Pecking Order Volleyball

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.

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8 Responses to “Pecking Order Volleyball”

  1. Simon Phillips Says:

    One of my favourite sayings is “The ball never lies”

  2. Alexis Says:

    Nice post Huy. The weird thing is that I can relate to many of these things from AVL teams I’ve coached, and even from watching top European Club teams on the weekend. The thing about pecking orders is that, no matter how good you are, they still exist.

  3. Why I Don’t Teach Calling – The Sequel « At Home On The Court Says:

    […] has written something on his experiences on the subject which I greatly enjoyed.  You can read it here. LD_AddCustomAttr("AdOpt", "1"); LD_AddCustomAttr("Origin", "other"); […]

  4. Chris Madden Says:

    G’day Huy,
    This is a phenomenon I have have noticed in the past couple of years of coaching. Each year I have had to convince the players that the team is the important entity, not the individual. Some of the interaction at the start of the year each time has bordered on subtle bullying. As you listed, the loudest/higher status player often takes more of the ball at the beginning. “Trust your team-mates” has been one of my lines to the team. This year I used a post from Mark Lebedew “Why I don’t teach calling” to help me develop alternatives to the loudest player dominating. You can judge better than myself if perhaps I succeeded from your observations at the Schools Cup. Certainly my intention has been to produce a champion team rather than a team of champions.

    • Hugh Nguyen Says:

      Indeed most of this way of thinking comes from that post by Mark. I can only say that the West Beach kids played well and were worthy winners in the end. I was too busy noticing my own players playing the right/wrong ball to take a close look. The teams with the least pecking order often win at the pointy end of the tournament 😉

  5. Chris Madden Says:

    I didn’t notice that Mark’s post had a sequel until after I sent my comment. Good to see SA volleyball people keep reading each other’s blogs.
    You’re right about concentrating on the coaching rather than the opposition. I at least got to see your team in action from the ref’s stand. Some good athletes in that Glenelg team.

    • Hugh Nguyen Says:

      I definitely like reading the blogs! I turned out to have a long day. I was coming to watch Linda’s team, and i got asked to fill in to coach Glenelg U14 girls and AHS U16 div 1 boys. So i didn’t really know either team before sunday. still don’t. I did 6 straight games coaching or refereeing by about 4:00pm.

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