September 29, 2010

Volleyball Team Chemistry

I am dealing with an unusual problem. I am a Coach at a small D3 women's volleyball program. Typically we carry a roster of around 10-12 young ladies, however this year we are carrying 20. Thus far my staff has been diplomatic concerning lineup, the best players have been earning their respective positions. However now that we are past the introductory weekend tournaments and experimental lineups, we have to acknowledge the issue of team chemistry.

I am a firm believer that every player should be able to succeed in every possible lineup despite player preference. Much to the distress of our team we are blessed with depth and ability to substitute at a moment's notice. Do you have any advice as how to assimilate on court chemistry between players who are constantly competing for a starting position?

Thanks - M.B.

As soon as I read "20" players, red flags went up for me. I have also been in situations where we carried a larger roster and no matter how much talent or lack of talent a player may have, they will not be content/happy/satisfied about sitting on the bench. I am at the point now, where I will not carry more than 14 ever, and I would prefer only 10 (but the Volleygods don't bless us with injury/sickness free seasons).

Unfortunately you have presented what I feel is the biggest challenge with team chemistry - How to manage players who either have the skill to start, or believe they have the skill to start and keep the team moving in a positive direction.

To this end, I would have three suggestions -

1. Be absolutely honest and straight forward with the team; no rah rah or heart of a champion or any bad sports movies propaganda, but rather spell out the fact that when you have more than 7 talented players, then players will not play as much as they want.

2. Base your playing time decisions on statistics - stats don't lie and it allows you to remove any misconceptions of personal favorites (coach likes seniors better than juniors, coach likes players from the north better than the south, etc.) and award starting positions and first of the bench positions based on stats; use match time stats and have your staff keep stats in all scrimmage situations.

3. If you have two players that are absolutely dead even in ability, then alternately start them in matches. I did this one year when I had two opposite players which were really equal and I could not reward one without punishing another via starting. What I did was meet with them, tell them they were even and I was going to alternate start them in matches. Now, if one of them had a bad match or was struggling, I would substitute for that match, but it would not change the alternate match start protocol.

A few other observations:

- Rally score does not really allow for effective substituting during a game because of the limited points (as opposed to sideout scoring), plus players start to look over their shoulder if they make a mistake or two and will start playing with fear. If you make a sub, I tend to do it in between games so the sub has a chance to get warm and ready mentally.

- If you are balanced and deep with talent, do not be afraid to make changes even when you are winning (tough to do for any coach - that is why you see Nebraska still running their starters when they are blowing out teams and there is NO WAY they could lose the match, even with their walk on freshman playing). Go ahead and make change in your MB position to play someone who deserves some playing time, or your OH or your OP. Once again, you need to make sure your team understands you have depth and you want to make sure players are playing - This may also fit with the DIII model as promoted by the NCAA. The more that play, the more are happy.

- Don't hesitate to bring the hammer down - Talk softly and carry the big stick. The big stick is letting the players know that you will NOT TOLERATE selfishness and the quickest way off the team is to pout or have a bad attitude because of playing time. When I took over my current team, I had players that were more concerned with parties than being volleyball players. After I had let them know what I expected of them as DI Volleyball players, I cut a player who blatantly ignored my philosophy of partying being last on the to do list - This sent a clear message to the rest of the team and we have not had any other issues.

Just a few things which have worked for me - The easiest answer for next year is to only carry 12-14 players.

Good luck.

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