Why I Don’t Teach ‘Calling’

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I hate ‘calling’.  I almost never tell my teams to call.  In my opinion, calling is one of the biggest impediments to playing good volleyball and I flinch (sometimes internally, sometimes visibly) when I hear that you have to call more.

There are at least four reasons I hate the focus on ‘calling’.

Firstly, for the most part it is unnecessary.  In at least 90% of cases it is, or should be, clear who should take which ball and calling only creates confusion where there should be none.  The reason a coach has a volleyball concept and spends time at practice, is to make sure it is clear who should take which ball.

Secondly, it allows players to divest themselves of responsibility.  Once they have called it is no longer their fault.  For example, the setter calling ‘help’ and watching three confused players let the ball fall on the floor.  Or as has happened to me at at practice that a player who stopped in the middle of the rally used the ‘I called it out so I didn’t expect him to play it’ defence.  (In this specific case, I was literally stunned into silence and it took me a whole rally before I was able to come back with the ‘wtf does that have to do with anything?’ response. I know, not my best work.)

Thirdly, it gives players (especially in junior volleyball) who want to dominate the game the excuse which allows them to dominate and therefore destroy teamwork and learning.  The ‘I called mine, so the ball is mine’ excuse.  Volleyball should be a seamless interaction of six players each covering specific ground at specific moments and moving from phase to phase at the right moment.  A player using the ‘I called mine’ excuse, takes himself and normally multiple teammates out of their correct positions, by definition weakening the entire team (even if that first/second ball is played better).  The ‘the ball would have hit the floor’ excuse is the next worse.  Sometimes the ball has to hit the floor for the appropriate lessons to be learned.

The fourth reason may not be applicable to most, but in my situation it is a practical consideration.  When we are playing in full gyms with screaming fans, we can’t rely on calling to decide important game situations.

Now don’t misunderstand.  Communication is vital.  You can’t have any kind of success without extremely good quality communication.  It is just that verbal communication during a rally, i.e. ‘calling’, is unquestionably the worst kind of communication.  Taking a step towards the ball is vital communication.  In fact, taking a step to the ball is the most misused type of communication.  Taking a step to the ball is a more effective means of taking responsibility for it than calling.  It is clear and unequivocal communication. Talking between, especially before, rallies is vital communication.  Reminding each other of assignments is important.  But calling?  In many cases a pointless waste of time and energy, an impediment to learning and evne at times an impediment to success.

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  1. Thanks for this article. Until now I thought I am alone with this view. Because anybody else, including the players, thinks that calling helps. And that it is mandatory for any success. And because anybody else thinks like this players on my level think I am crazy asking them to stop calling and start focusing on the movement instead. This is something I like to add to your list of reasons against calling: Calling “mine” takes some time and slows down the important part of taking responsibility for a ball – the movement.


  2. Interesting. This is where some of the differences between coaching adults and teaching kids become more obvious.

    I love communication. Its essential. I also love decision making. I hate noise and talking, which often create a barrier to communication.

    The vast majority of times where I teach people to call is so that they can inform their team mate of the decision they have made (ie: whether they will pass the ball or not). The problem with this is that verbal communication is the slowest form of communication on court, and most of the time it is very clear what decision has been made before the call is made, but when learning it is still useful. The most important time (by far) for this is deciding who will pass a ball going into the grey area between two players. As soon as it is clear who is passing, the other player can release to their next job (usually to be part of the offence).

    It is much easier to teach people to ‘call mine first’ every time than it is to teach verbal communication in situations when it isn’t ‘obvious’.

    Having said that – I think I might try teaching those decisions in ‘silent’ drills to teach the players to ‘listen’ for non-verbal cues.


  3. Fantastic post!

    I’m glad someone else said this!

    When people “Communicate”, it’s 7% verbal, 38% tone of voice, 55% Body Language.

    Body language is king.

    I think talk is overrated too. One of my mantras when coaching beginners and young kids is that the contact of the ball on the platform is the most important form of communication.

    You see a player say one thing and their body language towards the ball say something else. Their teammate will always respond to the body language over the verbal… then someone uses the “But I said this” excuse.

    Good luck against Fredrichshaffen!


  4. Your best post yet Mark, people always looked at me funny when I said there’s no need to call, now I can send them here.

    “Volleyball should be a seamless interaction of six players each covering specific ground at specific moments and moving from phase to phase at the right moment.” ….the best description of quality volleyball I have ever heard.

    With young players I like to stress communicating between rallies, not during. They learn their roles within a team and being accountable for decisions, even if the first few sessions require large amounts of patience by the coach.

    I’m sure there has been many silent trainings or scrimmages throughout history for different reasons.


  5. I received this comment from a friend. I thought it was interesting enough to share.
    “In my mind teaching calling is crazy. I never saw this in my life prior to coming to the US. … (It) takes away the all the other senses that we have to develop and we can develop when playing games. I like to send a vball in between two players and see what they do. if what they do is tactically correct, I let go. if it is not tactically correct I then ask them why and try to make them understand that tactically that ball should be played by player A and not player B. i.e. why would an outside hitter want to pass a free ball if she could be getting ready to kill that ball.
    So the teaching is because f the game and not because they should not bump their heads.
    For players to develop responsibility we need to give them a chance to have responsibility first. And make mistakes…the problem is that coaches have no patience and players think that GAME is linear… no no no…GAMES are not linear… they are actually as crazy and the Brazilian Carnival…
    Why should a setter call mine if the 2nd contact is hers anyway. Does an outside hitter call mine when the setter sets her and not the right side? No! why? Because the ball is going to her direction. Does a defensive player call mine when the ball is going to her? Well, hopefully not, because if the ball is going to her everybody knows it is hers. Now.. a good example – if we are in a room and a fire starts if we have good senses we would sense that it is time to put the fire out, or should be a person who is designated to call HELP and then .. only then… we would start putting the fire out.. So in the case of a setter not being able to get to a ball, should some others in the team start to have this sense? A serve receiver should sense the ball is going to her or if she needs to go get the ball. And..if why would a player who is far away from the ball call mine anyway..? she is further. Also one can say and if the ball goes in the middle.. I would say, there is never a really right middle.. half way between two people when it comes to games, so the best player, the fastest player, would get that ball anyway, unless tactically it is best for one player to pass more than the other and this player should then have more tactical responsibility and not both waiting to see who is going to call MINE first. I think the only time to call MINE or to spread our arms saying.. MINE is when there is more than one person under a ball and only one is allowed to set or pass that ball so one of the ones under the ball should take responsibility and then do the action.. but still ….this is all based in WHAT IS THE BEST TACTICS FOR THAT SITUATION.”


  6. I like the thing about giving resposibility to players to learn. I think the idea of players having responsibility and deciding independantly scares coaches and makes them feel like they aren’t needed or don’t have control.


    1. I remember the idea of control etc being a topic when I was studying coaching at university. It was/is/has been clear that a major reason coaches still use blocked practices despite it being proven over and over again (I learnt it at uni 20 years ago now). Using game like practices or giving players responsibility gives coaches less control and perhaps more importantly, it is more difficult to SEE improvement in practice. Using non gamelike drills allows players to SHOW improvement faster, because with reduced decision making requirements it is easy and fast to get better at DOING THE DRILLS. Unfortunately, as has been proven over and over again those apparent improvements do not transfer to the game.
      Coaches have clear choice being feeling important and giving their players a chance to improve at playing volleyball (much different to getting better at doing drills).


  7. Long time reader, first time poster…

    I’m not quite as against calling as you seem to be, I think it’s got a place. Your second and third reasons seem to be problems with players. If you have someone who is looking to use it to excuse a mistake or change the team system, that seems to be the problem, not calling.

    With the first point, the aim is to have a structure where everyone knows their roles everything should be clear. There are times when calling helps clarity. One example is with kids who are learning the game. Another is if you don’t have a clue what the other guy is thinking. I’ve passed with people who you don’t need to say a word and others that I want them to call every time. I’ve been playing with one guy for about 10 years and it’s the only way I can work out what he’s thinking.

    I don’t think you should call just to call but if it works for you why not?

    I’ll give you your fourth reason though. For those who play in an environment where you can’t hear each other, best have another way to work out who’s ball it is.


  8. Mark,
    Thought I’d share an experience with the team I coach. Last weekend we were doing a “control drill” hitting across the net, when I told them they were not allowed to say anything, total silence. I’m not 100% sure why, maybe extra concentration but they seemed to improve their control. When they were later free to call I reckon their performance eased off. It was an interesting experiment, they even had a go at me talking up their performance as they went. I fell back on the mantra, I’m a coach “Do as I say not as I do”, mainly because I can’t do what they can do.


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