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
Summer is officially underway and I've just finished up the second week of my volleyball club's camps! This last week we had a pretty young group (3rd through 6th grade) and I saw a LOT of hitting errors over and over again. There are a few simple solutions to some of the most common errors, and I wanted to share them with you!
Common Hitting Error #1: Swinging from Underneath the Ball
In order to have a strong, powerful swing, players need to make contact with the ball when it is just in front of their hitting arm. When players are younger (and shorter!), they tend to run up too close to the net and swing from there. This often results in the ball coming down more on top of the player rather than in front of them.
In order to fix this issue, we can take two steps: 1) Tell the player to take smaller steps during their approach (to increase the distance between them and the net), and 2) As coaches, toss the ball further off the net for them.
If we are using a setter, explain to the setter that the shorter players need the ball further from the net, and train the hitters to call for an "off" set as a reminder. For example, when you have a taller player come up and call "outside, outside, outside!" have your shorter player call "outside, outside, off, off, off!"
As long as you take either one (or both) of these steps and explain to the hitter to hit IN FRONT of the body, you should see improvements in their swing soon!
Common Hitting Error #2: Shot-Putting the Ball
Is shot-putting a word? I have no idea. But I think it communicates what this error usually looks like! The player will lower their elbow just before contact, and let the ball come to a short rest in their hand, after which they appear to PUSH the ball over the net instead of strike it.
Most often, the worst offenders are the youngest (aka, shortest) who try to push the ball over the net because they just refuse to believe that the ball will go over if they make contact behind the ball instead of underneath.
I have a couple of ways to work towards correcting this as well.
Option number one, have your players line up on the 10' line and walk down the line giving them high-fives. When you give them high-fives, hold your hand in front of their hitting shoulder and at the top of their reach, Each player's high-five should look like the ideal armswing. If a player is shy or doesn't go all-out on the high-five, just ask them to do it like they're going to hit the ball. Ask them to remember how it felt, and try to do it with the ball.
Option two is to have players get with a partner. Have them line up across the net from each other, and toss the ball to themselves followed by hitting the ball UNDER the net to their partner. Why does his help? Hitting down will teach players to hit a different part of the ball than they're used to. This is the same part we want to hit when going over the net, just at a different angle. Do about 15-20 reps each and then go back to hitting.
Common Hitting Error #3: Beginning the Approach by Swinging Arms Forward
This issue isn't as common as the two previous mistakes, but it certainly can impact the speed of an approach and limit a player! Sometimes players will swing their arms forward to start their approach, which takes away some of the momentum they could be building if they just left their arms by their side/down!
This one is easy to correct, because they'll understand what it means to keep their arms down, but you may have to remind them often! It can be easy to fall back into old habits. Try positive reinforcement when they do it correctly and watch as their approach speeds up and their timing on the hit improves.
What other mistakes do you see young players make?
Let other coaches know how you correct hitting errors you see your players making!
One of the most exciting parts of being a coach is when you finally see a concept “click” for your players. Younger teams who are used to just rotating around the court and playing the position they are standing in always seem to take FOREVER to understand the concept of playing defense at the net in the front row, and then transitioning off to play defense for a freeball. Setters, too, will often hang out in backrow for too long before they realize that they should be moving up into the setter position in order to set at the first hint of a freeball. Although the concept seems simple to the experienced coach, this is one area that teams need to practice in a game-like drill in order to comprehend what is actually being asked of them.
No matter what age your players are, you have probably realized by now that they have short attention spans.
This drill keeps all players engaged, gets them moving, and quickly teaches the concept of dropping off the net for a freeball. Not only does it improve their defensive mentality, but it puts them in a position where they need to have a good pass in order to hit the ball. Players will work hard for that!
Have three players line up at the net in the opposite (right side), middle, and outside hitter base positions. They will start at the net in a position with their hands up prepared to block, and knees bent ready to jump or move off the net. You will have a setter in the right back base position (at the 10’ line positioned between the right side and middle hitters) who begins the drill standing in ready position.
Depending on the number of players you have, you could form lines for these positions (best with smaller numbers in my experience) and run the drill in one segment. You could also have two groups go, with one group shagging until it is their turn. You may still have a few people in lines for this setup.
How to Run the Drill:
A coach will be on the opposite side of the net and will slap the ball to indicate a freeball is coming over. The players in the drill will all yell “free” and will transition off the net, to about the 10’ line. The setter will run to the net to prepare to set the ball and get out of the way of the passers.
The coach will then toss the ball across the net. You can either toss in front of the players so they use their platform to pass the ball, or a little further back to encourage taking the first ball with their hands. The pass should go to the setter, who then sets the person that passed the ball. This player will then attack the ball. Depending on your numbers, they will either shag the ball and get back in line, or stay at the net and get in ready position to do it again.
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The coach then initiates the drill again, tossing to a new player each time. The group will constantly be moving on and off the net, giving them a good workout and lots of practice.
This drill should last between 10-20 minutes, depending on if you are rotating groups or not, and how long it takes to explain the concepts. It would also last longer if you decided to try one of the variations listed below after running through the initial drill. If you start to see players getting bored, you've gone too long. Wrap it up.
Once your players understand the flow of the drill, you can incorporate an actual pass coming over the net from a teammate. This works especially well if your numbers don’t match up for even time in the drill. You can have one or two players who you toss the ball to, and they work on their ball control and passing the ball to different players across the net. This will add a random element to the drill, since these passes will not be as predictable as a toss from the coach. It will also train your team to see that a pass is coming over the net, and this is when to yell “free” and transition off the net.
You could also do a variation which included the coach possibly tossing the ball close to the net and having the players work on reading the ball to determine whether they need to transition or stay on the net to block or swipe the ball down. Surprise is key (and makes it fun). Toss more balls that need to be passed.
Feeling frustrated that your team isn't ready to move to more advanced skills? Here's what I think about that.
Another variation would be to have your setter set the ball to someone other than the person who passed it. This is probably the best decision a setter could make in an actual game, so this is actually one of my favorite variations. Passers may be off balance or not in a position where they can take their full approach after passing the ball, so you want your other hitters to be trained to be ready to hit the ball and for your setter to understand they need to move the ball around as well. This also creates a more natural back set, which is harder in the original drill.
A final variation I will recommend is to have the entire team on the court, with some freeballs going to backrow as well. These players also need to move, and it helps front row players learn to judge whether they should pass a ball, or let it go back to the backrow player. This slows the drill down a little bit, but is definitely good game-like practice.
Team rules can make or break a season. There are two important factors in whether or not team rules make an impact on your team: 1) Everyone has to know the rules, and 2) You have to enforce them. While I can only encourage you to hold your players accountable and cheer you on for sticking to your guns, I CAN provide you with a list of broadly applicable team rules which any coach can implement.
The rules which are covered in this printable include the following:
An absence policy
A late policy
How to resolve issues
Potential/likely disciplinary action for different situations
While this set of rules has always worked for me, maybe you want to be a little more strict or a little more lenient. Feel free to use these team rules more as a guideline and create your own list.
I highly suggest you print out your team rules and give two copies to each player; one for them, and one for their parent or guardian. You should always have a copy on you as well, in case something comes up and you need to reference the policies.
Once you decide the rules you will enforce, I also suggest emailing a copy to your club director. This way they understand what your policies are. Sending them a copy before your season even starts also lets them know that you have your season planned out and are prepared, which is a great impression to make when you are a new coach.
Download here: Team Rules for Volleyball
Good luck this season, coaches! Don't forget to bookmark www.getthepancake.com and check back often for more resources. Want to be notified when new blog posts are up or when I have other exciting announcements? Sign up to receive email updates!
This weekend I was working with young players (7th graders) during club volleyball tryouts. At this age, there are going to be a few players who stand out that have played club before or are just naturally athletic. There are also going to be a few people who have never played before and are just mimicking what they see others doing, even though they’ve had no formal training. My court was no different, and there were plenty of times I saw the opportunity to tweak a player’s movements or form to improve their performance. While this takes some one on one time with a player, it is definitely worth it to step aside for a minute or two and help them (read more at the bottom on why this can work to your benefit, even during tryouts).
Volleyball is a sport which uses complicated movements which often have three, four, or even more elements. This can make correcting bad form a challenge. In passing for example, once you fix the footwork, you need to worry about the platform. And then the movement to the ball. And then shrugging the shoulders/angling the platform/pushing with the legs/etc. You can forget about them calling the ball at this point. The brain is on overdrive just to step in the right direction with all of that input.
READ MORE: Pre-Made Volleyball Practice Plan: Learning Setting and Attacking
At tryouts there were a few girls (75% of them about 5’ tall) that just couldn’t get the ball over the net during the serving portion. Again, volleyball movements are complicated, but serving can be fixed relatively quickly if you know what you’re looking for. By breaking the serve down into its major elements, you can fix a serve (or at least improve it) in just a few minutes.
Step 1: Footwork
Always, always, always, start with footwork. Starting with anything else will lead to a breakdown in other skills later, because the footwork is the foundation which skills are built from. This fix is simple in theory, but difficult in practice. If a player has trained improperly over time, it will take some serious focus to correct this issue. The fix? Usually, it is to take the last step with the opposite foot. This keeps the body balanced and allows players to swing harder.
Occasionally, you will need to add steps for a younger or weaker player, because forward motion helps create momentum and power behind the serve. Most players should only take one step forward, but add one more step for players struggling to even serve to the 10’ line.
Common indicators that the footwork is wrong:
Lopsided body posture.
Dropping their non-hitting shoulder dramatically when contacting the ball.
Step 2: The Toss
The toss can still be a challenge for players even when they know what they’re supposed to do. Motor skills and control are not at their highest level in younger players, but by showing players where the toss needs to be (usually just by holding the ball in the air) you can make dramatic improvements quickly. The toss should be just above their highest reach and slightly in front of their hitting shoulder. Practice is the best teacher here, unfortunately, because it is often control which is the issue rather than stubbornness or an unwillingness to try.
Common indicators that the toss is wrong:
Lopsided body posture.
Chasing after the ball after the toss but before contact.
“Rainbow” serves. Serves that go up in an arc after contact.
Serves hitting the ground before the net or going into the net.
Step 3: The Swing
All sorts of things can go wrong here. The main objective should be to keep a quiet upper body and maintain a simple, clean swing. How often is this the case though? Young players looking for extra power may “wind-up” or “shotput” the ball. Extra power should come from footwork, not from the swing.
By instructing players to focus on opening their shoulders wide with their hitting arm’s elbow pointed behind them, and then a focus on contact at the right point of the ball (discussed in the toss section) plus a straight follow-through, armswing issues should be fixed.
Common indicators that the armswing is wrong:
“Loud” serve. Lots of body movement which looks rigid yet out of control.
Slouching over after contact is made.
Extra hand motions or upper body movement.
A serve which looks more like a shotput throw than a volleyball serve.
Spin on the volleyball which is not topspin.
Step 4: Contact
This is it. The moment where you find out whether or not your small tweaks have made a difference. Contact should be made in the middle of the ball for beginners working on the basic float serve with a firm hand. The palm should be used for this contact. It can help to have a player hold her hand out and trace the area of her hand which should be making the contact. Don’t forget! Contact is only a brief moment in the armswing, so the follow through should be addressed when discussing armswing as a whole.
Other than this brief instruction on contact, the rest of your help on the serve should improve everything overall!
Common indicators that the contact is wrong:
Backwards spin on the ball.
Sideways spin on the ball.
Slapping noise when contact is made.
By breaking the serve down into these four different elements, you should be able to isolate what is wrong and make easy fixes. Sometimes you will have a server with only one problem (armswing across their body instead of straight through, for example), but many times it is a mixture of two or more. This can lead to funky looking serves where it is hard to determine the problem. amzn_assoc_placement = "adunit0"; amzn_assoc_search_bar = "true"; amzn_assoc_tracking_id = "getthepancake-20"; amzn_assoc_search_bar_position = "top"; amzn_assoc_ad_mode = "search"; amzn_assoc_ad_type = "smart"; amzn_assoc_marketplace = "amazon"; amzn_assoc_region = "US"; amzn_assoc_title = "Search Results from Amazon"; amzn_assoc_default_search_phrase = "Smart Watch"; amzn_assoc_default_category = "All"; amzn_assoc_linkid = "637fce6fd4fc4c1ede267d473e5a3e6b"; amzn_assoc_rows = "1"; If you can’t pinpoint exactly what the issue is, just go step by step until you’ve covered everything! Following these hints may not automatically result in an ace serve every other time… but it will get your players’ mechanics correct. Once the motion is good, practice is required to perfect their form and train their bodies how to move.
During club volleyball tryouts, it can be a challenge to actually instruct players on ways to improve during that day. It might even be discouraged, but I think it is important to take some time to coach the girls for a few reasons.
First, you’ll get a better idea of how coachable they are. For example, if you have to remind someone to call the ball every time they make contact, I would be hesitant to take that player unless they clearly demonstrated a certain skill level. Everyone is coachable, but it depends how patient you are.
Second, you’ll get a good idea of their attitude. This is closely related to the first reason, but different in a major way. You’ll learn how easily the player gets frustrated (or not), and how they respond to your encouragement. Some players will quickly revert to old habits if their new attempts are not successful. But others are willing to learn and trust you, therefore they’ll stay upbeat despite not quite mastering the skill right away.
Finally, you’ll be able to evaluate everyone on a more even scale. If a player just needs to know the footwork for their approach, teaching this skill to them for a minute or two can result in a better performance immediately. Of course that player will not hit well if they are just running at the net with their hand up. But if they understand what they are doing and have confidence, that can make a huge difference and make them more competitive.