When weaknesses within your volleyball systems are exposed or when introducing new skills or playsets, the goal as a coach is to recreate situations the best you can and train your players through these situations. The idea is to not only “fix” the areas of weakness or learn the new skill, but also to create an environment where the athletes can gain confidence to execute these skills and tactics in a match. Although we train concepts and scenarios, volleyball is a game of multiple variables and unpredictability, each play and rally is independent of another; the outcome of one rally does not affect the outcome of a rally later in a match. The goal every day is to make our players feel confident in their skills and play the game to win.
Towards the end of our regular season last year, our team really needed to improve on defending the ball off the block. Specifically, our back row players needed to be disciplined in their eye work and make sure they were stopped before they pursued the ball off the block. From a coach’s perspective, this was a very challenging concept to train because we wanted to repeatedly make this as game-like as possible.
The first thought was to stick a coach on a box to control hitting high hands. However, we did not want our blockers to:
1) Train with “loose hands” just to recreate a ball off-the-block for the back row .
2) Break their fingers from a coach hitting as hard as they could.
We also thought of using an offense attacking against the block to make it more game-like, but we didn’t feel that it consistently recreated the moment we wanted to train through. My head coach came across a drill from The Art of Coaching Volleyball on training this concept using a BOSU or fitness ball, so we brought it to practice that day.
Just as Mark Barnard explains in this video, the great thing about using BOSU or fitness balls, is that you can create any type of “touch” you want off-the-block. These “attacks” off the fitness ball replicate the unpredictability of a true off-the-block ball, allowing the concept of defending the ball off-the-block to be trained through repetition. Different variations can also be created by adding multiple coaches and fitness balls as “blockers” on either pins or as the middle blocker. Using a fitness ball to consistently recreate the off-the-block ball allowed our team to train through this concept and gain confidence to execute it in a match.