Monthly Archives: February 2011
First to Twenty-five – Post 2
Last week was the first full week of practices for the boy’s high school volleyball season.
How I made the first week of practices effective…
It all started before the season. The first week of the season was different than many other first weeks I have had. By encouraging all of my volleyball players to play USAV boys club volleyball I was able to get 6 varsity athletes to play club volleyball in the off season. For me, this was dramatic increase from last year, where I had only 2 players that played in the off season and only 1 played on my club team.
Because many of the boys had spent their previous season with me and also the volleyball off season training with me, I was able to focus on the new varsity athletes. The first week of practice for me is always the basics! Regardless of how great a player is, understanding why they can do what they do, helps them to have confidence when things aren’t going their way. It allows them to analyze their own skills rather than have me in their ear all of the time.
The first week of practice is also a huge time for me to analyze my coaching strategy and then CHANGE it to what fits the team.
3 Important considerations I look at during the first week of practice each year and how I change.
1) I always analyze the speed of my offense. In an ideal world, we would all run really complex offenses with 4 to 5 attackers per play and they would all run 1st tempo attacks. While I always try to push a faster game, this year I decided to slow it down and speed it up at the same time. To be blunt, my setting is not what it needs to be. Specifically my setting of the “shoot” or “31” set isn’t nearly as accurate as I would like. On a perfect pass it seems to work, but on a set even at the 8-foot mark, we are unable to connect the way we should. What I have chosen to do it to slow the “31” set down to more of a “32” set. It is actually somewhere between the two sets. As I made this adjustment in the first week I saw some huge improvements in hitting accuracy and setters and hitters connecting a higher percentage of the time. To speed up the offense, I have lowered the outside attack, “Hut”, “5”, or “4” to a pace that is similar to the new “31.5” set. (Our numbering system is different, but I am trying to make this readable for the majority our there.)
2) I always analyze the positions of athletes. While I may think one player is better than another at the outside hitter position, I always leave some “free thinking” room to change a hitter to libero, or to the opposite attacker position. I then write down what seem at the time to be crazy ideas and on our matches during the season and in practice scrimmages I take stats on the results of the change. The results of a single change can be huge, so you must take statistics on multiple volleyball skills. You may improve in blocking percentages, decrease in hitting percentages, increase in digs per game, decrease the amount of attempts, etc. Coaching intuition gives me a starting point and then I let the statistics dictate from there what I should do. At the beginning of the season, each of my players will be experiencing multiple positions as later in the season depending on matchups in the game, I am able to make changes on the go and know that the players know how to play each position. My outsides can play opposite, and liberos and defensive specialist must learn to attack from the back row.
3) Serve receive rotations. If you are coaching and don’t spend a significant amount of time on serve receive rotations and strength of rotations you should consider starting ASAP! While the basic rotations aren’t the hard part, tweaking each rotation even slightly can turn into big points as the season progresses. An example would be what I have this season. My very best passer, for some reason struggles with passing from position 5. While he is still my best passer from that location, I would much rather get him to position 6 to pass. This may result in only a couple of points per match, but 2 to 3 points seems to be all that separates the state championship first place team from the second.
Week 2 begins today with a volleyball scrimmage match against 3 other teams. I think we will play each for 20 minutes and then rotate. There is no score keeping, although there are referees and the rest is the same. I usually put my athletes on the floor and let them do their thing for the first scrimmage. I like to see what they “naturally” do, or what tendencies they have as players and as a team, from what I have instructed them to do. I won’t spend too much time correcting them, but rather observe and take notes to see where I may have missed in my coaching. After all, my time to instruct and teach volleyball is during practice. If I haven’t taught it properly or sufficiently I always see it in a game.
First to Twenty-five!
1. Score Points!
A kill block is the most sought after block in volleyball. While there won’t be many of these in a typical game, they can be game winners or losers and have huge impacts when your in a tight squeeze.
2. Make the Attacker Change their Hit!
Given how many options an attacker has when approaching the net, a primary goal of a blocker is to take away their most prominent hit. A blocker can do this by taking away the angle of the hitters attack. This does not guarantee you will block the ball, but it most likely means the opposing hitter has to change their hit, maybe even to a tip if you are lucky.
3. Work Together on Defense!
Team defense is just that, a team effort. By blocking the proper angle or blocking where you are supposed to, you allow your teammates to play defense behind you. Coordinating the block and defense is how great teams work together. When blockers stop coordinating with their defensive counterparts, points are lost fast.
4. Touch the Ball!
While I don’t have stats on it, getting a touch on a ball is almost as intimidating as getting a block. The opposing hitter knows when you touch the ball. As a blocker, you know that you are getting your timing and positioning dialed in also. Touching the ball can slow it down for you teammates, or even eliminate an easy kill.
The most important part of touching the ball is making sure you are not making any technical errors, which make your touches points for the opposing team. Don’t be a target for the attacker! Learn to have a technically sound soft block.
5. Protect your House! (Inside 3 meters)
While your libero may be extremely quick, even the best libero has a hard time covering a ball at the 3 foot line. Straight down attacks come hard and fast! As a blocker, if all you can do is get a soft block up and prevent a kill in front of the 10-foot line, sometimes that is all your team needs to dig a ball and rally back for a point!
6. Scare the Hitter!
My favorite part of blocking is the scare tactic. Usually all it takes is one block to have the attacker trying to evade and avoid the block at all costs. Intimidation at the net can not only occupy an attackers mind, but it can also get very frustrating as they are limited in what hitting options they have left.
7. Scout the Oponent’s Offense
Not only can blockers benefit from recognizing and adjusting to the other team’s offense, but the back row players can also. Communication between the front and back row players creates a more cohesive volleyball team. I like to think of this like football. The defense on football is adjusting at all times. Yes, they have their specific coverages, but if the other team decides to run, then they have a plan to stop the run, if they pass, they have specific assignments for that. In addition, when you have a great receiver like Randy Moss or old school Jerry Rice, you have to pay specific attention to that detail. In volleyball if you have a great outside hitter and a weak opposite attacker, you have to be conscious of this.
First to Twenty-five – Post 1
Losing sleep before the first day of tryouts has become a normal activity for me. The excitement of a new season, the invigorating feeling of a fresh start and a bright hope that fills me within, like the smell of citrus in the morning awakes my competitive desire. This is how I know that I still love coaching.
Unfortunately when I arrived at the first day of tryouts, only 22 total boys showed up for tryouts and my spirits fell right through the floor. The ages were broken down like this, 6 freshman, 3 sophomores, 5 juniors and 8 seniors. The most devastating part is that just 5 miles down the road; they have over 60 boys trying out for the same 24 to 26 positions on junior varsity volleyball and varsity volleyball.
As a coach, this means my gene pool is 1/3 of what the other schools have. They get to pick and choose who makes the team; I get to only rearrange the ones that showed up.
So do I make cuts? Yes! One huge coaching mistake I see over and over is to keep an athlete that is significantly behind the pack. My example will be the senior that tried out that has never played before. I am a firm believer that it takes 2 years to develop enough skill to compete at a competitive high school level. For me to keep a player that cannot serve receive, hit or dig a ball in a high level competitive volleyball environment would only hurt my other players.
There are some exceptions to my 2 year general rule of thumb. The major exception is height. It is not that tall athletes are any better at volleyball than short athletes, but their height allows them room to err when performing skills. They don’t have to jump as high when they put up a block and most importantly they can make timing errors with their approach and attack and still get the ball in the court.
So with a talent pool of only 22 boys this year and an average of about 28 to 30 every other year, how do you create a sustainable volleyball program?
My current philosophy on bridging the gap and creating a consistent stream of talent in your volleyball program is to include sophomores in your varsity volleyball program. By including sophomores it creates a 3 year varsity program rather than a 2 year program of only junior and senior volleyball players. If you lack talent in any given year, speaking mostly of your senior athletes, you can overcome that year by having a 2nd year varsity athlete that is a junior bridge the missing whole. As you do this year over year, you create a program that is consistently competitive.
This usually means limited playing time for the sophomore and many coaches hesitate to take this route. Many coaches would rather have a sophomore play every game at the JV level rather than sit the bench at the varsity level. Many coaches want the athlete to have “game” experience. My goal is that every sophomore I pull up to varsity will have a good chance of being a starter their junior year. In order for that sophomore to be competitive their junior year, they must experience volleyball at a higher, more competitive level. I would assume that for most programs, the instruction and coaching at the varsity level is a little better than the junior varsity level.
At USC coach Pete Carroll, a true idol of mine always said to his incoming freshman, that he didn’t guarantee playing time, but he did guarantee them an opportunity to compete for a starting position. He has said that over the years, having freshman athletes starting on their national championship team has led them to many of their wins.
First to Twenty-five!
I frequently hear debates on volleyball conditioning during practice. I still firmly believe that conditioning during practice time is a poor practice.
Why is it such a waste of time?
From Science of Coaching Volleyball Carl McGown states,
“Research indicates that physical fatigue reduces both performance and learning. Some coaches argue that athletes have to play when they are fatigued, so they need to learn skills when they are fatigued. However, research has found that this procedure is not justified. It appears that practice under ideal conditions is best for learning, regardless of the conditions under which the task is to be performed.”
As a volleyball coach our main job is to teach athletes how to perform volleyball skills. If we choose to run suicides, sprints or any other type of conditioning, we are making the learning process more difficult for the athletes.
Now the most common argument I hear is “when my team plays in long tournaments, we get tired. If we practice playing when we are tired, we will be good at it in tournaments.”
The first is explicit in the transfer of training. I learned this concept when I was trying to learn how to sing. I had been taking voice lessons for a couple years and I was getting frustrated that I didn’t sound like a pop star. I could sing in German and Italian and my voice was beginning to sound like an amateur Josh Groban (not really) but I wanted to sing like a pop or country star. I asked my teacher if I could learn how to sing like the guys on the radio. She simply said, take everything you have learned and do it not as well as you know how. That should do the trick.
I learned then, that if I had been trying to sing like the guys on the radio during the whole time I was training, I may have sounded just like them, but my voice would not have been able to sing beautiful masterpieces.
The same concept applies to volleyball. If you practice volleyball while you are tired, you may be able to play tired. But if you practice without fatigue, you will be able to perform at a high level and still be able to perform when fatigued.
See you on the court!
Where did it come from?
The concept of the competitive cauldron is an adaptation made by Anson Dorrance of Deans Smiths record and stat keeping program, both coaches at the University of North Carolina. If you don’t know about UNC soccer, find out about it and read some more material from Anson Dorrance.
Where most people are hearing of it now is from Gold Medal Squared Coaching Clinics. Dr. Carl McGown, former BYU men’s volleyball coach led BYU to become one of the elite volleyball teams in the nation using the competitive cauldron. Since his use there, he has modified and simplified the program and made it more readily available through his Gold Medal Squared Company.
Does it work? Yes. It makes your practices more competitive and teaches young athletes to compete.
What Is The Competitive Cauldron Used For?
It is nothing more than a tool for coaches and athletes to measure improvement and individual and team output. By keeping track of results, it allows volleyball coaches and volleyball players to know how well they perform in a competitive environment. It also allows coaches to understand what needs to be focused on in practices.
Every coach knows an athlete that performs better in games than they do in practice. Sometimes I have had years where all of my players perform better in games than in practice, while other I have had players that perform best in practice and fail when game time comes around.
By using the competitive cauldron in practices, you teach game players to practice hard and practice players to not fail in competitive situations.
One of my favorite parts about the competitive cauldron is that it shows you as a coach how well you are doing. You may have spent 40 to 50% of your practices last week working on serve receive. If your coaching is getting through to your volleyball players, you will see an improvement in the competitive cauldron in that area. Many times as coaches, we say…”we have gone over that so many times.” But if the athletes haven’t learned it yet, we must continue to teach it and likely we need to change the way that we are teaching it so that they players better understand.
I have included a competitive cauldron worksheet in the resources section of the website. The competitive cauldron spreadsheet should make it easier for you to make correct coaching decisions and win more volleyball games. Part 2 of my guide to Fast Results -The Competitive Cauldron.