September 22, 2010

In Season Coaching Advice

Each summer I do a number of camps with high schools in my greater region and I encourage the coaches to contact me if they need any advice or assistance during the season. Below is an email I just received from a coach who is basically starting up a program and trying to build where nothing has existed before - I thought some of the issues/advice might apply to other coaches who are trying to manage their teams through the season.

Hi Coach:

Well, our year started out very well.

We had a scrimmage in August and played very well, matter of fact several coaches asked us if this was the same team........

It was great to hear that.

Then we had a Jamboree and did not play well at all.

Our first game was September 1, and we won all three games. The kids were so pumped and excited. It was awesome. It was the first time we had won all three.

Thennnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn we have had 3 matches since and lost all of them......

Then sorta gave up before starting - Kids giving up during the game...asking why they were taken out of the game...."what did I do wrong?"....crying on the bench.

I have been very disappointed with them.

So I wanted to let you know where we were and I told them I was going to email you with our recent results of our games.

Any words of advise I will be open ears.

Thanks, CR

What you have expressed is typical of building and establishing a program - I could have written the SAME EXACT thing during my first year here.

A few things which I have found worked for me in your situation:

1. The key to winning is winning the serve-pass battle. To this end, make sure you are practicing passing, even when you don't think you need to practice passing. Practicing serving is fun and easy, but it is the ability to consistently pass the ball to your setter which is key to winning. Remember that you can practice passing by also doing ball control drills; it does not necessarily mean passing serves.

The matches we have lost this year is when we lost the serve pass battle.

2. Work hard to develop the team mentality of forcing the other team to make mistakes - The longer you can keep the ball in play, the more you force the other team to touch the ball, the more successful you will be. Rally score volleyball is won by the team which makes the least amount of mistakes, NOT the team which makes the most amount of great plays. I constantly tell me team to make GOOD plays, not great plays. A good play is hitting the ball in, even if it is not powerful or a kill. A good play is serving the ball 5 times in a row for points, even if the server never gets an ace. You have to constantly tell your team to make positive, not spectacular plays - I do every day, every match and mine are NCAA DI players!!!

3. With success comes ego - Last year we experienced a record setting year for our program, especially considering how unreal awful we were the year before. But, I still had 2 to 3 players moaning about playing time, wondering why they were not it; just focused on individual feelings instead of team karma. You need to be supportive, but stern. Talk softly and carry a big stick - If you explain your philosophy and are consistent with your behavior, and a player still is selfish, then they need to go. No one person, including the coach, is bigger than the team.

4. Playing time, et al. College coaches use statistics as a way to illustrate why one player is not playing over another, or why a substitution was made. Unfortunately, high school probably does not provide ready time stats or post match box scores. What you can do is have a manager or someone decently detailed keep two sets of statistics; one for hitting percentage and one rating passing; both are easy.

Hitting: Write the names of the hitters down one side of the paper and next to their name along the line on the paper, the stat person will put a + if they got a kill (clean spike the ground, dug out of bounds or off the block for a kill), a 0 if they got dug or it was blocked/covered, and a - if the ball was hit out of bounds, into the net or blocked back and not covered. At the end of a match, each attacker should have something which looks like this: Mary: - + + + 0 - 0. To determine the hitting percentage, take the kills (+) minus the errors (-) and divide by the total number of attempts. In the example with Mary, 3 kills minus 2 errors divided by 7 total attempts (0's just count as attempts), so Mary's attack percentage is .142. Hitting percentages are like batting averages in baseball - .400 is all world, .150 is ok, .000 is poor and -.000 is bad.

Passing: Write the names of the passers on the lower part of the paper and sometimes players will be listed in each category. If the passer makes a good pass to the setting zone then they get a +, if the passer makes a pass around the 10' line and the setter can only set a high outside ball then they get a 0, and if the passer gets aced, shanks it out of bounds or over the net they get a -. At the end of the match, the passers will have the same look of +,0,- along a row like the attackers. But, it is easier to add a numeric value to the passers: 2 for +, 1 for a 0 and 0 for a -. So using the same numbers for Mary passing: - + + + 0 - 0 it would be 8 points (6 p for +'s, 2 p for 0's) divided by 7 attempts; this rates out to 1.14 passing average (remember 2.0 is perfect and 0.0 is the worst possible) - We look to push our passers up to the 1.5 range and that is tough.

Having this statistical information will allow you to tell Betty that she was taken out of the game because she was hitting .025 or that you substituted for Kim because she was passing a .50. Numbers provide the basis for making changes, assuming you have substitutes who can possibly do better.

Another suggestion I have is to NOT substitute during a game, but to wait if possible until in between games. The reason why is that rally score games move very quickly and the odds of a player coming in from the bench and being successful in the middle of the game is not very high. If you know you have to make a change, do it in between games when the substitute has an extra minute or so to get moving and get the blood pumping. Plus, there is a huge embarrassment factor when you substitute in volleyball during a game; all the fans know that Mary got pulled out. It is not like basketball, where players are used to going out for a couple of minutes to grab a breather - Volleyball only makes subs if you are killing a team or player is playing terrible.

Lastly, remember the Tom Hanks/Geena Davis movie League of Their Own, when Hanks says, "there's no crying in baseball!"? That should be the same mantra for your team - No matter how upset a player is, no matter how bad the team may feel after a loss, there is no crying in Volleyball until the locker room.

Good luck and the most important thing I can stress to you is to keep training to build skill ability. The better my players, the better I seem to be as a coach. Don't get caught up in the wins and losses right now, you are building something which takes a tremendous effort to lay a foundation - Coaching Volleyball is hard. Keep working on all the basic skill groups and don't worry too much on team play - Once the players understand their positions and rotations, it can actually be counter productive to spend time scrimmaging; better to use that time passing, pass and attack, serve and pass, pepper drills, blocking footwork patterns, etc.


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