Chinese Whispers and John Kessel

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Every eight year old knows that even the simplest concepts can be distorted beyond all reasonable comprehension through repetition (and yet we mindlessly accept oral traditions). So it with some trepidation that I pass on observations that another person made of something a further person said. The USA Volleyball Federation recently held a High Performance seminar where all national team coaches were present and presented. John Kessel wrote some notes about it here. By reading my comments you can hopefully guess the original context, or you can read the ‘original’ review and try to guess the original context from there.

A couple of my points that stood out for me.

– The comment about coaches not playing the ball over the net themselves, but playing it to a player to play the ball over the net.  Among other things, players then learn where they must play a free ball to gain an advantage.  This is a type of drill I do sometimes that in many cases seems to lift the competitiveness of the practice, as well as obviously being more specific.  Having said that, I also throw the ball in at various other parts of the chain to practice different situations.

– Using string above the net when practicing serving creates new ways for players to understand.  I like this point especially because I have had some really good success in the last month with using elastic for both serving and blocking.   There is something I really, really love about float serve aces.  It’s by far the best 2 euros I’ve spent this season.

– “Feedback is the most important factor in learning and changing behaviour”.  But two extra points from me.  The drill/game provides feedback.  Be sure that it is the feedback you want to provide and be sure that the feedback you are giving is consistent with the feedback given by the drill.  And the absence of verbal feedback is actually feedback in itself.  What you don’t say can be just as important as what you do say.

– I like the idea of the radar gun for serving that costs less than $100.  The only problem is that the one I bought only works from a distance of less than 10m and from directly in front of the server, preferably from the direct trajectory.  That is okay for serving drills if you have an assistant who can hold it above his head, but I am not convinced that serving drills, even with speed measurement, are all that they are cracked up to be.  I would much prefer to be able to use a gun in scrimmages.

Anyway, a few more points to consider.


  1. Wow, there’s a lot in that post by Kessel.

    I always slap the ball before chipping and had honestly never thought that it is actually teaching an inappropriate cue. However he doesn’t mention an alternative (sure, get players to do things when possible, but not always possible).

    Having said that, one thing that Kessel rarely discusses is ‘purpose’, which I struggle with at times. For example, the drill where the coach tosses low balls from the net for the players to defend CAN be used to really focus in on low movement and the ability to dig a low ball. If this is the purpose then its possible this is an efficient way of achieving the outcome.


    1. By tying a length of elastic/string between the antenna you provide a target for servers, ie they must serve under the elastic and in the court. For my players I have the gap down to 40cm which they can now consistently achiev, and importantly transfer to the game.
      For blocking, the blockers must penetrate under the elastic and they get feedback in real time if they are penetrating or not. I have it at 30cm for blocking.
      For spiking, the spikers must spike over the elastic.


  2. A radar gunn in scrimmages would be very handy. actual feedback on who serves real life (under pressure) and who doesn’t.

    My Favourite point was Point 6 about how inefficient box hitting is. I wish more coaches knew reading was a skill. Many I feel run a defensive ‘system’ that relies on reading and then teach it using box drills without the reading component.


    1. In a few of the presentations I’ve given, I’ve made the point about making sure you are actually training what you think you training. The point you are making fits well there. I don’t have a big problem with box drills for teaching technique or ball control. Maybe (definitely?) there are better ways of teaching but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t work for those purposes. But clearly box drills do not teach ‘reading’ in any way, shape or form.


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