Teach Defense To Your Team

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Think back to the first time you were learning a new position. One of the most challenging aspects of learning this new position was probably where to go for defense. Not only do you need to know WHERE to go, you need to learn WHEN to go and how much area you cover!

Players can easily get overwhelmed in this stage of their development, but it doesn’t need to be frustrating! By using this quick and easy drill, I’ve taught players as young as 6th grade how to transition into defense. (Coaching 5th grade or below? I’ve had the most success teaching this age group to move from base to freeball defense and back).


Have a lineup get onto the court and start in their base positions. You as the coach will be up on a box hitting at your team, with additional players helping shag and hand you balls. If you are coaching older teams, you could even have a player up on the box instead (younger teams struggle here, because the player on the box doesn’t usually hit the ball at the right time/to a realistic spot/etc. and faces pushback from their teammates).


Once you have a ball in your hand and your team is in base, slap the ball to indicate a back set (when you are hitting from right side). Allow your team enough time to transition into defense (one option is detailed in the illustration above) and then lightly hit the ball at them. Have the team play it out, and attempt to get a pass, set, hit.

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Once the ball goes over the net, the team should return to their base positions. Repeat, but mix up your hits! You can tip the ball, swing away, or even hit it into the block. Ideally you’ll have each player pass the ball 2-3 times before you switch front row and back row.

NOTE: Give your players TIME to transition. New players especially will not have their footwork down yet, and need to focus on their footwork before they remember that they need to make a play on the volleyball. Once your team is proficient at transitioning into defense, you can speed up your attacks.


You can have different types of goals before you switch to the next rotation. You could…

  • Go for time (i.e., 3 minutes in each rotation)

  • Go for number of successful pass-set-hit combinations (i.e., 3 hits over the net then rotate)

  • Go for number of passes from each player (i.e., hit to each player 5 times before switching)

I prefer to go for pass-set-hit combinations, because the focus is more game-like in my opinion. But you can use any goal you’d like with your team!


Once you achieve your goal from above, you could either move your box to middle, or switch front row and back row players. I prefer to switch front row and back row, as this allows subs to come in and stay engaged in the drill. It also gives your middles a bit of a breather (I used to play middle and hated this type of drill haha) so they’ll be refreshed and ready to go for their next turn.

Use the same goal as before and complete his round.


After completing your “right side defense” work, rotate to middle defense, outside defense, and finally freeball/downball defense if you’ve moved quickly and/or have enough time.

I like to save this one for last, because it is the “easiest” of them all, and allows the drill to end on a high note with the players feeling positive about their ability to transition in defense.

NOTE: In my illustration for this drill, I used fairly common defensive positioning, although there are many more options for how you could setup your defense. If you coach a younger team or don’t know where to start, use the examples above for guidance.

Also, consider joining our “Volleyball Coaches Corner” Facebook group where you can interact with other coaches, ask questions, and help when possible! It is closed, so you’ll need to request to join before gaining access.