Free Balls : The ‘Answer’

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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.

My collection of Coaching Tips can be found here.

For more great coaching tips, check out the Vyacheslav Platonov coaching book here.

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  1. Thanks for the answer and thanks for the mention. I like your blog because it shows so much love for the game.

    I still ponder on the free balls…


  2. So there ist already a summary of many possible answers… I am still wondering of a different thing. You mentioned that you are interested in how´s and why´s… In most cases you look at what happens before the actual event, but what happens after a free ball? Is it blocked? Is it easily defended?

    I wonder if there could be to much organisation in attacking a free ball. As far as I can remember, we played against different Bundesligateams and we always knew from scouting, what they where going to do, if they get a free ball.


    1. I was looking specifically at the rate of winning the rally, and then the individual attack percentages. I made the assumption that the perfect free ball situation is mostly the same as the perfect reception situation. In both, the offence and defence has the opportunity to whatever they want. I think the reality is that the situations are not the same in most characteristics, and the biggest mistake is the assumption that they are.
      The problems lie on the attackers side.


  3. I’m not a fan of the “coach free ball”. I begrudgingly use it at lower levels when drills break down. They always come from the same side(s) too. one side of the net gets a ball coming from the “leftside” at an angle going around the antenna, the other gets the opposite (so i’ll swap sides sometimes). The angle is different. For drills that startw ith a free ball, i’ll throw it in and a player as to “give” the free ball. This is a bit better. Surprisingly at the levels I coach, players can struggle to 1) receive the free ball; and even worse 2) give the freeball to their opponent (making errors). these are easily the 2 things that makes me lose my temper.


    1. 🙂
      The ‘coach free ball’ is a very valuable coaching tool. It allows more repetitions. It allows the coach to control and number and type of repetitions. Etc, etc.
      Like a lot of things that coaches typically do, it is important to consider also what it is not. And what it is not is practicing an actual free ball. If it is practicing anything game specific, it is practicing a controlled service reception.
      You just have to be clear what drills are actually doing, not just what you think they are doing / will do.


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