September 9, 2016

How to play volleyball

Yes, this is the post that you have been waiting for - I will convey to all my VolleyFamilies and VolleyCritters how to successfully play the great sport of indoor volleyball (and outdoor for that matter....).

Winning in volleyball is a function of not making mistakes versus making great plays.  This has been illustrated in the Rio Olympics.  If a player does their job, then the team will be successful - A player's job is not dynamic plays, it is fulfilling their practiced responsibilities.  If they are a Libero, then they need to be consistent in passing; not perfect balls every time, but rather, consistent passes without giving up aces.  The setter needs to deliver a hittable ball to the best hitter, and not try to set a slide from 13' off the net.  Players doing their jobs, being consistent, leads to team success.

When Jennings and Ross lost in the Olympic Beach semi finals, the first thing that Kerri said was she passed terrible and that you have to serve receive to win.  Her mistakes cost them the win.

The USA women lost the semi finals in the 5th set after overpassing a free ball, attacking the ball into the net and missing a serve after reaching 11 points.  Their basic skill mistakes cost them the match.

This focus on not making mistakes is paramount to volleyball success because going on massive point runs, after making mistakes is very difficult.  When you give your opponent a large lead because of mistakes, they have an advantage because rally score allows teams to finish the match by playing average to poor with a sizable lead.

I do understand, that there are unique opportunities for players to step up and make plays to secure the win.  Look at the Italian men's player, Zaytsev; he went on a tremendous serving run late in a game four against the USA Men's team with 3 aces in 5 serves.  That is the outlier and not to be expected but too many players believe that making great players is critical to success.

This emphasis on not making mistakes can be heard throughout volleyball; get a zero pass, hit the ball in, cover the hitter, don't miss your serve, make a hittable set, etc.

As a young player develops, they need to focus on consistent skills with the boring stuff and not get caught up trying to be good at the fancy stuff.  Passing is boring but is critical to winning.  Float serving is boring but is critical to winning.  Attacking the ball in the court to extend rallies is boring but critical to winning.

I see this "let's do the exciting thing" mentality from the players in the many summer camps I conduct each summer.  The coaches want me to work on consistency while the players want to work on the big plays.  The big plays are fun, but they don't help you win.  A big play can put a team over the top, but the team will only get in a possible "over the top" position after being consistent with their skills.

When it comes to college volleyball recruiting, the coaches who are heads of successful programs evaluate recruits and current players on their consistency.  While the big name programs get those big dynamic players, all college coaches are aware of how consistently the player performs the skill sets.   The college coach has their recruiting eye focused on potential (can this recruit potentially be a successful player on my team?) but they also know that one great play is not worth five bad routine plays.

The cut-throat programs will bring in a dynamic player and if she is not consistent after a year of training, they release the player.  This unfortunate protocol has led to a big increase in the number of college transfers each year; as I have written about many times, it is easier to recruit and cut, than it is to train and develop.

A challenge which young players and parents must manage is the fitness industry pressure - Camps for jumping high, speed camps, fitness clinics, etc.  While there can be a definite benefit for this type of dynamic training, my head spins when I hear about parents putting their 8th and 9th graders into these camps.  8th graders need to be more concerned with ball control than jumping high.  

We get so caught up in the icing and forget to bake the cake. 

A thousand passes will make a player better than a thousand box jumps.  Go play doubles on the sand, go play triples in an open gym, go pepper with Aunt Edna (who gets the reference?), set the ball against the wall to a specific spot for 15 minutes, etc. 

Become good at what you are supposed to be good at; don't focus on being great at a younger age because that leads to basic volleyball mistakes which will negatively impact your team and your college volleyball recruiting evaluation.

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