June 14, 2011

Young Volleyball Team Talent


I stumbled onto your website and enjoy reading but it seems light years away from where I am.

I realize this is a little out of your target demographic, but any insight you could add would be great.

I coach my daughter's middle school age team (she is in 7th grade, other girls are 6-8th). They are mostly beginner's to advanced beginners and would not yet make the local Club teams (which are very high level in our area).

I have 10 girls on our team and we play 3 game matches to 21.  Our rules allow "regular" subbing (unlimited as long as you stay "in position") or "continuous rotation" where all the girls rotate in an out of a designated spot (I usually have them come in Left Front and exit Left Back).

The girls are not skilled enough yet to "specialize" by position (S, OH, MH, etc) and I believe in giving them all the opportunity to play each position.  I don't think they are ready yet to handle position switches at serve or serve receive yet either.  We play a "modified" 4-2 with the setter setting from Right Front.

In figuring my lineup, I have divided the 10 into 4 groups by general ability and tried to stagger them so that we can be competitive. So for example I have 3 "A" players, 3 "B" , 3 "C" and 1 "D".  I mentally define these as:

A: all-around athletic ability/hustle, fairly consistent serve receive, some hitting or blocking ability, consistent serve
B: slightly less of above, more inconsistent in serve receive and serve
C: sporadic serve receive and serving ability but still will take notes from coach
D: inconsistent volleyball ability, doesn't even try to make corrections when given directions, at times on court acts like she doesn't even want to be there

Trying to be balanced, I usually have a lineup something like this

Since I want (and philosophically agree with) the idea of giving players at this level equal playing time, I take the "ordering" above and move the rotation around based "roughly" on who served well in our last match (I keep some rudimentary counts for "in" serves).  That person is my first server.  I do that for my first game and then carry the rotation through for the 2nd and 3rd games based on where we stopped in the previous game.

My quandary is that I have never had my "best" 6 players (As and Bs) on the court in a match at the same time.  And my strongest players also get a little frustrated always being next to the weaker players.

I have toyed with the idea of changing my order to something like "A A A B B B C C C D" but worry that we could get into the "B B C C C D" rotation and never get out of it.

I have also thought about doing some creative subbing: Go "regular" subbing and keep my A players in all the time and sub in all the others either front-row/back-row or one rotation around the court.

Or maybe play whole games together: 1st game A's & B's, 2nd game B's and C's, 3rd game A's, D, and B's.

My worry with some of these is that if I did some of those things, it would be pretty obvious to all (parents and girls) how I'm splitting and where they "rate".  I may be deluding myself but I don't think its quite as obvious how I rate the girls abilities in the way I'm currently doing it.  Also, keeping track of "equal" playing time would be more difficult.

We are doing OK in the league (4th out of 10, playing above .500) and I am seeing improvement in most of the players.

Is my competitive instinct just getting the best of me?  Should I just leave well enough alone?

Coach Dad

First of all, let me express my appreciation for how focused you are on creating a good Volleyball team by taking an analytical view of the skills of your players and how to place them within rotations for individual and team success.

What you are doing is exactly how you should be handling the matches given your talent level.  If you were coaching a varsity team in high school, where winning may be a bit more of an objective, then I could see loading up a few rotations with your studs to maximize point scoring opportunities.  As you may know, a 25 (or 21 points in your case) point game has a finite number of rotations which allows for some players to be in critical spots more often than some other players.

If you start loading up your rotations or platooning the players by skills, you could well create an obvious reflection of where you 'rank' each players and I believe you would be creating unwanted drama with the players/parents.

I encourage you to continue the system you have created, as I believe it is very well suited to the idea of equal playing time at a young age and allowing developing players to gain court time.  You have the age group where there will be a few players who have the Volleyball coordination to excel, but there will also be many other players who are still trying to get all of their Volleyball parts moving together at one time.  You will have a number of B's which will only become A's because you got them on the court when they were still raw.

The last thing I will say, is stay focused on your practice opportunities to develop talent, build confidence and gain some touches for players who may never seen large amounts of time on the court. Volleyball is a tough game to coach because all the work must be done in practice.  Match time Volleyball, under rally score, is more of a matter of setting your line-up rotation (which you have done) and then making small tactical adjustments or quick skill reminders while the rotation wheel spins. 

Practice is where you will make the biggest improvements to continue lifting skill sets and making those B's and C's a bit less behind the natural A's.

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