September 3, 2010

Volleyball Training Questions

Hey Coach..

First wanted to wish you luck with the upcoming season. Hope that all the pieces fall into place for you...

I have two technical questions for you, unrelated of course...

First, what kind of communication are you looking for out of your girls when the opponent has the ball.. as they pass, set, and attack?
anything specific you are asking your girls to communicate during each phase of the opponent's attack?

Second, I have noticed a trend in coaches referring to facing the target while passing... I have always believed one should face the direction the ball is coming from and use the angle of the arms to direct the ball.. what are your thoughts?

Oh.. and one more, just for fun! Whose the top recruit in the country this year?

Thanks - Loren

Well, I will need some luck this upcoming season as we suffered a couple of serious injuries opening weekend on completely random plays which I have not seen in my entire career - Sometimes the gods can be cruel when they take out your key players. Not a good thing to have to go into survival mode starting the second weekend of the year!!!! DARN!!!

Questions answered:

1) It has always floored me how players will talk, talk, talk about anything and everything at anytime and everytime, except when they step onto a Volleyball court. Convincing my team to communicate before, during and after plays is like getting a kindergartner to floss.

The communication sequence that I beg and plead for is rather simple:

Before the Play on Scoring - Each blocker must identify who their hitter is (each blocker has a hitter and sometimes the left side blocker will share a hitter with the middle blocker), along with determining if the opposing setter is front or back row. The back row players should confirm the location of the other setter. Some programs will have their blockers signal if they are blocking line/angle to the back row defenders, and obviously this is important.

Before the Play on Sideout - The setter must call/dictate the play/sets and confirm the attackers got the play. All passers must communicate about who will have the seam and/or short serve.

During the Play on Scoring - The end blockers must talk about what their hitters are doing; are they coming inside, are they staying outside, are they crossing, etc. If the ball gets past the block, then defenders should be calling mine, and the transition attackers must call out their attack sets to the setter. Also, the back row players should be letting the attacker know how many blockers and if a line or angle attack is open.

During the Play Sideout - Passers must immediately call mine/yours, middle attackers must call their sets to confirm to their setter they are available and outside hitters must talk if they are changing the play/set because of a bad pass or attack path problem.

After the Play - This is a key component of communication which I think gets overlooked. The attackers must communicate back with the setter if they were facing two blockers (not yelling at the setter for a bad set - 99.99% of setters know when they set a bad ball) or a blocker 'committed' to them. Passers must fix any seam balls that were a problem, defenders must confirm who has what zone if someone got out of position. Players can 'self-fix' by communication must faster than a coach trying to scream in changes from the sideline before the next serve whistle. Setters must talk to the hitters about their pattern or if the setter did not know they were available.

This sounds like a lot, but it is very simple and only takes seconds for each sequence with a team that understands how to communicate. Too many VolleyFolks confuse making noise for communication - Celebrating good plays is critical to building momentum, but just making noise does nothing but give your cousin a headache watching your team. By talking about specific responsibilities, by communicating nuances during a rally and self fixing, you can create the verbal energy that so many teams try to achieve by just making noise.

Cheerleader or rah rah teams are easy to beat if you put pressure upon them because all too often the noise is just facade. If you can get past the annoying decibels and don't become flustered on their momentum runs, the pressure will break them quicker than a team that is truly communicating and celebrating plays.

One of the best teams I ever coached against in executing this combination of communicating and celebrating was Penn State - No matter if they were playing a team ranked #2 or #200, they always did what was necessary and expected of them verbally. It was not abrasive or rude (all too common trait of mouthy or arrogant teams), but just efficient and positive. Even though we got whacked with a capital W, Penn State was sportsmanlike and it was actually a great help to my coaching skills.

2) Passing has become very complicated. In my mind, passing is geometry. I also believe that volleyball is a study in geometry and if I was smart enough not to be a Volleyball coach, I could have written a doctoral thesis on this. To this end, I have always felt that the passer faces the server/where the ball is coming from, then angles their platform in the direction they want the ball to go and the arms push forward towards the net upon playing the ball.

I DO NOT agree with turning the entire body to face the target, nor trying to swing or hook the platform to the target. I also DO NOT agree with the platform pull back technique recently and still(?) supported by USA Volleyball.

I have found that the more we keep things simple, the more effective they are (life and volleyball and salads). I want my passers to just shuffle left or right (no crossover steps), stop their feet before passing and try to keep the ball within the width of their hips (if possible), angle their passing platform towards the target and then push through the pass with their hands moving towards the net. If the body is stopped and stable, it is just small tilt of the shoulders to move the ball where you want.

3) Top recruit in the country is the one coming to play for me next August!!!!! I think of it more as the player being the luckiest player in the country to play for moi! OK - Enough of my overdeveloped ego.

I am at that level of competitive ability, location, conference affiliation that the super stud player on super duper club team is nothing but a waste of an e-mail. Better to sift through the loam of club volleyball to find that nugget and it is hard to sift when there is the roll call of Top 10 college coaches and their remora surrounding a court.

Easiest way to see the top recruit in the country is to wait until their freshman season is over and find out who was awarded freshman of the year. For so many years it was whoever Stanford 'selected', but with the rise of Penn State, Texas, Nebraska as national recruiting entities it makes things a bit less simple. Also, there is so much more elite level talent now versus 10 years ago. Just walk around club events to see these giants playing who can dive, roll, move, pass like a Libero but are 6'3" - I can remember when 6'3" could barely walk and chew gum.

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