The Game is Played Across the Net
by Orest Stanko
In case you haven’t noticed, the game of volleyball is played across a net that separates two (2) opposing teams. My statement is not meant to be condescending. It simply begs the question: why do coaches spend an excessive amount of time in practices running same-side partner drills? I’m not inferring that same-side partner drills don’t serve a purpose, but the obvious fact of the matter is that in a game situation you don’t simply pass the ball back and forth to an often stationary partner/target.
Case in point is pepper. I have a personal aversion to “pepper” and how most teams employ this activity/drill as a preparatory warm-up either in practice or competition. In practices pepper often regresses to a social exercise when athletes discuss previous day’s activities, who’s dating who, X-box high-scores, etc. Execution becomes indifferent and downright sloppy! As per my last blog, “every touch counts!”
One of my former players at the University of Toronto – no names, but he was an All-Canadian setter – asserts that I ran the same drill throughout all of his 5 years as a Varsity Blue. A shameless exaggeration! What is true is that virtually all of my drills were competitive and game-like. Coincidentally, that same player was on four (4) Championship teams.
An arm warm-up where partners are on opposite sides of the net – athlete tosses to self and attacks ball to partner; partner digs to self, catches and repeats – will potentially yield far more favourable results including:
- Proper toss technique, i.e., high, in front of hitting shoulder
- High contact
- Follow-through to target, arm and body
- Digging ready position; high dig
The drill progression can start with athletes at the 3M line and moving back until the exercise is performed from opposite baselines. I’ll let your imagination ponder what other variations can be adopted. A hint: incorporate a ½ jump when attacking; and if you have access to 2 courts you can really go to town! This is far more beneficial than same-side partner drills and basic pepper.
A warm-up that involves all 12 athletes playing a controlled 6 vs 6 game where everyone sets, hits, digs and blocks is representative of match play, is more beneficial and enables an opportunity to address virtually every volleyball skill…and it’s happening across the net! With younger athletes you can split the court and play 3 vs 3.
As indicated at the outset, I’m not discounting same-side, controlled partner drills as totally unnecessary and especially with younger age groups. However, we need to begin to teach our athletes how to process information and make decisions that are game-specific, and especially at the younger age categories. Simulating game situations, drills that involve playing the ball across the net, will teach our athletes to be better prepared to compete.