My recent post about free ball conversion apparently touched something of a nerve and prompted quite a few people to think more about free balls than I clearly had before writing it. I was pretty surprised that the conversion rate for free balls was so low. I had always assumed that it was higher. The first lesson is obviously don’t assume anything. Especially if you have the capability to check things. I really enjoyed reading the responses and the suggestions included. Taking into account those inputs and doing some more research I came up with a few solutions, some specific to my situation, some perhaps with wider applicability.
1. We practice ‘free balls’ a lot, through various wash drills. But free balls in games are much, much more unpredictable. Any ball that the coach puts in is not an actual free ball and so we aren’t practicing what we presume we are. It is better for the ball to come over the net from another player.
2. The second most important difference between a ‘real’ free ball and a ‘coach’ free ball is the movement of players. A ‘coach’ free ball, like a service reception, involves players moving only forwards. A ‘real’ free ball requires players to first move backwards, transition, before beginning their respective approaches. That changes the length of the approach and perhaps more importantly the timing. This is the single biggest problem for my team, and is especially noticeable in three or four players.
3. As ‘jones’ suggested, I think there is some psychological component, which coupled with the restricted approaches, cramps the players up a little.
4. Many teams in my league will as a matter of course commit block when defending against a free ball. This also has some small effect.
5. A couple of people mentioned organisation as a possible problem. For us, this isn’t a factor but it may be for other teams.
So the ultimate lessons are, don’t assume you know about volleyball and pay attention to what you actually practice rather than what you think you are practicing.
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