Teach Your Volleyball Team to “Get the Pancake”

I realized something this weekend; I have not written a post which discusses my blog’s namesake! So without further ado, here is how to teach your players to pancake a volleyball!

Teach Your Volleyball Team to "Get the Pancake"

A pancake is one of the greatest game-changing moves which can be found in the sport of volleyball. When a team is able to execute this skill properly, a great deal of excitement is usually generated. Especially if you are able to sideout or win the point, your team’s energy will spike, guaranteed!

What is a pancake? A pancake is when a player flattens their hand against the ground before the ball makes contact in that exact same spot. The purpose? To keep the ball alive. The challenge? Timing, placement, and guts. You won’t pancake the ball when it is coming straight at you. That’s the time to pass. Even a ball off to the side can usually be saved by diving, throwing an arm out, and popping the ball back into play before rolling.

READ MORE: Reverse Engineer Your Volleyball Season

A pancake is usually performed when the ball is dropping fast and the only option to keep it alive is to sacrifice your body and reach as far as you can, hoping to create enough bounce off of your flattened hand that your teammates can get the ball back into play.

This move is relatively rare. Even with players who have been trained to get the pancake, the opportunity does not arise very often. This is part of what makes pancakes so special. It takes a great player to recognize the opportunity and go for it. But this skill is often overlooked. Why spend valuable practice time teaching your girls to pancake when they could be working on serve receive?

This skill is a game changer, and without reviewing how to do a pancake (especially at the younger ages) you are not preparing them for higher level volleyball. It may be more of a mental thing, but I make sure to teach this skill (or at least review) with every team I coach.

Physical Aspects of a Pancake:

The Dive

The dive is essential, because if you are not diving, you do not need to pancake the volleyball. When you first teach younger players how to pancake the ball, they will probably try to do this move at inappropriate times. Praise their effort to implement new skills they are learning, but correct them on proper time to use the skill. Pancakes are most often executed when needing to move forward quickly, but can occasionally be done when diving to the side. The most important part of diving is to do so safely and to push through the dive rather than fall and try to catch themselves. Younger players are not always the most graceful, so move slowly through this part.

The Reach

Pancakes are great because you can use either hand to pop the ball up. As long as you have enough coordination to place your hand under the ball, you can use your non-dominant hand. Players may be tempted to lead with their dominant hand, but teach the skill using both hands so that your team is comfortable diving in either direction. It is important that the hand stays flat and slightly pressed to the ground so that the ball doesn’t bounce off their knuckles at a weird angle. It also reduces the likelihood of an injury.

READ MORE: Pre-Made Volleyball Practice Plan: Learning Setting and Attacking

The Recovery

After a pancake, it is important to get up and out of the way. Since a pancake only bounces the ball a few feet off the ground, teammates will swarm to the area to play the next contact. Teach your players to a) roll out of a sideways dive and hurry out of there, and b) jump up and away from the nearest teammate following a forward dive. This helps the rest of the team understand who is going to play the next ball. While it is very exciting to get a pancake, it is important to finish out the rally. By getting up quickly and getting back to their position on the court, they increase the chances of winning the point and generating a ton of momentum.

Mental Aspects of a Pancake:

Determination

In order to get the pancake, you have to really, really, REALLY want that ball! Players must be 100% focused on the game and eager to defend their side of the net. Without this determination to keep the ball alive, your team will probably not generate many (if any) pancakes during a match. Your liberos and DS’s are the players most likely to want the ball that badly, but it really depends on the person.

Sacrifice

This builds on top of determination. If you’re not determined to get the ball, there’s no way you’re going to throw yourself on the ground to save it. Players have to be a little bit crazy to want to go all out for the ball, but that is what makes them great athletes. They have to know that it is ok to fail. Pancakes aren’t always successful. They have to know that their attempt will be appreciated, otherwise they will not go for it. Sacrifice is as much about the player as it is about the team culture.

Trust

Trust is important both before and after a pancake. Before a pancake, a player needs to believe that their attempt to go for the pancake will be rewarded, no matter the outcome. They also need to believe that their team will make the effort to get the ball after it is saved. If the player does not think their team will move to get the ball, what’s the point in going for it? Likewise, after a pancake attempt they need to know that they will not get trampled while trying to recover from their dive. Front row players who do not trust their back row often turn and run into defenders who are in position to make a play on the ball. Teach your front row to believe in their defense so that these types of collisions do not happen.

READ MORE: Are you a new volleyball coach? Check out my book!

Teaching How to Pancake a Volleyball Sequence

1. Have players get with a partner. One partner stands while the other lays on the floor with their arm outstretched and hand flat to the ground. The standing player drops the ball on the hand of the other player 10 times so that the player on the ground understands how to form their hand in order to get the best bounce. Switch places.

2. To progress, have one player stand and one lay on the ground, just as before. Only this time, instead of dropping the ball on the player’s hand, the standing player will toss the ball from a short distance and the player on the ground will work on tracking the ball. This progression helps the player understand where to put their hand based on the ball’s trajectory. Additionally, they learn how to move from hand in the air to hand flat on the floor. Do this 10 times each before switching.

3. Next, have one player on the ground start on their hands and knees. Now the tosser will make the player begin work on diving to the ball, but with less risk as they are already on the ground. Remember, have them push through the dive, not fall and catch themselves.

4. The next progression starts with the player on the ground on their knees, diving forward or to the side to get the ball. After 10 times, switch.

5. Finally, have the tosser tossing to a player who is in ready position and low to the ground. Make sure each group has enough space and is not diving towards poles, walls, benches/bleachers, or other groups (seems like common sense, but young teams do not always have this in abundance). This should go a little slower, with the passer instructing the tosser on when she is ready.

You can continue this progression and add rolls to side dives, or have the tosser toss to different areas to have the passer adjust to the direction of the ball instead of knowing where it is going ahead of times.

Make sure to run a drill next in practice which provides the opportunity to test out their pancake skills. Maybe a slower game of Tip and Chip, or even a full scrimmage can provide a chance. Do not, however, move into serving or hitting lines which cause the girls to forget everything they just learned.

Pancaking a volleyball is rare, and you may not see the rewards of this training for quite some time. But if you remind players of this skill often and encourage it, you will be pleasantly surprised when your girls finally pull one off.

Pancakers: How do you teach pancakes? What other mental skills do you think your players need in order to execute a successful pancake? How has a simple pancake impacted your team?

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