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How Does Player Ability Affect The Way You Coach (Part 2)

CoachingJoseph TrinseyComment

In Part 1 of this article series, we explored a follow-up question from the Jaylen Reyes Block/Defense Systems Workshop. If you want to hear the audio or see my beautiful face talk about this topic, you can check out the podcast I did on the same topic. The question was:

Based on your experience on coaching at different levels of women’s volleyball, how big of a difference in player ability are there between International vs D1 vs D2?

 I ask this because I had some good takeaways from this weekend but I am curious of what I need to take and put into the context of D2 volleyball?

The three aspects I discussed in Part 1 were:

  1. Principles don’t change, but applications do.

  2. Physical differences change tactics.

  3. Higher skill levels open up more options.

There are two more aspects of this topic I want to discuss today.

Technique Is Similar, But Not Always Relevant.

Even some U-12 kids can learn to pancake and dive and sprawl and overhand dig in very similar ways that an Olympic player do. Even some young kids can execute blocking moves or take approaches in basically the same way that an Olympic player does. But because of the difference in power of execution, some of these moves are relatively less important.

Let’s use the example of a Crossover-2 blocking move. This is a great blocking move for high-level blockers to close against a fast in-system ball. In Jaylen’s workshop, we saw video of Nebraska players executing this move at a high level.

This move is great for high-level blockers. Most collegiate middle blockers need to have this move in their toolkit. But it’s not very relevant for a high-school middle blocker.

First of all, a 5'8" middle with average athleticism is probably never going to block a ball with a crossover-2 move, because she can't get up over the net unless she has both feet underneath her. And second of all, even if she could, it's likely that the offense she's playing against isn't fast enough to require a crossover-2 move to defend it. So while the high school middle can execute a crossover-2 move with good technique, it’s just not relevant.

For an example in the back-row: a no-step sprawl is a really nice move for high-level defenders. Here’s Nebraska executing a few:

Younger kids actually can learn to do it pretty well from a purely physical standpoint if you rep it out with them. But it's kind of irrelevant, because U-14s almost never hit hard enough to require a no-step sprawl. So moves like a step and cut or a more extended diving move to help smaller kids cover more court are more relevant.

Reading And Autonomy Is Just As Important

Seeing and reading of the game is just as important at any level. I think as coaches we have to be aware that we can't fix problems as quick as we'd like to. There's always this desire to over-coach to make up for a skill deficit. When we have a, "good," team, there's always more trust and autonomy. And when we have a, "not as good team," we always feel like... "well, that's all well and good for [this team who's better than mine] to have this autonomy and freedom to read and react and make decisions, but my players aren't that skilled."

I’ve seen this at every level. And that’s why I know it’s important at every level.

I’ve coached at the U-12 level, and had coaches say, “wow, those kids can really just go out there and do it.” Well yeah… because they’re playing against other 12 year-olds. Throw them in with the high schoolers and it looks like autonomy is failing them. It’s not autonomy that’s failing them. It’s not that they can’t be trusted to read and react to the game, it’s that they just aren’t good enough. No system can compensate for lack of fundamental skill.

One year I was coaching a U-17 club team. We were a really nice team for our area. Nationally-competitive, had some players who would go on to play scholarship-level volleyball in college, etc. We were playing in our Regional Championship, and I was coaching the way I did at any tournament, which was to say we had a read-oriented system where I trained them hard in practice to see and react and in competition they were trusted to execute those responsibilities. For our region, we were a very strong team (we would win the Region Championship that day), so things appeared to be going well.

In one match, the other team called a timeout, and I did what I usually did: I let my team huddle up for the first part of the timeout to talk while I talked to my assistant coach for a few seconds by the timeout. We were standing by the work table, and the coach who was with his work team at the table said, “I guess with a team like that, you don’t need to say much, huh?”

And the implication is something like, “When you have great players, you can give them that autonomy, but MY players aren’t that good. I actually have to coach them.” And “coach them” means “tell them what to do.”

But here’s the thing: that’s just because this coach happened to see us playing a team we were better than. Of course this read/autonomy-based system was working well! Pick a different match, like when we played a team that would eventually go on to medal at JOs, and he have the opposite feeling.

And this keeps going up the scale. That U-17 would look out of sorts against the D2 team. While the D2 coach is thinking, “Well Nebraska can give their players autonomy but my players…” And the Nebraska coach could easily start thinking, “Well the National Team can give their players autonomy, because they’re the best in the world, but I’m just dealing with inexperienced freshman here…”

And keep in mind that a few months prior, that freshman at Nebraska might have been the player that the club coaches are all looking at like, “well sure, THAT girl can be trusted to read and react to the game, but MY players…”

Jaylen knows this, and I love how he’s teaching his players at Nebraska. It’s not that you just roll the ball out there and say, “do whatever you want.” But it’s the recognition that as a coach you have to train your players to see and process the game faster. Getting them to see what you can see (and ideally… beyond that) is the way toward having a team that can play the type of defense you see Nebraska playing.

What do you think? Leave a comment, tweet or message me on Instagram (@volleycast) or send me an email: [email protected]