Passing. The very first thing we all have to learn in order to advance to any other skill. As much as every young player wants to spend entire practice sessions running through hitting lines, it is important to instill a love of passing in your team. We've all heard the saying, "it starts with a pass," and we've probably heard ourselves repeating this little nugget of wisdom once we get into the role of coaching. But think back to when you were a player. Did that quote inspire you? Motivate you? Even matter to you? Probably not.
Telling players that passing is important is not the way to inspire them to work harder at the skill. The way that I have found to encourage players to work harder on their passing is to spend individual time with each of them correcting their skill, and showing them that they can succeed. Little victories are the key to development.
Things to Keep in Mind:
1. Speak their language
When you are working with younger players, you might not realize you are using words like “platform” and “ready position” and they have no idea what you mean. I will even admit; I didn’t understand what “shoulder width apart” was until my sophomore year in high school because all of my coaches had said it so fast I didn’t understand what they were saying in the first place. Next is an example of explaining this jargon, but using easy words they can comprehend.
2. Make it fun
When you are describing how to make your platform, ask for everyone to give you a thumbs up with the hand they don’t write with. Then, give that thumbs up a hug with the other hand. Lay both of the thumbs down. Next, tell them to make their elbows kiss. This means to push their elbows as close together as possible, giving them a nice solid platform and automatically engaging their shoulders. When practicing making the platform, you can call for hugs and kisses. Teach them that this is their “platform,” but when they need correction refer back to hugs and kisses.
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3. Emphasize work with coaches
When you have a big group of players, you will likely split them into partners or small groups. This is fine to experiment with the mechanics of passing, but in order to build a solid foundation, players will need to run through passing with a coach. Yes, this slows down practice, and yes, this reduces touches on the ball. But it dramatically improves quality of touches and will help in the long run.
4. Let the little things go
My previous post on encouraging failure is especially important when coaching younger players. Some players learn a little bit slower than others. A small handful take a lot longer. It is important to not give up or get exasperated with the slower learning group. Focus on what they are doing well and let them enjoy small successes. If a girl’s platform and footwork are all wrong, and she finally gets the footwork down, do not immediately transition into correcting the platform. Praise the improvement, and offer further critique after a short amount of time has passed.
Feet shoulder width apart, one foot slightly in front of the other, knees bent. Players should be stable and balanced. Weight on toes, but not standing on toes.
Back hunched over slightly to stay low to the ground.
Arms in front of the body, wrists towards the ceiling. Elbows tucked in like “T-Rex arms.”
Call for the ball.
Platform together or “hugs and kisses.”
Let the ball meet the platform, don’t stand up to reach the ball first.
Power pass with shoulder shrug and small “bounce” in legs. Be sure not to stand up after the pass or swing arms.
Call the name of the target.
Hold platform after contact until the ball reaches the target.
Teaching the basics of passing can take a lot of work, especially with young, inexperienced players. Make sure to keep it light-hearted and fun before moving on to the next skill. Passing is the foundation of good volleyball, and by making it fun, you are training your players to enjoy passing. Follow instruction with a fun passing drill and build love for one of the most important skills in volleyball! Avoid acknowledging that passing isn't fun, this only makes them aware that other people don't like passing. They can come to that conclusion on their own later if that's how they feel.