A Game-Like Practice Plan

One of the things coaches get caught up in is practice planning–that was the riff I started working with terrifically for this blog (there’s an old music reference there, by the way).  But then I realized, there would be some people who looked at it and said, “This looks more like basic scrimmaging stuff.  Geez.”  I’m gonna get the argument I need more drills, need to hit balls at my players, take more control of things.  Except, see, if you go wandering through internet volleyball forums (or the really cool Facebook group, “Volleyball Coaches and Trainers”), you’re going to pretty regularly see arguments over drills, ‘training ugly’ and ‘game-like practice’.  A lot of it is old-school vs. new-school stuff and I know better than think I can convince old people that today is better than 1986.

But it is.

So let’s look at the numbers there, chief, that convinced me it’s better to live in 2018 than an era before iPods, X-COM, or Cubs World Series titles.  The beautiful thing of this is that I now have the same number of seasons before I made a switch to after switching to game-like training–so the numbers involved are going to be basically the same sample sizes.

LLCC’s W/L Record/PCT before the switch:   201-74, .731

LLCC’s W/L Record/PCT after the switch:      208-57, ..785 

So basically, you’re looking at an improvement of 5.4%.  Not huge, but that’s still a couple matches per year, and you never know which ones you now get to count as wins!  The one big difference is that before the switch, LLCC had never been to the National Tournament and since the switch, we’ve gone four times with three Final Four appearances and should have gone a fifth time. Over the course of a season, a 5% improvement makes quite a difference, right?  Oh, yeah, and for context–I ramped up our schedule’s toughness starting in 2014, so we did better against a more difficult schedule.

Okay–but why?  I actually think there’s a different factor that makes the huge difference.  That’s our injury rate.  I keep track of the reasons players don’t play in matches.

PRE: 1,129 individual sets missed by players / 953 sets played by the team

POST:   266 individual sets missed by players / 885 sets played by LLCC

PRE, we averaged being short 1.2 players/set on average over the course of SIX YEARS.  POST, we were short 0.3 players/set.  That’s a difference of 400% in reducing injuries.  That’s accumulated over 1,883 sets…I don’t think this falls into the category of ‘small sample size’ folks.

So, I know the question coming and thus the blog title.  “Jim, how would you create that plan?”  And I’m glad you ask that question.  No, really; I’m trying to procrastinate and what better way to avoid real work than write about history or volleyball?

I haven’t mentioned it here, but one of the biggest influences on me as a coach was Jim Stone.  He coaches the 18u National Team now, but I got to work for him for three years while he was the head coach at Ohio State, and I don’t think in the three years I worked for him that he ever blocked drills or segments to take up a specific amount of time.  Ohio State worked on things as long as they were productive–if something wasn’t working and wasn’t helping, OSU moved on.  If something was going great, we kept going, extending the teachable moment.

What that means is–I don’t ‘time’ my practices.  I’ve put some times below as a rough guideline, but don’t mimic them for the sake of imitation, for God’s sake!  I’ve also put comments in with what I am thinking for each part of the plan.  Put aside ego or hating that you’re tossing out 80% of a practice plan you spent hours thinking about and designing–extend the teachable moment, run with what is improving your team!


USAV Shoulder Pre-HabWe alternate days for this.  I freely and fully admit this shoulder workout is 100% stolen from the USAV High Performance manual….

USAV Dynamic WarmupWe rotate through with the three different versions.  Combined with the Shoulder-Pre Hab, it gives us six different warm-up combinations.  Yes, this is stolen, too.

TIME BUDGETED FOR WARMUPS: 20 minutes (this is done before our gym time starts whenever possible)

50-50-50  Variation on the butterfly drill…ball is thrown from 10ft line (Zn4) to Zn1, passed from there to target (if roster is big enough, setter will set to target, passer and setter move to cover target).  After 50 good passes (target is 5 feet off the net, NOT right on top of the net), thrower backs up to 20 ft from net.  At this point, thrower becomes server and serves from 20ft.  This is repeated from the end line.  The intention of the 50-50-50 is to get passers to move/read the ball coming over and gradually warm up arms.  Since all serves must go to Zn1, it also works on serve accuracy)

TIME BUDGETED FOR 50-50-50: 10-15 minutes…depends on the number of people in the drill, or sometimes we go 0-50-50 or reduce the drill length.

SERVE-RECEIVE:  (15-30 minutes, depending)

  • Serves going both ways, two or three passers, target (or setter+target), rotating every 60 seconds or so…servers are working on serving passing seams or specific zones, passers are reading server, setters are getting reps–and target will switch set of emphasis as well.
  • Servers, three passers, non-setter setting+target.  More passing practice and setters need to know how to pass, non-setters need to ball-handle.
  • Serve, passer/hitter, setter.  Serve comes over, whoever passes must also hit the set.  (We will also do this where the passer cannot be the hitter) 
  • Serve, pass/hit/defender, setter.  Competition–rotate after 3/5/10 points.  Score a point for an ace OR a kill.  Kill = hitter hits it and three defenders on other side cannot get two touches total.  Hitters now have to think passing AND hitting, but also need to think defense immediately, work on reading a hitter’s approach, judging the set, etc

SPEED BALL(15-20 minutes)

I won’t describe this.  If you don’t know it–think Queen of the Court on steroids…finding examples of Speed Ball is easy.  By the way, you increase player contacts with the ball by something like 60% this way.  We play games for time OR to certain point totals.  Rules change with every game–they are explained once only; I want players to pay attention (yeah, good luck with that).

  • Variation 1: Net serves = back to 0.
  • Variation 2: No setting allowed, contacts must be forearm OR attacks
  • Variation 3: Can not hit with dominant hand
  • Variation 4: Aces count 3 points
  • Variation 5: Tips to a specific location count extra



This can also be done with live blockers.  With the coach putting it over the net, we get a pass, set, swing, and players covering.  You can have a player serve it over, but we do it this way so the focus is on the hit/cover, etc.  I want balls put in certain places to start the drill and my players don’t have the skill (and we don’t have the time for them to get it) to do it.   …and sometimes I don’t have enough players tall enough to put up a serious block…

This will take 10-15 minutes–more if it is going well

ROTATIONS:  We will play 6-on-6, working on our six rotations–this will include serve-receive, as well as defense.  A coach will toss a ball in, the player immediately free-balls over to the other team…we want aggressively placed freeballs, not just lollipops to the middle where it’s easily played.

15-30 minutes daily for most of the season.  In the week before play starts, we’ll spend more time on this.  At the end, we spend less.

BASKETBALL (named because the eventual scores look like an NBA game *and* because you score 1-3 points per play):  This is a game with two full teams, played in either two 10-minute halves or four 6 minute quarters.  Ball is entered by coach to Team 1 who freeballs it to Team 2 to play it out.  This will happen for the first two quarters.  At the half, teams switch sides and Team 2 freeballs to Team 1

Points are scored differently each day we play… Variations:

  • After 6 hitting errors in a quarter, your opponent is in the bonus and receives 2 points for all further hitting errors the rest of the quarter (or half if you wish)
  • 3 points for quick set kills / 2 points for tips landing in Zn 1 / 1pt for all others.
  • 3 points for RS kills / 2 points for tooling the block / 1 pt for all others
  • 3 points for BR attacks / 2 points for setter dumps / 1 pt for all others, bonus 1 pt each time someone on the other team dives unnecessarily instead of remaining on their feet. 

Players get a drink break at the half.

The drill really works on transition and provides a ton of contacts.  We play this about 75% of the days.  At the proper pace, this drill also serves as great conditioning–players don’t get time outs, they don’t sub…they are out there the full length of the quarter, so if they are struggling–the other team gets to take advantage of that.   It can add quite a bit of ‘chaos’ and the unexpected–good things in my opinion.

Basketball usually takes 30-40 minutes to play, depending on length of quarters and how long you give for the halftime break.

And that’s a two-hour practice designed to be ‘game-like’ as much as possible.


So…now it’s time for camps to start.  That means rather than the weekly pace I’ve been able to keep up is going to change to once every other week.  Though I’ve put this up in places like ‘Volleyball Coaches and Trainers’, I may not remember to do it–camps occupy most of my focus now before our LLCC pre-season begins.  That means–click the ‘FOLLOW’ button.  That’ll get you a notification when something else pops out of my brain and on to your computer screen!!






Team Rules (adaptable to all sports)

**Consider clicking that lil’ ol’ “Follow” button.  You’ll get notified when other blog posts get put up.  They aren’t all volleyball or teaching/coaching related, but ideally, they’ll get you thinking about things, one way or another!

So, if you’re reading this and you’re a volleyball coach–you need to be aware (if you aren’t already) of a Facebook group for coaches called “Volleyball Coaches and Trainers”.  It’s an invite-only forum, exclusive to nearly 20,000 volleyball coaches intent on improving their coaching, their program, and the game as a whole.

So one of the things that regularly gets discussed there on VCT is “What rule does your team have for _______________?”

For perspective–I’m a libertarian at heart–I don’t want government regulation and laws burying me–but you DO need rules to make sure no one goes too far with behavior.  No matter what Washington DC thinks, you can not legislate every situation.  The best you can do are guidelines…which also leave you room to judge each individual situation on its own merits.  That’s important when you are dealing with young people!

So–what do I put in the LLCC Volleyball rules?  I’m glad you asked.   There are two answers below–the short, Reader’s Digest version, for people who prefer the world in Twitter-sized increments followed by the complete rules–that’s for the lawyers and bureaucrats among you.  The complete rules aren’t actually complete–I removed certain things like phone numbers and so on.

Our rules contain:

  1. Coach contact information
  2. Our goals and priorities for the coming season (The priority order NEVER changes.  It goes family, school, volleyball in that order.)
  3. School alcohol/drug policy
  4. Dealing with absences (unexcused and excused)
  5. Playing time philosophy, ethics, sportsmanship
  6. Expectations of players not on the court
  7. Quotes from coaches and athletes from various sports regarding #5 and #6
  8. Academic policies, including class attendance and grade checks.
  9. End of Season meetings with athletes
  10. Spring/Out of Season Practice
  11. Cell Phone Use, Social Media
  12. Fundraising Obligations
  13. Policy regarding drama
  14. Pre-match 30-minute protocol
  15. “Tiebreakers”…something I found that is similar (to me) to Wooden’s Pyramid of Success.

Not officially part of the rules, but we also include our schedule for the next season, our travel itinerary, and a summer conditioning program,  This past year, I also added in some of USA Volleyball’s list of cues/requirements for each position–great checklists for players to understand their jobs out on the court!

So did I miss anything?  If so, let me know.  One of the important things about rules is that they are ‘living’.  We do not have the same rules each year (indeed, these are the 2016 rules–the ’17 set is kept as secure as an NFL playbook until the year is over).  I listen to suggestions and ways to improve them and sometimes incorporate those changes in to our rulebook.  If players are on board and can help make the rules, they are far more likely to respect and follow them.

Now for the long version:




TEAM GOALS: Goals are important. But they must also be realistic. Set goals for what will make for a good season. Write your goals down—the superstition is that dreams cannot become reality until they’ve been written down. Once written, put them in an envelope and seal it. You will need three individual goals for your self and three goals that you think will be important for our team’s success. At the end of the year, open the envelope—were you successful? Was the team?

PRIORITIES: 1. Family 2. School 3. Volleyball 4. Everything else

YOU are responsible for using your best judgment regarding what to do. YOU must balance volleyball with schoolwork. If YOU are unable to balance life, being a student, YOUR responsibilities as an athlete, consider whether YOU should be part of our team—great success requires great commitment.

ALCOHOL/DRUG POLICY: AS PER THE ATHLETIC CODEPlayers consuming alcohol within 24hrs of a sanctioned volleyball event (practice, match, or tournament) will be dismissed from the team. NO EXCEPTIONS.

ABSENCE FROM PRACTICE: An unexcused absence from practice will result in a player not playing in the next match.  Being late for practice will result in a player not playing in the next game.  EXCEPTION: Sophomores visiting colleges during spring—presuming they’ve informed the coaches in advance.

ABSENCE/TARDINESS FROM OTHER VOLLEYBALL EVENTS:  Absence from other mandatory events (such as concessions duty) will be punished accordingly, REGARDLESS of whether it is an ‘excused’ absence or not: 1st offense:  Offender will make up the concessions day and take an additional duty shift.

2nd offense:  Offender will make up the concessions day, take an additional shift, and will be required to do three additional hours in the fitness center (6-7am…the time is NOT negotiable).

3rd offense: Meeting with athletic director and dismissal from the team.

HINTS REGARDING PLAYING TIME, ETC: If this needs to be discussed, do so in private with the coaching staff. The staff will not discuss this with parents or relatives—ever.

* Our object is to play as a team and win.  * Do not set your personal goals around playing time—develop goals around improving yourself.  * Challenge yourself each day to improve. * If you don’t give 100% in practice, you will not get the opportunity to give 100% in a game. * You can lead from the bench as well as on the court—be loud, cheer, high five teammates. *If you are part of “drama”, you’ll have time to think about it while doing stats.

In the end, we are all responsible for our own decisions, the good and the bad. This means we are also responsible for the consequences of those decisions. MAKE SURE TO THINK BEFORE YOU ACT!!!

ETHICS: Ethics are the rules we strive to live by or help us improve what we do. What LLCC wants is:

1 – You must be willing to work harder than anyone else every day of practice. 2 – Everyone has a role on the team and contributes in some fashion. It may not be your dream position, but you must accept that the coaching staff is interested in the TEAM’s success. 3 – We need you to work hard to do what the coaches ask.   4 – Treat your teammates, coaches, fans, and opponents with respect (officials, too). 5 – The TEAM comes first.


  1. Are you coachable? Are you willing to listen to criticism and realize it meant to improve your abilities?
  2. Do you want to win? Does losing bother you? Do you want the ball in your hands at game point every time?
  3. Are you mentally tough? Can you play through soreness or being tired? Can you pay attention to little details such as where the weak digger is while the ball is in play?
  4. Do you work as hard in practice as you do in a game?
  5. Will you make sacrifices for the better of the program? Practice, daily weightlifting, and off-season individual work require great dedication.
  6. Are you willing to work on the areas that are your weakest or do you prefer just to work on your strengths?
  7. Can you handle being an athlete and a student at the same time?
  8. Do you make excuses for not doing what you are supposed to be doing to help the team?


One of the areas a coach has a problem with is the bench and its role. Volleyball teams put six players on the court at a time, yet there are up to 15 players on the roster. Doing the math, this means there are six to nine players on the bench at any one time. In most cases, if you didn’t think you were good enough, you would’ve quit the sport long ago. That causes a problem: everyone wants to play, but the coach’s job is to select a lineup and do everything possible to win. Thus, challenges are created for players AND coaches to deal with.

The bench is vital throughout the season. The bench sees playing time when possible, usually with a large lead or deficit. The bench is also used to alter the tempo of a game so players on the bench MUST be ready to go on a second’s notice and know who they are going in for, where they are on the court, and what is going on.

In summary: 1 – The non-starters challenge starters every day in practice so we are prepared for tough matches, rivals, and ranked teams.

2 – You are ready to enter a game at any instant. Long-term success comes from the bench’s ability to perform this critical role. 3 – You must strive to improve yourself. This challenges your teammates to get better themselves. This way THE TEAM benefits. 4 – You are not expected to be satisfied not being in the match—no one ever is. But you are expected to maintain a ‘professional’ attitude. We win together, we lose together—AS A TEAM.


The Player: She lives clean and plays hard. She plays for the love of the game. She wins without boasting, loses without excuses, and never, ever quits. She never forgets she represents LLCC at all times, whether on the court or off.

The Coach: He inspires players to enjoy the game and have a desire to succeed.

He teaches it is better to lose fairly within the spirit of the rules instead of cheating to win. He strives to be the role model he wants his players to become.

The Official: She knows the rules.

She is fair and firm. She is consistent. She treats the players and coaches with respect and demands similar treatment. She knows the game is for the players and doesn’t take the spotlight from them.

Mike Hebert (Head VB Coach, Minnesota, retired): “I [have] learned it isn’t enough to tell a frustrated spiker ‘Just jump higher….’ Nor is it enough to muster a pained expression and implore your team during a time-out to ‘CONCENTRATE!!!’ as if that magic word can propel players from a 5-20 deficit to win a game. I learned that giving in to the urge to express feelings of disgust when players are performing poorly NEVER succeeds as a catalyst for improved performance.” (And now you know why I rarely yell…)

Nadia Comenieci (1st gymnast to score a 10.0): “Practicing hard made everything easy. That was my secret. It is why I win.”

Wayne Gretzky (greatest hockey player ever): “The greatest compliment ever paid me was when someone said I worked hard every day, that I never ever dogged it.”

George Bernard Shaw (the only winner ever of a Pulitzer Prize AND Oscar): “When I was a young man I observed that nine out of ten things I did were failures. I didn’t want to be a failure, so I did ten times more work.”

Derek Jeter (future Hall of Fame baseball player): “There may be people that have more talent than you, but there’s no excuse for anyone to work harder than you do.”

Laird Hamilton (champion surfer and fashion model): “Make sure your worst enemy doesn’t live between your own two ears.”

George Halas (NFL founder, former NFL and MLB athlete): “Nobody who ever gave his best regretted it.”—George Halas

Tom Landry (Hall of Fame football coach): “I didn’t believe in team motivation. I believe in getting a team prepared so it knows it will have the necessary confidence when it steps on the field and be prepared to play a good game.”

Herschel Walker (Heisman winner, track/field all-American, Olympic bobsledder): “If you train hard, you’ll not only be hard, you’ll be hard to beat.”—Herschel Walker

Muhammad Ali (greatest boxer ever): “I hated every minute of training, but I said, ‘Don’t quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.’”

Dan Gable (wrestled and coached 20+ national titles, Olympic champion considered the greatest wrestler of all-time): “Gold medals aren’t really made of gold. They’re made of sweat, determination, and a hard-to-find alloy called guts.”



Volleyball players are required to put five hours per week in the study room. This is a requirement of your scholarship.  Failure to put in your five hours means you are ineligible to play until the missed hours have been made up. If you miss your required hours two consecutive weeks, you will be suspended for one month. CONSIDER YOURSELF WARNED!!!

After each grade check, if you have ANY unexcused absences or ANY grades that are a C- or lower, volleyball players will be required to spend an additional two hours/week in study tables.

In addition, class attendance is mandatory.  This will be checked randomly by the academic advisor as well as by various LLCC coaches. Attendance is a requirement of your scholarship.  Missing class will result in suspension and a calisthenics penalty.  Missing more than once for any reason other than illness or family emergency will be grounds for dismissal from the team.

If you are ill and unable to attend class, you should contact the athletic office immediately.

You may also email me, but I will only relay the information onwards at my convenience.  It is YOUR responsibility to inform the athletic department administration! You must contact the Athletics office immediatelyNO LATER THAN 10 A.M.

Grade sheets are handed out at different points each semester.  These are to be returned by the day listed on the sheet.  If there are no grades in a class, the instructor should put “No Grades Yet” in the grade area.  Late grade sheets will be penalized—by a combination of suspension, conditioning, or added concessions hours.

END OF SEASON: At the conclusion of the fall season, individual meetings are held with freshmen to discuss the season as well as status for next season. These are scheduled for during the week, normally in the evening.

IMPORTANT: At the end of season, an equipment inventory for each player will be taken. Players are responsible for presenting all gear they’ve been issued. Missing gear will require reimbursement by the player. You will reimburse the team 50% of the retail value of the missing items.

SPRING PRACTICE: Spring practice is no different than fall in terms of playing time or responsibilities. The only exceptions will be assignments for manning the concessions stand during home tournaments (if any) and if there are logistics issues regarding travel for away tournaments (size of van, etc).Outside employment is not an excuse for absence from practice or events. Starting after Spring Break, you MUST leave the hours of 2-7pm open.



CELL PHONES:   Cell phones should not be brought into the gym or else they must be turned off during practice or a match.  These should be left in your room, locker, or vehicle.   If a phone goes off in practice or is in use at a prohibited time, everyone else on the TEAM will run THREE suicides—TURN THE PHONE OFF!!!

Cell phones should not be used in the last thirty minutes of a bus trip on the way TO a match. Cell phones are not restricted after we are done playing for a day.

SOCIAL NETWORKS: This is your responsibility.  Any information regarding improper behavior on your page can and will be used against you.  In addition, youwill add the coaches to your pages (whether Facebook, Instagram, or whatever).

FUNDRAISING: All players are required to participate in events designed to help finance the volleyball program. This includes …. Helping in these ways means players do not have any other fundraising obligations such as selling signs, advertisements, or serve-a-thons.

Players MAY choose to fundraise via ads, selling signs, or simply paying cash…. In such a case, a player is required to raise THREE BILLION DOLLARS in lieu of other work.  This is required of scholarship AND walk-on players. Failure to do so can result in the loss of scholarship or having a ‘hold’ placed on your grades until the situation is fixed.

ATTITUDE/DRAMA: If you cannot keep disruptive issues in check, you will find your playing time reduced. If that does not correct the issue or you are being negative for other reasons, you will face dismissal from the team. THIS IS YOUR WARNING!!!! If a problem persists, you will be removed from the team.



Before 30:00 USA HP Warmup #1 plus Bands

30:00 – 29:00 Dig Pepper with Partner—Tips

29:00 – 28:00 Dig Pepper—Normal

28:00 – 27:00 Dig Pepper–Baby Jumps

27:00 – 24:00 Shuttle Ball Control (Groups of 3 or 4 without two setters)

24:00 – 21:00   Serve Receive with  Toss (players as target/net)

**30:00 – 21:00 SETTERS AT THE NET working on set repetitions. One setter completes sequence, then second.

21:00 – 19:00 Rest / Drinks

19:00 – 15:00 Visiting Team 1st Warmup on Court 15:00 – 11:00 Home Team 1st Warmup on Court 11:00 – 6:00 Visiting Team 2nd Warmup on Court 6:00 – 1:00 Home Team 2nd Warmup on Court 1:00 – 0:00 Shag Balls / Huddle

First warmup: Serving and serve-receive.

Second warmup: Hitting and blocking




This should be self-explanatory. Hustle on the court, in games, in practice. If you hustle to shag balls and other ‘grunt work’, then hustling during games will become automatic. You will play quicker and with speed comes more balls kept in play, more points, and more wins.


Don’t talk behind a teammate’s back. If you have something to say—good or bad—make sure to say it to their face. Even better, if you see something good done by a teammate, go out of your way to say something.


Remember that there is more going on than one day in practice, one match. No one on the team is going to play every point. Not everyone will start. The big picture is about growing up. It’s about commitment and work ethic and learning what will lead to success for you over the next four, five, or six decades. It’s about your education. If you get caught up in petty squabbles, you will be miserable and you will make others miserable and you will miss out on everything that is part of the big picture.


No—not that way. Being easy refers to being easy to understand, being willing to communicate and listen—so that there are no chances for misunderstandings between you and someone else. Don’t turn someone away when they need to talk with you—listen and reflect on what they have to say. If this exists both ways, communication WILL be effective.


Success doesn’t require thinking ‘outside the box’. It requires success ‘in the box’. That means that the only thing on your mind during practice or matches is volleyball. You shouldn’t be thinking of why you are mad at Betty or if Jane’s comment was an insult or not. You shouldn’t be worried about Tina talking to your boyfriend. You HAVE to focus on volleyball. Teams that focus on what they are supposed to be doing win. Teams that bring in irrelevant stuff from ‘outside the box’ lose.


I ask players regularly for their opinions. It doesn’t mean that is what we’ll do, but feedback is ABSOLUTELY important. The reverse is also true—if you have questions, ask. The cliché is true for the most part….there are no stupid questions.


If you see a teammate with a flat tire on the interstate and no one around, you’d stop and help, or at least wait with them until the Highway Patrol arrived. You wouldn’t think twice about this. You don’t ignore them. This must be the same in the gym.  If there is a problem fix it. The three big parts of this are:

1 – Empathize. Can you understand the other person’s situation or are you caught up in ‘me, me, me’?

2 – If you made a mistake or said something inappropriate, admit it. Apologize. Then strive to not repeat the mistake. 3 – You must risk being taken advantage of by others for the sake of the team and its goals. Help someone get better even if they could be promoted to start over you, accept responsibility even if you risk being unpopular temporarily.


Do you appreciate your teammates? Have you told them that directly? Or are they left wondering what you are thinking as you whisper to someone else? Never, ever, discount the value of positive comments to teammates.


Do it right every time. EVERY SINGLE TIME. Be dependable, be consistent. Don’t be afraid to do new things when asked—simply give 100% at everything you do. People not playing (coaches, fans, etc) notice when players do not give 100% all of the time. As you grow older, it will become more and more obvious who is and isn’t giving 100%. Make people go ‘WOW!’ when they watch you hustle.


This is the tough one. It’s recommended you tattoo this somewhere on your body: KNOW YOURSELF. On top of that, make sure others see the real you. If your teammates know you are struggling with confidence on your hitting, they will be more likely to offer encouragement. If you are having relationship issues, they will be less likely to make joking comments that unintentionally hurt—and lead to drama and poisoned personal relationships.

**If you’re interested in more stuff on volleyball, check out The Human Side of Coaching (though I’ll also note the publisher hasn’t paid me my royalties…Still, it’s a worthwhile book for coaches, especially newer ones).  It’s a collection of essays on dealing with parents, athletic directors, players–you won’t find any drills in here!



They Call it a Streak, Part II

(Reporter):  Hello, everyone, this is your action news reporter with all the news that is news across the nation, on the scene at the volleyball court. There seems to have been some disturbance here. Pardon me, sir, did you see what happened?

(Witness):  Yeah, I did. I’s standin’ over there by the club parents, and here he come, writin’ ups a storm with Excel sheets and everthin’, prolly wrote it nekkid as a jay bird. And I hollered over t’John Kessel an’ I said, “Don’t look, John!” but it’s too late, he’d already read it.

Okay–for those of you too young to get the reference up above…that’s ripping off a Ray Stevens song called (shockingly) “The Streak“.

So last week I wrote up something VB related on the importance of scoring 4 points consecutively.  Don’t want to leave me here?  That’s cool.  Click here and you’ll open up that first article.  I’ll wait here for you.

Stop (hammer time)–four disclaimers…

*If you are looking for absolutes, you need to go somewhere else.  There is an exception to everything, whether it is volleyball, nutrition, or automobiles (yes, there are well-made English automobiles, believe it or not).

*Commentary can’t apply to every level as provided here.  Of course international men’s professional volleyball will have different results than Jr. High School ball.  I’m not aiming for a single level–the aim is for (no guarantees) useful concepts or at least things that get YOU to think outside the box.

*If you want answers, I don’t even have those.  What I have are questions, suggestions, and nothing more.

*I try and use simple math.  Ideally all coaches can work with ‘normal’ numbers.  Do teams all score 25/50/75% of the time?  No, not at all.  But unless you’re going to cough up money to me to do the actual number crunching, you’re going to get normal math (because the concept is what is important–the specifics you need are within your own team’s data).  

Okay, so that’s out of the way.

I was thinking about streaking again yesterday, and as, per usual, because of baseball.  It started on my drive back from a club staff dinner.  Pat Hughes, the Cubs’ announcer, was talking about unconventional batting orders.  That’s something that has come up a lot in the past 3 or 4 years.  Tradition holds that you put a fast guy first, followed by a contact hitter, and then three power hitters.  The weakest hitter goes 8th and the pitcher MUST go 9th.

Volleyball has similar rules when it comes to a lineup.  How many coaches have been told that they MUST start with their best server serving first OR the setter at right back?  Coaches do this because it is the way it has always been done.

You may not know me well–but understand, I will ask the question “Why?” until it bugs the living crap out of you. I despise ‘because I said so’ or ‘because that’s the way we’ve always done it.’  Those are lazy answers.

To be fair, tradition does come with reasoning–fast guy can steal, the next guy can hit or move him over to scoring position (fast guy’s hard to double up), and then the bashers drive him in.  The pitcher’s worst, so he goes last.  We can see the logic.  With volleyball, three hitters gives more options than two, making it harder for the other team to block (and your setter is usually a weaker blocker anyways) while at younger levels, it is more difficult to pass a serve, so a great server will score a bunch of points.

The thing is–those may be the right strategies, but without an understanding of why, they may also be wrong strategies.  Knowing why always helps you as a coach.

Baseball has moved away from that style of lineup.  Finally, managers and front offices have realized that it doesn’t matter how you get on base–you just need to get there, so that being fast doesn’t matter if you aren’t on-base often (see: Billy Hamilton).  That’s because they’ve also realized that if the mashers are jackin’ home runs, speed is irrelevant because runners are actually joggers–plenty of time to circle bases after a blast into the upper deck.  Thus, the first reason for change in lineups.

The second with baseball–every game starts at the top of the lineup (duh, right?).  The thing is, over the course of nine innings, a variable number of batters come to the plate–but any overage ALWAYS goes to the guys at the top of the batting order.  You don’t notice this over the course of a game or even a week–but over the course of a full season, that can be a difference of up to 60-80 plate appearances (depending on the team’s offense, etc) between a hitter at the top of the order and the ones at the bottom.  Would you rather Billy Hamilton get those 100 attempts or Bryce Harper or Kris Bryant?  (Again, duh.)   So teams have begun stacking the front end of their lineups more and more with their best hitters to insure they get those extra at-bats in later innings.  More at bats for your better players–the change makes sense.

So now (yeah, yeah, finally, I know) we get to volleyball.  Why don’t coaches consider things this way as well?

Look–I run a program with me part-time and a part-time assistant.  That means a lot of stat-stuff doesn’t exist or I don’t take the time to log it.  In the long run, match stats aren’t ‘important’ enough for me to keep play-by-play results for more than a week (if that).  Sorry.

…so that means, I looked at matches I’ve ground through for other reasons.  I stuck to the ones where the teams were balanced.  Once again, blowouts aren’t useful–none of us worry about those.  The difference between winning 25-8 and 25-12 is nada.  But that same 4-pt swing between 23-25 and 25-23…now we’re cooking with gas!  So I skipped out on anything where both teams didn’t reach 20 (or 10 for a deciding set)

The first step I took was going back and counting how many rotations we played per set.  Against evenly matched teams, we tend to  go 14-15 rotations/set.  The deciding set matches went 8-9 rotations.  (I’m going with 15 and 9 since those work well with ‘6’ rotations–we’re considering the principle, the mileage for your team will vary)

That means in a regular set, we’re going around 2.5 times and a deciding set, 1.5.  Essentially, it means that the players you start at left front and left back are most likely to be your hitters at the end of a set–and the one at middle front is next in line for importance.   

That all is a long-winded secondary point–if you’re playing a team equal/close to yours, you’re going to want to lead with your best lineup (which means you should lead with it all the time so you don’t get cute/screw up your players with unexpected adjustments).

Now back to today’s program.  From the previous article, the critical factor in winning a set are runs of 4-pts. We win (or our opponents defeat us) whenever they put together a set’s longest streak and those are 99% likely to be at least 4 consecutive points.  What I didn’t consider was the question of “Does it matter when that streak takes place?  The start of a set?  The end of it?”

It’s a big question.  Mathematically, a point is a point, each no more significant in value than any another (though there is math out there that can show that not every point is equally valuable once you take into account another concept that baseball calls ‘leverage’).

Remember–this is absolutely a small sample size–but if we are able to put together a 4-pt run in the first 10 points of a set, we win the set roughly 95% of the time (presuming we do not permit an equal-sized streak during that time).  Also of note, I’ve found that the team that gets to ‘5’ first wins 70-75% of matches regardless of streaks.   Since matches start as 50-50 propositions, those are two important factoids that drastically alter the potential outcome of a match in your favor.


So–that means if you can crank out that 4-pt run straight out of the gate, you’re increasing your chance of winning at least 50% before you’ve gone 2-3 rotations, regardless of anything else (like your opponent getting a run later on), or if you are LLCC, you put your chances up at 95%..  

I also found that these runs tend to happen early in most sets.  There are two points which provide context/an explanation:

  • They ‘can’t’ happen at the end of a close match because of the point-limit that ends games.  My girls may be ready to go on a 5-pt roll, but if we’re already up 23-21, that ends after just 2 points.
  • When up 2-0 in the match, long runs seem to happen equally at the end as at the start.  The only guess I have for this is because the losing team is ready to pack it in rather than try and fight back for the rest of the set and two more after it…easier to just get ice, get food, go home.

There’s another thing going on (I think).  I don’t believe in momentum, but I do believe in pressure.  If we score 25pts in 15 rotations, that’s an average of 1.67/rotation.  So–if we start with a 4pt run and then are statistically average from that point on, our opponent has to be above average in every rotation played for the remainder of the set.  That means they’ll take more risks, potentially leading to opportunities for more runs of points.

A run of points out of the gate is essential.  But I think that the next place it becomes significant is the end of a close match–as previously mentioned, I know every point is equal in value, but I just can’t get past the baseball concept of leverage and the importance of points/streaks later on for a team’s success.  (For the record, we won 60% of matches where we had a streak after 20-20…3 of 5, way too small of a sample to draw conclusions)

The short lesson of all this:

Don’t get caught up in “I must put my setter at right-back” or “She’s my ‘best’ hitter, so she’ll start at left front”.  Look at the data for your team and figure out which are your best two rotations for scoring and putting together that 4+pt streak.  You may find the rotation most likely to pick up those points are with that setter in the front row (who knows–only you know your team!). Lead with your rotations that score!


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If you’re interested in more stuff on volleyball that rambles a little less :),  check out Like Heck She Isn’t a Volleyball Player available on Amazon and other internet bookstores.  It’s a collection of 27 essays on all parts of the most exciting indoor (and outdoor) sport in the world.







The Importance of Streaking

First, if you read this, like this, etc–hit the follow button.  That’s helpful on my end of things…even lets me see who reads what and all that good stuff.  Besides, you know you need to know when I’m doing a blog, right?

Second, always remember that me and technology…well, we’re not always on good terms.  Writing this, I think I spent as much time trying to format the data below as I did writing the text.  Since you can see it below, it remains in unwieldy format.  If you don’t want to look at it, don’t–the writing will give you the conclusion.  The spreadsheet stuff is there to show where I got everything.  And now, off we go…

Actually, not quite.  For some out there, I should disappoint you.  The title is for amusement purposes–this isn’t about running down the street in your birthday suit.  This is about scoring consecutive points.

I like reading stuff about other sports.  With the way professional sports like baseball and basketball mine data in hopes of finding a 1% competitive edge (which is huge statistically speaking, by the way), I think it’s important to take those things and see if they can be applied to the sport I coach–volleyball.

One of those tidbits was from baseball and something called run-clumping.  MLB results show that a team who puts together a single big outburst of runs is more likely to win a game than a team who scores more often but fewer runs at a time.  Fair enough.  Given the sequential progression of volleyball (one point scored after another, always one point at a time…), something like this should be capable of being duplicated.

First, the ‘live’ test.  I went back and watched 45 sets of the team I coach over the past three years.  I picked specific matches where I felt the teams were reasonably competitively balanced–where the SO% for both programs would be close to equal.

In those 45 sets, the team putting together the longest streak won 44.  Yikes.  That looks like confirmation of the idea.  So the next step–I’m going to chart everything from a back-and-forth 5-set match we played at 2016 Nationals:

SET 1:  21-25.  Our largest run was 3-points, our opponent’s was 4.  Both teams scored multiple points with the ball seven times.

SET 2:  22-25.  Our best three runs: 4-3-3.  Their best three: 4-4-3. We scored multiple points six times, they did eight.

SET 3:  26-24 .  Our best runs 3-3-3, their best 3-2-2.  A lot of ugly volleyball.  A lot–unless you like net serves and ball-handling errors…in which case, THIS is the set for you!

SET 4:  25-20.  We have a 5-pt and 4-pt streak.  They manage two 3-pt streaks…things really start rolling for us the last quarter of the set.

SET 5: 15-10.  Our top runs go 5-3-2.  Theirs are 3-2-1.

But even then, a single match–it’s too small of a sample size to prove anything, so I spent some time trying to figure out how to do two perfectly balanced teams, both with a 50% chance of scoring on a given play.  It dawned on me–that was a coin-toss and the internet offers apps that will do tosses for you, so I went in and did coin toss after toss until either heads or tails reached 25 (or won by two).   Those are the results in the unwieldy spreadsheet below.  What happened with those random games?

Gm 1:  25-23, same point-streak for both, the winning team put together one extra streak

Gm 2: 25-23, the exact same thing

Gm 3: 25-20, winners with a 6-point streak.  The losers had a 4-pointer.

Gm 4: 25-23.  Winners had a 6-point streak, losers had two 4-pt ones.

Gm 5: 28-26.  Winners with a 8-point streak, losers with a streak of 5 and 4.

Gm 6: 25-22.  Both had 4-pt streaks, but the winner had two of them.

Gm 7: 23-25.  Winner had two 3-pt streaks, loser had a 4-pt streak.

Gm 8: 25-23.  Winner had one 8-pt streak. Loser had 5 streaks of 3+ points.

Gm 9: 25-22.  Winner with a streak of 6, loser with streak of 5.

Gm 10: 25-17.  Both with streaks of 4.  Losers only had two real streaks during the set, winner put together six 3+ point streaks.

Gm 11: 25-20, Winner streak of 5, loser streak of 3.

Gm 12: 25-19, winner with a streak of 6, loser with 6 2-pt runs.

Gm 13: 25-22.  Winner with two streaks of 4, loser with four streaks of 3.  Winner with 7 streaks of 3+, losers with 8 streaks of 3+.

Gm 14: 25-23.  Winner with a streak of 6, loser with two streaks of 5.

Gm 15: 25-15.  Streak of 8 vs. streak of 4.

So–out of 15 runs of coin tosses, basically the team who put together the best run won 14 of 15 sets.  To me, that suggests the sampling I did that got 44/45 isn’t too far off (we could translate the 14/15 as 42/45 if you need to).

The thing is, statistics should be able to tell us something, whether it is to make in-game, immediate adjustments, to determine what to work on during training, or in shaping your team/coaching philosophy.  Thus, these numbers should hint at something to improve a team.

For me, the numbers tell me that it’s really okay to whiff on your first serve if you are being aggressive.  Going through a rotation without scoring isn’t going to hurt you tremendously, what you need to do is get a roll started–thus, the aggressiveness.

If there’s a point where the old saw of ‘just serve in’ may make a difference–it’s after you’ve scored three points in a row–scoring 4 points in a row certainly looks to be a big deal.  In 43 of the 45 LLCC sets I watched, the winning team had a run of 4+ points (not including the 5-set match described separately).   In that five-set match, 4 of 5 sets, the winner had a run of 4+points (and the other was just a comedy of serve errors and BHE).  In 14 of the 15 coin-toss sets, the winning team had a run of at least 4.

* * *

By the way, if you like this–and because authors need people reading their stuff, consider picking up one of the volleyball books I’ve written.  It’s a collection of 27 essays meant to make you think about coaching (even if it isn’t volleyball)!  Just as important–the Kindle version is like five bucks:

Like Heck She Isn’t a Volleyball Player



AWAY 2 2 1 2 2 1 1 3 3 2 1 1 1 1 23 2 streaks of 3 2x 3+
HOME 2 1 1 3 1 3 3 1 1 2 1 2 2 2 25 3 streaks of 3 3x 3+
AWAY 1 2 1 2 1 6 2 1 1 2 4 2 25 streak of 6 2x 3+
HOME 2 1 3 1 4 1 1 2 1 3 1   20 streak of 4 3x 3+
AWAY 0 1 3 1 3 3 2 2 4 4 23 2 streaks of 4 5x 3+
HOME 6 2 2 1 1 1 2 4 3 3 25 streak of 6 4x 3+
AWAY 2 5 2 1 4 3 1 1 4 1 1 1 26 streak of 5 4x 3+
HOME 1 1 1 5 8 1 1 1 2 3 1 3 28 streak of 8 4x 3+
AWAY 0 1 2 2 1 4 1 4 3 1 2 1 3 25 2 streaks of 4 4x 3+
HOME 1 1 1 2 2 2 3 4 1 2 1 2   22 streak of 4 2x 3+
AWAY 0 2 1 3 1 1 2 3 1 2 1 2 2 1 3 25 2 streaks of 3 3x 3+
HOME 2 1 1 2 1 1 4 2 3 2 1 2 1 1 23 streak of 4 2x 3+
AWAY 0 1 1 1 3 1 2 3 1 4 1 2 3 23 streak of 4 4x 3+
HOME 1 1 2 8 2 2 1 2 2 1 1 1 1 25 streak of 8 1x 3+
AWAY 0 2 1 1 1 1 1 2 5 2 3 3 22 streak of 5 3x 3+
HOME 4 1 2 1 3 1 1 1 1 1 6 3 25 streak of 6 4x 3+
AWAY 2 1 1 1 1 1 1 2 2 4 1 17 streak of 4 1x 3+
HOME 2 4 2 4 1 3 2 3 2 1 1 25 2 streaks of 4 4x 3+
AWAY 0 1 1 3 1 1 1 2 1 2 2 1 2 2 20 streak of 3 1x 3+
HOME 1 1 3 1 1 1 1 2 3 1 1 1 3 5 25 streak of 5 4x 3+
AWAY 1 2 1 1 1 1 7 3 2 2 1 1 1 1 25 streak of 7 2x 3+
HOME 1 2 2 1 2 1 2 1 1 1 2 2 1 19 6 streaks of 2 none
AWAY 0 2 4 3 2 3 1 4 3 1 1 1 25 2 streaks of 4 5x 3+
HOME 1 3 3 2 2 3 1 1 2 3 1 22 4 streaks of 3 4x 3+
AWAY 3 3 1 2 1 1 2 6 1 5 25 streak of 6 4x 3+
HOME 1 1 5 2 2 1 1 5 1 4 23 2 streaks of 5 3x 3+
AWAY 0 8 3 2 2 3 2 3 2 25 streak of 8 4x 3+
HOME 3 1 1 2 1 4 2 1 15 streak of 4 2x 3+