Coaching volleyball is about MORE than just running the best drills at practice! If this is your first time coaching volleyball, start here!Read More
One element of game time that we often struggle to replicate in practice is PRESSURE. The pressure to get the first serve of the game in, the pressure to make the serve after a teammate has missed, and especially the pressure of serving accurately and aggressively on game point! Few "punishments" can mimic the feeling of having all eyes on you and the pressure you feel to get the ball in. Likewise, few punishments actually feel as bad as missing during a critical time in the match.
This is where we harness the power of peer pressure.
Sure, we're all taught that peer pressure is bad, and it seems wrong to "manipulate" our team so that they are pressuring one another to make their serves in. But let me tell you, there are only a few ways to recreate how it feels to serve in a game, and this is one of them!
Description: Team Serving Challenge
The Team Serving Challenge is a timed drill which requires the entire team to serve accurately to different zones on the court. The zones increase in level of difficulty, resulting in a tougher challenge as the drill progresses. Additionally, while the difficulty is increasing, the time is also running out. Ultimately, players will work through different serving challenges, as well as strategize together and support one another until the time expires.
All players should grab one ball and stand single-file behind the service line. The players MUST remain in this order for the entire drill. The coach should set a timer for a predetermined time (I usually use 8 minutes for my 14u club teams during the middle of the season). If coaches will be using cones to clearly mark service zones/goals, those should be laid out at this time on BOTH sides of the court. If a coach has a whiteboard, they should also write down the order of service challenges and the total time. As the team moves through these challenges, coaches can place check marks as a visual reward and signifier of progress in the drill.
Possible Service Challenges
You want to go from easiest to most challenging. With 14u I typically use these four challenges in this order:
READ MORE: Fix a Volleyball Serve in 4 Steps
To show this, I will lay out cones running through the middle of the court, and put out cones showing the back 10' of the court. For older teams or more advanced teams, you can mark zones 1 and 2 only as cross-court, and 5 and 4 only as line, but my teams are usually at a level where that would be impossible for the entire team to achieve. I make adjustments so I know everyone can be successful while still facing challenges.
Additional challenges you could add:
Serve short (inside 10' line)
Serve to specific zones (6 might be easiest to start with, 1 and 5 would be next, and then all front row zones would be the most challenging)
Float serve in
Inside the 3-point line (if you are on a volleyball/basketball court combo)
Remember, if you're using cones to mark these off, you need to set up cones on BOTH sides of the net. I have found that 12 cones can outline zones on each side, but if you have less you can place them in the center of each zone or move cones after the challenge changes. Or use your imagination :)
Run the Drill
Once a player makes the correct serve in, they will run to the other side of the net and wait in line for their turn to serve again (remember, they serve in the same order). In order to pass a round of challenges, all players must make that specific serve in. So what happens if a player misses their serve? Everyone who is left behind them must run to the opposite side of the net and pick up where they left off.
Kara, Mary, Lisa, and Jessica are the servers. Kara and Mary both make their serves over and in (the first challenge). Lisa, however, serves into the net. Jessica must now run to the opposite side of the net before she serves. Jessica serves successfully over and in (and shags her ball and runs to the opposite side to wait for her team), and Kara and Mary both successfully serve over and in again. Jessica, Kara, and Mary are now all waiting for Lisa to get her serve over and in before they can move on to the next challenge. Lisa takes her time and makes her serve over. Now, the team can move on to the next challenge, with Jessica starting them off (they stay in order so everyone serves the same number of serves).
This can be a tough drill to run because players who miss will feel bad that they let their team down. I've had teams where two or three servers in a row will miss their serve, and the entire team is running back and forth getting frustrated with each other. This means you're doing it right!
Obviously, yes, this is a serving drill and we're working on our serving accuracy, but this drill works on teambuilding, problem-solving, allows players to step up and support each other, and lets leaders shine.
READ MORE: Serving Around the World Drill Diagram
Players will be tired from running so often, and will feel pressure from their teammates to make tougher and tougher serves under a time crunch.
Am I cruel? Maybe...
Your players may start to get visibly (and audibly) frustrated with each other. Let this go for about a minute or two, and most likely a teammate will step up and start sharing wisdom like, "just take your time guys, we've got this," and "it's ok, we'll make this one." Once one player steps up, the rest of the players will start to say the same things. It's a beautiful thing when you see this happen in practice.
So what happens if your team is different and they start yelling at each other? Often times, this means your players haven't been on a team where supporting each other was taught. This is a SKILL and does not come naturally to everyone. If your players are not able to self-correct, call a timeout and bring them in. You'll want to coach them through proper behavior to get through the drill.
Tips you can give them are:
Take your time to serve. Even under high-pressure situations, you need to get yourself set and think clearly about what your objective is.
Drown out the distractions around you. Focus on your one goal and nothing else.
If you miss and get down on yourself, the chances of you making the next serve are only going to go down. Focus on the next ball and forget the mistake.
If you are making all of your serves, comments like, "come on, just get it in!" are not helpful to your teammates. Everyone needs to feel supported and valued to perform at their best.
To encourage each other, say things like, "Come on Jess, you can do it!" and "it's ok, we'll get the next one!"
If something goes wrong, don't show it with body language. Just grab your ball, run to the other side, and prepare for your serve.
You can only control yourself, but your actions influence others.
If you're running this drill for the first time, you may want to consider giving your team 3-4 challenges and timing them, instead of giving them a set time. This will help you establish a baseline and help you set a goal time the next time you run the drill. Again, you do not want to make the task so challenging that the team cannot achieve it, so doing a test run first might be the best option. The second time you run this drill (at another practice) you can either give a time or just challenge your team to beat their previous record.
You could also give your team a list of 6-8 challenge levels to beat, and see how many they can get through in a set time. Maybe you give them 10 minutes and the first time they run it they get to level 5. Then at your next practice the get to level 6... Do this if you plan to run the drill at 4-5 practices so you can track growth.
Tips and Suggestions
Because this drill can challenge a team mentally, I would suggest waiting until your team has had a month or two to bond (if club season) or a few weeks into a school season. This means your team will come into the drill with roles established and bonds formed already. If you jump into this too early in the season, you might create a divide between players rather than bring them together.
Yes, the drill is based on serving accuracy. But the biggest gain comes in the form of team bonding. Good luck!
When you are training a group of players to be elite athletes it can seem like spending time playing games at practice is a waste of time. What we sometimes forget as coaches is that fun is a major component of the learning process.Thinking back on my time as a player I first remember running around laughing with my teammates and playing fun games. Yes, I remember playing hard, training, and running through drills, but the most vivid memories are from when I was playing "deadfish," "the downball game," and more.
What this tells me is that I was the most present while we were having fun and playing games together. But there are more benefits than just having fun at practice. I've listed a number of benefits which come along with structuring a practice which includes small games that reinforce skills.
Benefit of Games #1:
Laughter is in short supply these days... Today’s players are (in my opinion) way too stressed out in their normal lives. My athletes have so much more on their plate than I did as a player and they need time to laugh and relax (the one thing which ISN'T scheduled for them). Throwing a game or two into practice at least once a week will let the kids be kids. Yes, I push my players hard, and try to keep them just at the edge of challenged yet successful. But taking time to laugh a little with a game can help players blow off some steam and just enjoy being at practice and being with their teammates. I want my players to look forward to coming to practice, and being silly every once in a while helps with that.
Benefit of Games #2:
Playing for fun is more motivating than playing out of fear or obligation. When you are playing because it is fun or if you are trying to win a game you will try harder. Studies show that being intrinsically motivated (from the inside) works better than being pushed to achieve out of fear (punishments) or for rewards (being named the winner for the day). With this in mind, what pushes a player to go all out for a ball, or swing with higher precision, or serve more accurately, than fun? Sure, you may get short-term results from punishments or rewards, but you'll develop overall better players if you give them the opportunity to play better because they want to, not because you're making them.
Benefit of Games #3:
Games can take the monotony out of a long season. Once you get to the middle of your season it can feel challenging to think up new drills or create exciting practices. By playing games, you break up the pattern that you’ve established over the last month or two (or three, or four...) and get your players excited about volleyball again. Of course, this works best when balanced by practices where players are growing and learning new skills regularly. An occasional treat is much sweeter than a regular diet of the stuff.
Benefit of Games #4:
Many times, games teach us more than we can see at surface level. When you are learning a skill, you can become too focused on the learning process that you don’t notice small subtleties since you’re focused on your own performance and the feedback from the coach. When you are playing a game, you become more in tune with what’s going on in your surroundings and you actually learn quicker! It is amazing what players are capable of doing once the focus is fun, not coaching feedback. Sure, there may be some mistakes made and room for improvement, but just remember that you are the one in charge of the rules! You can mix things up if you see bad habits developing.
Benefit of Games #5:
When your team is having fun together, they bond. Improving team spirit and friendship between teammates is only going to help your performance. Depending on the game you’re playing, as a coach you may also be able to jump in! Having fun with your team allows you to be seen in a different light than in the coaching role. I don’t recommend this as a constant throughout your season, but every once in a while it’s OK to let your hair down a little and jump on the court with your players.
Why did I want to write this article? I feel like there are too many coaches who think you need to be 100% serious all the time, and a lot of parents who see game playing as getting "less than they pay for." I guess it's a mini-rant, explaining why it's important to have fun at practice. If you're looking for an excuse to play games with your team because you feel too much pressure to be "on" all the time, I hope you found something helpful in this article to push you towards a quick 5-10 minute game at your next practice!
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