

The basics:

1. Passing/Serve Receive - Whether it is the National Team or Northside Junior High, if you can't pass, nothing else matters as a team. As a player, if you can pass, there will always be a spot for you on the team.

2. Serving - With the change over to rally score (a dark day in volleyball), serving is critical. Not only serving the ball over the net, but having the correct technique to serve the ball over the net in pressure situations and to serve specific zones when needed.

3. Setting - I almost think the change in the setting rules is a reaction by the referee's association to not have to call all the bad sets in volleyball. I am amazed by how many players cannot set a volleyball cleanly or to a hitter.

4. Defense - Rally score volleyball is a game of who can make the least amount of mistakes, versus who can make the most amount of good plays. When players are not able to dig and roll, cannot control the speed or direction of an attack and are not able to move away from the starting position or read an attack, this is not good.

5. Blocking - Remember that this is the first line of defense. If the block has no idea what it should be doing, then the back row is just winging it.

6. Hitting - Even though this seems to be what everyone wants to do, it is really not being done correctly. Too many players are 'goofy-foot' or have backwards footwork, too many players do not broad jump when they attack, too many players have a very poor arm swing.

When high school and junior high players go off to camp, please focus upon the basics. If you are struggling with your passing skills, then learn how to pass correctly. If your serve is unpredictable, then focus on making that better. You cannot control who the athletic department may hire, but since you are paying for a volleyball camp, you can determine what you are going to achieve within this camp.

If a player can pass, can set, can serve and play defense, then there will always be a spot on the volleyball court for them - high school or college. Kids that can hit the ball hard are everywhere. Kids that are volleyball players are rare. There are plenty of athletes that play volleyball, but a diminishing few that are volleyball players.

For instance, I can play golf, but I am no means a golfer.

In a broader sense, I can surmise that this is why there may be such an influx in international players into college volleyball, along with college basketball. These international kids have learned or have been taught within a system that espouses the basics of the sport. In my experience, by and large, the average international player is more complete than the average American player. Why do you think so many college programs have international players on the roster? It is because they are better.

I believe that if you sent out a survey, asking college coaches that if they had a choice between two exact skill ability players and one was American and one was an International, who would they choose; I absolutely believe the American kid would be overwhelmingly picked. But the reality is that the international players are more complete.

In sports like tennis and golf, the same argument is made but is magnified by the sheer absence of women's basketball, women's golf, cheerleading, softball, etc., in Europe and South America which has created larger numbers of players for tennis and golf. I think this is why you see college rosters that are almost all international.

Volleyball is a tough game to coach. Coaches must be committed and knowledgeable. I have coached a few sports (not at the college level) and volleyball demands much more focus in practice. Too many inexperienced or lazy coaches just scrimmage all the time; scrimmaging is fun, it is easy and the players like it, but scrimmaging does not teach technique or target specific areas that can be improved.

For those parents and players that may read this post, please learn the basic game of volleyball. Focus on learning how to play the sport, focus on how to execute each skill, focus on being a volleyball player, not someone who plays volleyball.