Quality Practices


The foundation of all successful programs is a commitment to quality practices. An old sports maxim is that "Talent Wins." I would amend that to "Trained Talent Wins." It is every coaches' responsibility to provide quality training for their teams. Not only to improve individual skills, but also to shape your players into the type of team that you want to see at math time. Consider 90% of the work done when a team takes the floor for a match. Game plans, statistics, and game strategies are important, but I believe (on the high school level) that the match is mostly in the players' hands and the best prepared team will win.

Often at clinics, after a coach has described a method of passing, you will hear the question "What drill will teach my team passing like that?" The answer! No drill will teach your players. You must teach your players the skills within the framework of drills. No matter how good a drill is, learning will be slow if, you, the coach does not provide clear and instantaneous feedback.
The philosophy for training is to provide maximum repetitions with consistent reinforcement of key words and concepts. You should provide an overview of the skill, demonstrate the skill and identify the key words, then drills are extremely fast-paced to allow for maximum reps in minimum time. As players move through the drill you can give them feedback on each repetition without slowing down the drill.

In a perfect world all drills would be pass-set-hit drills. Realistically some players need to perform a skill in isolation before performing it in a multiple contact situation. Move into controlled, competitive drills as quickly as possible, however, over the years do not sacrifice skill training for competitiveness during practice. There should be no consequences for physical errors made during practice. If a player overpasses a ball, she probably needs more reps or instruction. She does not need to run a lap and return to the drill with the same low level of skill, but also tired from running! Winners of competitive drills are usually given the option of doing less conditioning than the losers.

This is an overview of a typical practice session and the elements of successful training.

Coaches need to plan for each practice within the context of the previous few practices, the next few practices, and the overall plan for the year. It is important to prioritize what you want to teach and establish a sound fundamental base before putting in the finishing touches for your style of play. For example, you want to make sure the team can execute your normal defense before you add in a second defensive scheme. A coach should continue to teach and expand a team's repertoire during the entire year so that your entire offensive and defensive packages are in place as you approach your playoff season. By adding new touches to your offense and defense you can keep your players interested and learning the whole year.

Players should be expected to enter the gym with a goal for improvement each day. Encourage players to work on their weaknesses as much as their strengths. Don't allow players to see themselves as " a good hitter who can't pass." Don't allow them to focus solely on their hitting, they move to higher level of play that not only are expectations higher, but a player may be asked to change positions. Today's non-passing middle blocker needs to be ready to be tomorrow's passing outside hitter. Tell players "Don't become a better version of the player you are today, become a more well rounded player."

Practices usually have four components - warm-up, skills training, tactical training, and game action. Most practices are 2 1/2 hours long. Any shorter makes it difficult to take your time in skills training and tactical training. Any longer and you start to run into the law of diminishing returns. A warm-up should consist of a minimum of five minutes of light movement and dynamic stretching to increase the temperature of the muscles before static stretching. Some teams warm-up by going from the endline to the net and back while doing a variety of movements - jogging, skipping, kicking their rear, skipping backwards, etc. Once the muscles are loose and warm do 10 minutes of static stretching. The remainder of our warm-up will consist of shoulder warm-up and about 10 minutes of ball-control work (range passing, last touch pepper, 3-person pepper, mini-court games, etc...).

Skills training is used to practice specific components of the game. Drills should be very specific in their focus. Some teams focus on serve receive and defense during this portion of practice. We usually start with a simple drill that allows our players the chance to pass a lot of balls perfectly to the target. This is important because it allows players to develop a "feel" for passing.

As progress is made through this segment of practice (usually 35-45 minutes long) the level of difficulty will increase. You want to simulate the toughest balls your players will face in a match so that there are no surprises come match time. At the end of this segment teams will hit for about 10 minutes to warm-up for the next segment. Tactical training will usually last for 45 minutes to an hour. This is your chance to work on specific parts of your overall style of play. Examples of drills

for this segment are:
-- Free Ball pass to Double Quick
-- Serve Receive and Hit a Play-set
-- Down-ball Defense to a Slide Attack

Whatever your style of play is, this is where you develop it. Take your time in these drills and teach your players how to execute the elements of your offense and defense. The emphasis of these drills should be placed on successful execution of proper technique within the tactical framework of your system of play. This is also the time for you to put in a specific game plan against your next opponent.

The game action segment of practice usually lasts from 30 to 45 minutes. Drills in this segment can have a specific focus (6 vs. 6 leftside hitting only) or a more general focus (6 vs. 6 initiated by a free ball toss). You can also use drills like 3 vs. 3 deep-court hitting or 4 vs. 4 cross-court hitting. Players can also compete as one group against the clock (100 perfect passes in a certain amount of time, 50 free ball passes to a quick attack in a certain amount of time). The key to this segment is that all drills are scored and competitive. Incorporate in you conditioning into this part of practice. When a drill is won the winners and losers will be given a conditioning task with the winners given the option of doing less.

When you are planning the game action part of your practice pay particular attention to the match-ups you want to create. In a "wash drill" you might have the starters play against each other in the front row then switch front to back and the subs will play against each other. In a left-side hitting drill match your two left-side hitters against each other. Be sure that you also give your "core unit" ample time to play with each need to learn how to compete and how to win.
At the end of practice an short stretching period is helpful. Not only will this help prevent soreness, but it also provides the coach time to discuss the practice, talk about upcoming events, pass out schedules, etc... This is also helpful a time for the team to relax and come back together as one unit (this is very helpful after an especially competitive day).

The following is a breakdown of a typical practice:

Warm-up and Ball Control
25 Minutes

Technical Training
35 Minutes

Tactical Training
45 Minutes

35 Minutes

5 Minutes

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