January 7, 2010

Volleyball Training Question

Hi coach,

Thanks for putting together a very informative and engaging blog. I recently read one of your older posts, entitled "Volleyball Training Styles", in which you mentioned some situations where you would change how you structured practice. I was curious about your belief that using the Latin style of training, which puts an emphasis on scrimmaging, during a heavy competition schedule would lead to a team playing flat in matches. Could you elaborate on how playing in practice negatively affects a team's match performance? At the high school level, after scouting our upcoming opponents, I've used situational scrimmages prior to big matches to prepare the team to exploit our opponent's weaknesses and defend against their strengths. In matches where we underperformed, I attributed our shortcomings to anxiety causing individual players to not play up to their potential. I'm now wondering if we scrimmaged too much and it led to our flat play.

Thanks, Greg

Glad you enjoy the site. As to your question, I am still trying to understand the phenomena (too strong a word but I can't figure out another) of team scrimmaging leading to flat play during matches. I have seen it happen too often to doubt its validity, but it is still somewhat of a mystery to me.

Some college programs will just play of the time. For instance, Coach Rose at Penn State has his teams in competitive scrimmage situations as their primary training regimen. This philosophy could be seen at the Final Four (which per NCAA business protocol, Women's Volleyball is not allowed to use this term!) team practice in Omaha; Penn State did a couple of warm up drills and went directly into competitive play. Back in the glorious past, when I played, we were in rotation or situational scrimmages as our practice main stay.

As apparent by results, the scrimmage practice philosophy has not been a detriment to Penn State and I could name any number of college programs which also rely heavily upon games in practice to increase abilities.

But, back to your question - Why and How does scrimmaging lead to flat match play.

My instincts lead me to a few reasons:

1) If a team is not 12 deep in comparative talent, the scrimmages will be one sided affairs. Even if you engage in wash drills which place extra burden upon the starters, they know they are better and will eventually win the scrimmage drill.

2) Practice scrimmages can be like going for a jog - Not competitive enough to really get the juices going, but just challenging enough to provide a little fool's gold about abilities. This false sense of team talent, can wreck havoc during a match and many teams will just fold it in, rather than fight through situations.

3) Playing a match is special. Think about giving a child candy. If a kid rarely gets a piece of candy, they are going to savor that sweetness. If you are always handing out candy to your kids, it loses its value because it is always there. Maybe the playing candy is being given out too much, so the players don't respond to it when the match comes around.

4) Scrimmages tend to focus upon team ability and don't focus upon player development (unless you specifically set up competitive situations and then force certain skill sets to be employed; this can be a tough thing to do in a practice environment). This repetition of set habits, can lead to a certain atrophy of the playing mind; easier to just do what I have always done and hope things turn out okay.

These are just some observations born of coaching and playing in both the Latin and Asian style of Volleyball training.

During a typical season, I tend to start with the Asian style to bring skill sets up to speed after the summer break (not all schools can afford summer school for each player and gym space dedicated to just volleyball pick up games), then I rapidly bring in the Latin style for the starting unit to get comfortable around each other with regards to serve receive and defensive rotations. As the season progresses, and we are playing in more matches, I will revert back to the Asian style. This is an effort to attain desired repetitions for skill maintenance, in a shorter and safer training regimen. Very rarely will I scrimmage late in a season, unless we have had an injury which mandated changes to player positions and/or a revamping of our rotations.

A last item of note - Using the Latin style is much easier on coaches than the Asian style. Blowing a whistle for serve or punching in a free ball is simpler than whacking rep after rep in a dig and dive drill.

Okay, one more last item of note - I think the more elite a team, the more it may be able to use scrimmages as its practice regimen. Elite teams tend to relish competition and have learned to use competition in a positive manner, whether it is unit versus unit or position versus position. Elite teams also understand that matches are a time of challenge and responsibility. They are very aware of their reputations and will raise their intensity to another level than in practice scrimmages.

I keep getting more ideas, so one more additional last item of note - Practice competition is comfortable; you know the opponents, you know the systems, you know the gym, you know the time of day, you know the referee (if any); it is comfortable for the players/team. Matches are usually not comfortable because of variables. Really good teams are comfortable with the variables of a match (comfortable being uncomfortable?) and confident in their abilities, while lesser teams are not. Being uncomfortable usually leads to a flat or going through the motions performance during a match. Lessor teams go from being comfortable in a scrimmage practice, a fools gold feeling, to being uncomfortable in a matches - This is a transition that will lead to under performing.

As you can read, I am still trying to get my Volleyball mind around this situation.

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