February 26, 2010

Volleyball Practice/Training Suggestions

Great blog, absolutely love what you're doing (even though I'm more involved in the men's game!)

My question is this. As the manager\player for a D1 collegiate Men's club team, our first 5 practices this semester have been pretty flat. We have a great balance between drills and scrimmaging, talented players and GREAT motivation (Weird seeing as flatness is our problem).

We have VERY limited court time and have to combine our A and B team practices, thus we have about 20 guys at each practice. We start with a drill called pacific (down balls down the line, passed to a setter at the net who sets the passer for another line hit, then passer goes to down ball) then move to triples, hitting lines, defensive drills which let hitters swing on our D/s's, scrimmage based drills (sometimes wash) then full on scrimmage.

Sounds like a good balance, but every missed serve or hitting the ball into the net just seems to deflate our practice intensity, which we struggle to recover and motivational sideline yelling just turns into frustrated "Come on guys!" How can we make our practices more effective and keep everyone happy? They range from 90 minutes to 2 1/2 hours. Thanks, Kendall

You are stuck with a challenging training situation in that you have limited time and a large number of players on the court. Unfortunately for you, the players are a combination of an A and B team, thus the talent level can drop noticeably from the 1st to the 2nd level. Volleyball is such a team oriented sport, that one player who is not at a comparable talent level with the rest of the team can be a 'drill kill'.

By your example, you are using more of the Latin Style of volleyball in which players manage the drills (deep court ball control team pepper, attacking at defensive players, etc.), but you have included your lesser players in these drills, thus the odds of these type of drills being sustainable are not plausible.

If you intend to stay with the Latin Style (which most men's teams employ), then you need to separate your A and B teams. The A team will better equipped to run the type of drills you are using and will benefit more from these drills without the B team involved - Too many drill kills on the B team. It would be better to take a 2 hour block of time, tell the players to be warmed up before stepping on the court and give the A team 1 hour and the B team 1 hour. They can do the same exact drills and while the B team may flatten out in development because they are not being pushed by the A team, there is a reason the B team is called the B team. Don't let the development of the B team become more important than the competitive ability of the A team.

As a younger coach, I was too caught up in the 'weakest link' mentality in developing a team. You know the old adage from coaches that says your team is only as good as the Weakest Link. Because of this, I used to spend a bunch of time/effort trying to get our weaker players up in ability, trying to make our Weakest Link not so weak. The golf coach and I were talking shop one day, and he explained how he used to subscribe to the Weakest Link theory but moved away from that when he realized (in golf at least) that you don't win because of your Weakest Link not being weak, but rather your best players being great. In golf, some players have the ability to 'go low', to shoot really low golf scores, and these players are the ones who empower a golf team to win tournaments. The golf coach realized that his teams were going to win because two of the top players went low (they had the ability to shoot low scores), not because a weaker player played well (playing at their best, they still could not go low). After coming to this conclusion, he shifted his training/attention focus from the weaker players to the stronger players. In golf, the players are rated 1 through 6 (as I understand it), so the coach gave just enough attention to keep players 3-6 moving forward, but he made sure that the top 3 golfers were constantly being challenged, coached and empowered to shoot low scores.

When I looked at this from a volleyball view point, I think it held a lot of value. Volleyball teams win consistently because the better players play very well, not because the weaker players put together good games. We win because the #1 OH hits .350 every match, not because the #2 MB is able to suddenly put together a match of hitting .250 when her usual line is .100. Not every team has Penn State's luxury of having talented players in every position, so when Hodge only achieves a .125 attack percentage, there are 4 other hitters who are at .300 to fill the gap. Too many other teams must have their #1 OH and their #1 MB at .300 to win, no matter if the other players are hitting positive or negative.

Back to your team, you must focus on your #1's and not let the #2's bring down the drills.

If you get into a court time situation where you cannot separate the A and B team, then I suggest you shift your training to more of an Asian Style. More small group training and coach directed drills. For instance, instead of over the net pepper where one mistake can shut down the drill for 8 people, put the players into 2 and 3 person pepper with rotating partners every few minutes - the ability to play good pepper is very underrated; if you can't master 2 or 3 person regular pepper, then it is fruitless to move onto anything else. Also, use basic hitting lines, but dictate where the hitters need to attack the ball - You can create line/angle hitting challenges without it being a drill kill situation. Think more in terms of breaking down the game into very small parts, where the coach implements the ball, thus allowing the players to achieve a limited, but important, skill improvement.

In team situations, I strongly suggest you stay away from just playing games. A versus B will not be constructive because A will just coast to the win. You don't want to mix the teams, because this will not help the A players get better. I think that using wash games or rotation drills (have your A team in rotation 1 defense and then punch an easy free ball to the B team so they can put together a solid attack to make your A team better) are better situations to provide the on court full team training desired. You can make the B team 'better' by creating easy situations for them to manage (thus presenting a better challenge to the A team), or you can create very tough situations for the A team by a multi-ball wash drill that demands concentration and performance no matter if they are playing a B team or the Biology department (known for being bad volleyball players on any campus).

The last thing you need to worry about is keeping everyone happy. Your job is to develop good training situations which make your teams better while focusing on what is most important. If the players are happy that is a bonus, but if the drills do not make them happy or they are not having fun (but your team is getting better), then they should join the YMCA and just play in recreation or church leagues.

Good luck!

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