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
How many times have you heard these instructions at a match or tournament… “Talk!” “Call the ball!” “Communicate!” Once in a while, this is fine. But when communication seems to be a nagging issue, there’s likely a root cause that you need to address.
Let's discuss how to improve communication for your volleyball team, shall we?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!
We've all been there. "Why am I sitting out?" "Why does Sarah start but I have to sub in?" "Why do I never get to serve?" These are all thoughts we probably had as players on one team or another. We usually chalked it up to Sarah being the favorite, or the coach not paying attention to us, or not knowing what they're doing... Yes, those are teenage thought patterns. We didn't often think beyond ourselves, and our parents were (occasionally) right there with us. As a child, my dad was my coach for a lot of my teams, so I usually got to hear him talk through all of the possible game-day scenarios he could think of, and what he would do in each instance.
As a coach myself, I know that I spend hours coming up with the best lineup I can think of, alternatives if something goes wrong or if someone is having an off day, and with my 10 years of experience coaching volleyball, I think I'm pretty good at finding the right/best lineup for my team. I try to balance the court and give as many players the opportunity to shine in their position, but sometimes, parents and players just don't understand.
That's why I made this video! I wanted to talk through all of the points and help parents and players understand WHY their kid might be sitting out for a certain number of rotations, either on my team or another team. Here's the video in its full glory if you want to check it out and listen to me go in-depth on some of these points:
Of course, sometimes I know I want to just get to the points, so here are the 7 factors I personally consider when deciding playing time and my lineup.
#1: Physical Strength and Ability
If you're the strongest person on the team in a certain position, or the most talented, you will likely have a starting position. Of course, any of the following reasons could solidify or threaten that starting role.
#2: Volleyball IQ
Do you understand how to move to the ball? Do you know when to tip versus when to swing all-out? If you struggle with on-court decision making, your volleyball IQ might be a little low. More time on the court, and even playing additional sports to improve coordination, can help build this quickly.
#3: Serving Strength
Now, I don't mean strength as in "I can bench 180 lbs" strength. I mean, are you consistently serving tough serves in the court accurately. These are the types of serves I want early in the match, and a big part of my lineup decisions are who I want to serve in a specific order. Really, I want serves like that the ENTIRE match! But I know from experience that some players who are great at the net can also be bad at serving. Don't take it personal. You contribute in other ways to the team, that's all!
READ MORE: Fix a Volleyball Serve in 4 Steps
#4: Cooperation Between Players
Most players will go after a ball in their general vicinity. Others will go all out for any ball they think they can get to. And then other players will only go for a ball if it is right at them. While I'm going to do my best to coach that out of you and make you a more aggressive player, until you go for the ball, I need to have you next to an aggressive player to make sure we don't drop any balls. If you're unlucky at that player isn't in just the right spot in the lineup, you might sub in later in a match because that's where I NEED to put you to make sure you do not fail. The best way to stop being the timid player? Learn your position, ask for clarification on what ball is yours and when, and then you will feel more confident going after the ball.
Listen. If you're not going to be at practice, you won't know what we covered. How are you going to be successful on the court if you don't know what we're doing? Everyone misses at one point or another, usually for reasons outside of their control. But that doesn't change the fact that you don't know what's going on on the court. I'll probably have you sit out and watch someone else until you understand, and then I'll put you in.
#6: Your Position
I talk about this a lot in the video, but I'll sum it up here: sometimes you shine best when you only play front row or back row. Most setters will be back row only, which means if you play right side, you're probably going to sub out for the back row setter. Liberos can only play back row, and if you play the position on the court where the most balls go to statistically (left back), I'm going to want the libero there instead of any other player. Again, don't take it personal. There are subs at every level of volleyball, that's just how the game works.
READ MORE: Volleyball Position Characteristics
If you've gone through this list and haven't found a reason you should be sitting out yet, this might be the one you need to hear. Attitude can make or break a career. I don't care how talented you are, if you are only focused on yourself (i.e., pouting when you have to sub out, goofing off at practice, yelling at teammates, etc.) then you're going to find that your playing time keeps going down and down. Sure, you might still play if your coach has no other options, but you're holding your team back if you can't change your attitude to support your teammates instead of focusing on yourself.
OK folks, there you have it! The 7 ways that coaches decide playing time! I know there are more because I had an awesome coach on Instagram share that she uses effort as a deciding factor. Although I didn't include that in my original video, I agree 100% that effort gets taken into account!
Coaches: What else do you base playing time off of? What other factors do you use to determine your lineup?
Player/parents: Does this help answer your questions? I know all coaches are different, so you might want to consider talking to the coach if you still don't understand playing time decisions! This can be a tricky subject, so let me know if you'd like me to write a post about talking to your coaching about playing time!
As always, thanks for reading!
While I love creating my own drills, sometimes you just need to peruse the internet and find some new inspiration. Two weeks ago I was looking for high-intensity drills and found “Vegas.” While the title was intriguing, it didn’t really explain what the drill focused on. Strictly out of curiosity, I watched. My initial reaction was that it looked fun, but was nothing too special. It had competitive elements to it that was something I felt my girls needed a big dose of, so I added it to our practice plan with 20 minutes dedicated to learning and finishing the drill.
I was shocked at how much my girls loved this drill.
Not only did it get them talking, it got them diving for every ball, playing hard to win each point, and celebrating even small victories. Now, this didn’t happen right away. The drill took about 10 minutes for them to learn and understand (yes, I realize that is a long time), but once they got it, it was on like Donkey Kong.
Here are a few surprises this drill revealed:
My quiet players got ridiculously loud and pumped up.
My “starters” (I don’t have set starters, but I do have players with higher ability that I play in tight situations) had a hard time dealing with being behind.
There was one point where a rally lasted almost 10 volleys back and forth and included diving, rolls, hard swings, and constant yelling. It was for the first point. This was unheard of for my team.
The attitude of my “starters” when they lost was overcome by the enjoyment my other players gained from the drill.
The drill lasted about 40 minutes. We played until the end of practice because the girls were playing at such a high level and dripping sweat, while still having fun.
This drill is requested every day of practice (no, we don’t play it every day. But I offer it up as a reward on occasion). amzn_assoc_placement = "adunit0"; amzn_assoc_search_bar = "true"; amzn_assoc_tracking_id = "getthepancake-20"; amzn_assoc_ad_mode = "manual"; amzn_assoc_ad_type = "smart"; amzn_assoc_marketplace = "amazon"; amzn_assoc_region = "US"; amzn_assoc_title = "My Amazon Picks"; amzn_assoc_asins = "B0000AQOFN,B00783L32G,B01CF3Z12Q,B003T1E4UE"; amzn_assoc_linkid = "e4ee04aa00398393d06bc9b334d9bebc";
You’re probably dying to see what this drill looks like, aren’t you?
Here’s the video:
The video demonstrates the key principles well, but here’s a quick recap:
Setup 6 vs 6, with players starting in base positions.
5 freeballs are thrown out, alternating sides (regardless of who wins the point).
The teams keep track of how many rallies they win. For example, the far side wins 3 rallies, and the near side wins 2.
The team who wins the most rallies (in this example, the far side) gets the “moneyball,” which is just another freeball.
Whoever wins the rally with the moneyball gets to keep the point they earned, while the losing team remains at their previous score.
I then start the next freeball with the team who won the moneyball. This begins another round of 5 freeballs.
The goal is to get to (or exceed) 21 total points, but you can play for time or to a different amount.
This is a great drill to show the importance of every point and to get your players used to playing under pressure. Even if a team is down 0-5, by winning the moneyball they can stop the other team from getting 5 points.
Pancakers: Have you played this drill before, or ran drills similar to it? How did it work for your team? What age level do you coach? Try it at your next practice and let me know what it does for your team!
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