Monday, August 3, 2015

Pepper Pros and Cons

by Tom Mendoza, Associate Head Coach - Creighton University

Some in the volleyball community have weighed in with their thoughts of our game’s most popular drill.  An advantage basketball has over volleyball is the simplicity of a ball, a hoop, and any number from zero to nine friends.   Pepper is our version of shooting hoops on the playground, and from elementary school to the Grand Prix in Omaha, pepper is everywhere and it isn’t going away… it’s just too darn convenient.  By looking at some of the pros and cons of this basic drill, we can make a couple tweaks to improve our love/hate relationship with pepper.   For the sake of brevity, I will only focus on two person pepper. 

Pros of pepper

  • You are practicing three major skills of volleyball in succession (defense, setting, and attacking arm swing).   Hard to beat pepper here.
  • You are contacting 50% of the reps.  Have two minutes to warm up before practice or in between sets? Pepper is the drill for you. 
  •  It’s an efficient use of space (assuming some ball control).  A whole team can warm up at the same time on half of a court.

  • Not practicing getting the ball over the net (which is the main point of volleyball). Very valid point, and maybe as coaches we choose pepper drills too often while leaving the nets unused.  However, you don’t dig to yourself in a game either.   Four person over the net pepper is a good warm up if you have the time and space, but you’ve also just cut your reps from every other ball to every 4th contact. No quick fix for this one, just some stuff to think about.  
  • Playing the ball all the way back to your partner, especially in defense is practicing bad habits of overpassing digs.  We can fix this.

Simple fix:  Many coaches want hard digs kept off the net in order to prevent overpasses and allow a back row setter to safely and legally get to the ball.  In our gym we call this concept “the well” because it’s the hole in the middle of the court that it’s fun to put things. Thus “dig-to-the-well-pepper” -which means that our digger tries to dig half to ¾ of the way back to the attacker which makes the defender get in a lower position.  This also forces the setter to come into the court to set, then work on pushing back into defensive position for the next dig.  

  • Only performing linear direction of the ball.  Within a game the ball is rarely ever passed, set, or attacked directly where it came from.  We can fix this too.

Simple fix:  For this we have “angled-well-pepper” where we have our defensive player dig to “the well” but this time 5’ left/right of their partner.  This also forces the setter to move forward at angle and get square to set, then push back at an angle for defense.  It also makes the attacker turn the ball off the angle of the set.

Pepper is by no means my favorite drill, but since it is not going away we might as well learn to get more out of it.  Hopefully these quick tweaks can help with your teams as well.   You will be surprised how much movement this creates, and forces players to control their body and the ball.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Social Media Rules in Volleyball

by Shannon Wells-Assistant Volleyball Coach, University of Florida, AVCA Board of Director, Assistant Coaches Representative

The rules for social media are ever changing as this world becomes more and more of what we do as coaches and a bigger part of our recruits' lives.  I received a newsletter last week from our compliance department that they received from the NCAA that really helped our coaching staff understand exactly what is permissible.  This not only pertains to college coaches, but it is also important for club coaches, high school coaches, and our recruits to understand what we can do.

We have finally gotten past the time when we used to have to wait to become a recruit's friend on social media until September 1st of their junior year, we can friend them or follow them at any age now.  The hard part was when can we start communicating with them on social media?  When can we retweet what they are saying?  When can we start mentioning them?  All these answers are basically covered by three rules:

1.      Once an athlete signs their NLI or has paid their deposit for housing, you can communicate with that athlete in any public forum and anyone is able to see it.  This means you can retweet them, you can post pictures of them, you can even use their handle.
2.       If an athlete has not done the above and it is past September 1st of their junior year then all communication must be private.  This means you can only direct message them.
3.       If an athlete has not signed and it is not September 1st, then you can only follow them, but you may not communicate with them using social media. 

Now to the hard stuff and probably the biggest area where many violations have occurred.  Let’s talk about your student-athletes.  The biggest thing to remember is it CAN NOT be at the direction of your coaching staff and the communication does not relate to the prospective student-athlete’s recruitment.  This means your student-athlete may not comment about a commitment or publicize that a recruit was on campus.  However, the recruit can do that, but your student-athletes may not retweet it or make any comments to that. 

How about congratulating high schools or clubs before big matches?  Unfortunately this is not permissible.  The NCAA interprets this as endorsing that program.  It is not permissible to wish luck or congratulate a coach either, even if there was a pre-existing relationship.  However, you are able to follow coaches, high school programs, and club programs, but you are not able to publicly endorse them.  

Many of the violations that occur on social media are due to ignorance about the rules.  I hope this blog helped clear some things up for you and if you want more information here is a link to the newsletter that I received. 

Disclaimer:  This is the information given to me by the University of Florida, an NCAA Division I institution.  If you disagree or feel that your division has different rules, please communicate with the compliance office on your own campus. 

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Interview with Pro Beach Volleyball Player Brooke Sweat

by Andrew Fuller - Beach Assistant Coach, University of Southern California

I wanted to interview Brooke Sweat, who Ive coached for the past two years on the AVP Tour and FIVB World Tour. Brooke was named the AVPs Best Defender for the second year in a row in 2014, and plays with my wife, Lauren, who was named the AVPs Best Blocker in 2014. Lauren and Brooke just placed 5th at the FIVB Beach Volleyball World Championships in the Netherlands, and we did this interview en route to Gstaad, Switzerland for our 7th week on the road for FIVB. 

Adam Nurkiewicz/Getty Images Europe
A - Who are the womens players who youre learning the most from?
B - Ive been watching (and playing against) Larissa Franca (of Brazil) a lot recently. When I started on the FIVB, I didnt see much of her because it was her year off. Her defense is out of this world and shes super smart on offense, mixing up the tempo of her attacks. She gets her feet to just about every set, regardless of set quality. Shes about my height and plays on the right side, so its fun to see what she can do. Id urge anyone playing as a defender on the right side to model her game.

A - What sort of reads or cues are you looking at on defense? The line of approach, the speed of approach?
B - Speed of approach is huge for determining if its a hit or shot. I can tell pretty quickly if someone is shooting based on their approach speed. Angle of approach is important for eliminating certain variables, and its key to know what the hitters wrist can do. As the game moves along, if the score is tight, theyll revert to their tendencies. You can pick up tendencies in warmup or the first few points of a game if you havent seen them. Then make them play into those tendencies in your favor.

A - I feel like a lot of younger players give up on plays too soon, and your pursuit has been really good this season.
B - There are some balls that I think I cant get, but Ill just go anyway, and end up getting a little touch and keeping it in the air, and were back in the play. Out of 10 balls, if you only go for five, you only have a shot at five, but if you go for 10, then you have a shot at 10. I remind myself of that every match. Its frustrating as a hitter when the defender touches everything, even if its a kill. Those touches that stem from pursuit and effort lead to errors by the other team down the stretch. 


A - How does your faith affect the way you approach the sport?
B - It keeps me balanced, and keeps my life in perspective. There are so many ups and downs with life and sport, but thats the deal. I take it seriously and I want to win and make the Rio Olympics, but its ultimately just a game.
A - You played some other sports as a kid - what do you think has transferred the most to playing beach?
B - I think it was really important to be playing a bunch of different sports and having two older brothers dragging me out to play, and being part of a family thats always outside.

In the summers I picked weeds and chopped melaleuca trees (an invasive tree in Florida) with a machete in one hand, and a 10 gallon chemical sprayer on my back at our familys rock quarry. I think those summers gave me a really good work ethic. My dad wouldnt let us quit until the job was done.

I played basketball, softball, track (long jump and 400), gymnastics (level 9!), and continued with basketball, track and volleyball through high school. I feel like there are so many movement patterns that you get from playing everything, and when you focus on volleyball at an early age, you see burnout and overuse. 

A - That needs to be on recruiting questionnaires! "Whats the hardest manual labor youve done?"

A - You see a lot of younger kids who are starting to play beach, and they shoot a lot. How important has hitting hard been for your sideout game?
B - I think hitting hard sets the tone at the beginning of the match. When you come out aggressive, it opens up shots down the road, rather than the other way around. Just recently I feel like Ive opened up my shots by establishing my hit, both in sideout and transition. When my high lines werent going down, they might have been pretty good, but I wasnt hitting enough to tack down the defender. But now that Im hitting more, the defender has to respect it and hold, so those same shots are kills. Hit first to open up your shots. 


A - Whats something that youve appreciated about the coaches youve had?

B - My coaches have believed in me, starting with when I was recruited to FGCU despite having knee issues in high school. If my knee was feeling OK and I wanted to give it a shot, my coach wanted me there. Jeff Conover (AVP Tour Director and former coach of Jen Kessy & April Ross) took Jen Fopma and me on as a 2nd team, and for him to put in that extra time with practice, video, logistics, and for him to believe that we were capable of competing on the World Tour, that gave me a huge confidence boost. Especially considering he still wanted to do it while he was coaching Jen and April.

My advice for coaches? Dont crush a player's dreams. Let the player live it out. Even if someone isnt very good, players dont need to hear unsolicited advice on whether or not they should be playing. If they ask for your opinion, you can give them straight talk, but coaches dont necessarily know everything a player has gone through or even their motivations.