Is Your Team Bad at Communication? Try These 3 Techniques!

Warning: There is a large amount of all-caps and exclamation points in this article. I guess I feel very passionate about this topic :)

How to Improve Volleyball Communication

How many times have you heard these instructions at a match or tournament… “Talk!” “Call the ball!” “Communicate!”

You get the idea.

I’ll admit, I have given these exact directions approximately… every day of coaching. And I think that’s alright! Constant communication on the court is a habit that all players on the court need to develop.

But when communication seems to be an issue, there’s likely a root cause that you need to address.

One reason your players may not be calling the ball loudly or confidently is that they don’t know if it’s theirs or not. This is especially true for younger players or players who are learning a new rotation/defensive system. If you think this is the case, try technique number one, which is…

1. TEACH THEM WHAT AREA OF THE COURT IS THEIR RESPONSIBILITY.

Let’s say you’re lined up for serve receive and the ball drops between two players. With older teams, sure, this might be MIScommunication, but not a LACK of communication.

With our younger players, they’ll often move towards the ball, see that someone else is moving towards it too, and then they will both back off, the ball drops, Coach gets mad and yells “call the ball!’, both players look down, look at each other telling each other it was “your ball”… I’ve seen this exact sequence too many times to count. (We can talk about encouraging accountability another day ;)).

What is PROBABLY happening, is that the ball was in the seam (space between two players) and the players hadn’t been taught yet WHO should get the ball. The issue is not a communication problem. The issue is a lack of understanding of the game and their team’s strategy.

Make a note to work on serve receive at your next practice, and ensure that responsibilities are discussed. Better yet, show them by drawing on a whiteboard! Appeal to your visual learners too. I always get a huge bump in understanding once I draw out confusing concepts.

When you feel your frustration levels rise, take a step back and think, “is there something I am expecting from my players which I have not taught them yet?”

OK, so let’s say you HAVE taught your team their coverage area for their position, but the communication is a little off, too late, or just plain wrong.

This is when you want to use my next technique, which is…

2. TEACH THEM WHAT TO SAY, AND WHEN TO SAY IT.

Based on my experience, I’m going to say that today’s players have much higher levels of anxiety than players from 5-6 years ago, and CERTAINLY less than when we played. I do not have data or studies to prove it, but the number of questions I get from players who are, more or less perfectionists, is mind-blowing. 

I’ve also had nine-year-olds cry because they’re too embarrassed that their footwork was wrong on their serve (“Great power, way to get your serve over! Now let’s step with your left foot when you make contact, instead of your right” … TEARS).

In my view, this isn’t going to change. There’s no use in reminiscing about the good ol days when players could handle feedback and make adjustments through trial and error, instead of being walked step-by-step through even basic skills.

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When I lead skill training in camps (when results are expected FAST!), I make sure to break everything down into the most basic steps I can. This includes telling your players WHAT to say, and WHEN to say it.

Confidence comes from knowing you’re doing something right. *Players with high anxiety will be able to focus on skill development once they get the things that could make them look stupid out of the way.

(*Not a sport psychologist, so this is my disclaimer. This is just what I’ve found works best for me in these situations).

Let’s say I’m running an overly simplistic passing drill where I slap the ball, they transition into freeball defense, and then I toss it to them. I’ll want to tell my players to yell “FREE!” right after I slap the ball, and to call mine just before they move to the ball to make contact. But sometimes TELLING your players isn’t enough, and that’s when you have to…

3. SHOW YOUR PLAYERS WHAT YOU EXPECT.

I believe that jumping on the court and playing with your team (at the right time) has it’s benefits. If your team continues to struggle with communication, even after you’ve shown them their coverage zones and have explicitly told them when to call the ball and what to say, you’ve got to push them. 

Whether you’re just demoing during skill work, or are jumping in line during Queens, you want to make sure that you lead by example!

Communicate your little heart out.

Players will learn through osmosis, and you’ll probably see a big jump in communication from a few athletes right away, followed by the other players in a few practices. It is easier for the players to learn and be challenged when you’re right there next to them, rather than coaching from the sidelines. There is a time and place for this though, be sure you pick the right time to jump in!

It helps you bond a little with your team, plus it gives you the workout that you skipped that morning. ;)

WATCH: DO'S & DON'TS: PLAYING WITH YOUR VOLLEYBALL TEAM DURING PRACTICE

 
 

BONUS TIP!

Be sure to CELEBRATE when your team calls the ball well. Positive reinforcement definitely has a place on the volleyball court. It still surprises me how much louder your court gets just by complimenting someone for calling the ball.

Example from two weeks ago at a camp: Players are doing passing progressions with a partner and I walk past the only group who is calling the ball consistently. “Nice job, Sarah and Rishika! Way to call the ball loud every time!”

Every group on that side of the net instantly started calling the ball. I didn’t even say it LOUD! Seriously, give it a try. I hope you are amused by how well it works, I know I chuckle every time.

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