November 1, 2009

More Pepper Please!

No, not on your food - In your volleyball!

I have started having my team play a lot more pepper in practice recently and I feel we have increased our overall ball control. Pepper is a drill which I feel has become overlooked as a valuable tool to improve a series of skills.
Some of the things I like about Pepper:

- It allows for a high number of repetitions in a short time frame.

- The risk of injury is minimal.

- It encourages the development of hitting, defensive posture, diving/rolling, setting and ball control.

- There are many, many variations of pepper to keep things fresh.

- The coach can observe and instruct, instead of having to implement.

- There is no jumping impact (on most variations).

- It is easy on the shoulder since it is a controlled hit.

As we have gravitated towards the Asian style of volleyball in the USA, we have become more focused on coach directed/dictated/implemented drills. To this end, the volleyball players are losing the benefits of extra touches since practice make-up is geared towards controlled sequences or situations.

One quick measure of a team's ability is their pepper. When I took over my current program, we could not play pepper consistently - It was pass, set, hit, shank - Nor could we win. When you see a team that plays traditional doubles pepper and the ball rarely touches the ground, then this is a team to respect.

I think part of the demise of pepper as a training tool has to do with club volleyball training. Many times I will watch a club team's warm-up and it is like a popcorn machine - balls are flying everywhere. Pepper is the most basic ball control skill and should be mastered very early in the volleyball career. But, it takes time to get good at pepper and all too often, club coaches move immediately into other drills during practice (and college coaches for that matter!).

This could easily be attributed to a coach wanting to concentrate on other skill groups with limited time on the court, or that pepper is viewed as too basic and the parents want to see other action during training - I don't know exactly why, but I suggest that not enough pepper drills are being used during practice. If a team can't play good pepper, then passing, defense and transition attacks will all suffer.

There are so many variations of Pepper:

- 2 Person: Called pepper (coach dictates touch sequence), traditional (dig, set, hit), dig-tip, dig-roll shot, dig-hit, dig-set-hit, dig-set-roll shot, dig-set-hit, two hits-two digs in row, three hits-three digs in a row, overhead pepper (no digging, just setting digs), dig to yourself and set the hitter 4 times and switch, etc.

- 3 Person: Person in the middle sets one hitter entire time from digs from 3rd person, middle person sets who digs, middle person back sets who digs, two or three hit-digs in a row from the setter, doubles dig-set (two players next to each other dig-set to the one hitter), hit follow your attack and set the player who dug and replace her while she hits and sets the 3rd player, etc.

- 4 Person: Two pairs side by side with one player digging to the partner who sets the digger who attacks back to the other pair, traditional pepper with 4 people (focuses on communicating since not every player will touch the ball each sequence), etc.

If you are a coach, please put a lot more pepper on that practice dish and if you are a player, sometime the best thing you can do to improve or stay sharp is to just play pepper with a friend.

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