‘Coaching Ideas’ – Drills As A Form Of Communication

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I wrote a post referring to a John Kessel blog post that referred to a seminar where a point was made that throwing the ball from a low position to defenders is an ineffective way to train/defence.  Alexis was moved enough to write a comment about it, which has moved me enough to want to write a whole post.  Talk about chinese whispers…

An important conceptual component of my defensive system/philosophy is aggression.  One meaning of aggression is pursuit.  That is an easy concept to get across.  Another component of aggression is to attack the ball directly from the ready position, ie to dive even without an approach/run up.  I’m talking about the balls where you don’t have time to take a step.  For most coaches, taking a step and making a token dive, or making a token sprawl is enough, but neither case actually keeps the ball alive.  This is a really difficult concept to get across through words, at least for me.  I spent several months trying to get the point across without success.  At my level, every player can perform this skill but aren’t ready to do it, or used to being required to do it.  To practice it is incredibly difficult.  In 6 v 6, the situation happens about once or twice a set and reminding someone of it is more or less pointless when the next chance they will get is next set or tomorrow or in two days time.  To simulate in a drill is equally difficult.  Even if you get a spiker on the box who is accurate enough, when the defender knows the ball is coming, they nearly always have time to step to the ball, thus making the drill completely pointless.  After scratching my head (or tearing my hair out depending on the day) for a while I eventually decided the only way to get my point across was the crassest way possible.  I stood on the ground and threw the ball fast enough and far enough away that they had to dive without taking a step.  I did the drill twice.  Once for 15 minutes, once for 5 minutes.  Since then we have made a major leap in the defence that I want to play.

From a skill learning point of view the drill I used was ‘wrong’ in every possible sense.  It frankly couldn’t have been more ‘wrong’.  Except that my objective was not technical.  Whether it’s appropriate I don’t really know, but the phrase that I use is coaching ideas.  I wanted to teach the idea of diving at the ball, the idea of when to use the technique they already have.

Sometimes a drill has neither a technical or tactical goal, but is a form of communication between the coach and the team, to create a common language or reference point.  Sometimes it is about coaching ideas.


  1. That’s pretty much the exact same context as I’ve seen a drill like that used. The Head Coach I was working with threw the ball, standing on the same side of the net. The players had to dig the ball somehow. After the drill I made the comment to my boss that the drill wasn’t very game-like. She said that she just wanted the players to move in a low position (and that’s exactly what they did). We only did that drill once.

    The point in both this and your situation was that the drill was being used to teach. And in both cases the players learnt.

    To me this is the art, as opposed to the theory, of coaching.


    1. Throwing the ball for defence is a completely different situation to throwing that is tested in the FIVB course, but…
      As an FIVB instructor, obviously I completely support it.
      If I were an outsider I would note that throwing the ball in any part of a drill breaks several key coaching principles, including the specificity principle. The reality is that there are countless instances in the life of a coach where for any number of reasons throwing the ball is not only appropriate but desirable. The most obvious one is individual training. Every coach needs to be able to do it.


  2. Great post Mark, really well written!
    Has a real cross-over feel for most sports on how you technically go against the grain to get players to achieve that extra effort to make them better players and a better team.


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