Archive for September, 2011

Pecking Order Volleyball

September 25, 2011

I’ve just spent the weekend at this year’s SA Volleyball’s cup coaching and watching a lot of primary school aged volleyball. What i noticed (which is nothing new) is the overwhelming amount of teams that use a “pecking order” instead of a system.

One of my mantras used to be “you’re never wrong if you call mine”, but I’d have to say I was wrong. That just encourages the most assertive person to play the ball instead of the person who is supposed to play a ball. Many “systems” have the most vocal person playing the ball, or the most dominant person. These teams might win in the shorm term against the easy teams, but not against an organised team with good players.

With kids it’s an interesting sight. The ball comes in between 2 players:

  • The less confident player “defers” or waits for permission from the “star” player to play the ball
  • The player with lower social status defers or waits for permission from the more popular player to play the ball
  • The quieter player lets the more vocal player call for and play the ball
  • The louder player calls the ball even if they’re not even in the postcode as the ball and another player plays the ball anyway
  • People start going for the wrong ball. They don’t notice that you don’t make good contact on the ball while moving quickly.
  • Anarchy, confusion and errors. Coach calls a time out and says everyone needs to talk more and try harder.

My favourite moment was when I was helping a team and convinced the coach to have them take turns with the setter in position 2. We were quite clear on this instruction.  An underclassman played in 2 while one of the senior “regular setters” played in 3. As the ball came up to the setter’s position, the underclassman looked up at the ball, looked at the regular setter, looked back at the ball, back at the setter before finally setting the ball! We’ll iron that out…

It’s not impossible to teach kids to play with a system. It just means you have to accept that your best player (ie the one that has peaked at 12) who wins most of the points doesn’t always touch the ball. You have to create a team and culture where the right person plays the ball – not the loudest, most popular or most skilled.It’s the difference between having a system and a pending a order.

I spent the last 2 weeks of preparation for the National U16 tournament having my team play 6 on 6. servers v receivers for an hour and freeball v defense for an hour. After each rally i would give feedback on when the right person played the ball and when the wrong person played the ball. It was stressed that our “better” receivers were not to play the ball if it wasn’t theirs – even if they could reach it.

During the tournament, the players worked it out. in between rallies if there was a moment of confusion you could see players gesturing to their chests to indicate they should have played the ball – it was usually the right person. They called out of habit but not to claim the ball – everyone knew before and in between contacts whose ball it was. Our defence worked great.

In the meantime, there were teams that had one star player, some other “good” players and players to make up the numbers. Whenever the ball was in doubt between the “star” and the “fodder” player, the “star” would always take the ball. Even if it was a crappy ball 2 feet above the floor that had to be dug over as a free ball. As it turns out being a star player doesn’t help you give a free ball better than your less-skilled teammates. For those teams, they were able to beat the weaker teams, but against the stronger teams, were just outclassed. Those dominant players were overloaded, over extended and were unable to regularly get in the places they needed to to use their weapons.

My new mantra is a modification of a McGown quote. “The ball doesn’t know egos, only angles.” When it comes between you and another player it doesn’t know who is the better player, who is more experienced, who is more popular or even who called ‘mine’. it only knows who is in the spot to make the better angle.

It’s the difference between having the team with the best player and having the best team.