One of the key concepts of volleyball, or of any team sport, is that the more any combination of players play together, the better they play together. It is a pretty obviously, logical statement and it stands up as true time and time again. Knowing that, many (most) coaches in team sports will try to make as few changes as possible in their starting line up, firstly to create and secondly, to take advantage of this group understanding. A smaller group of coaches take this concept to the extreme by focussing all, or most, or their training time on working with the starters. It is logical that training the starters is the best way to develop a group of starters. But is this really the best way to develop a team?
My answer would be emphatic, no! The first point is that maximising the training opportunities for half of the team, will minimise the training opportunities of the other half of the team. This has several negatives for the development of the team.
Firstly, there are many things that can happen over the course of a season, especially injuries. If players from the second six never get the chance to play with the normal starters they cannot be expected to play at a high level if you ever need them.
Secondly, the motivation of players who never play with the starters in practice is always less. It doesn’t matter how much the coach pushes, or how professional or intrinsically motivated the players are, at some point they will not bring the same the level of intensity to practice as the starters, which will negatively impact the level of practice.
Thirdly, if the coach deliberately creates two groups in practice, he cannot reasonably expect to see a unified team off the court or during matches. If the coach preaches a team mentality but doesn’t act on it during practice he will never be able to create a team.
Everything a coach does is a tradeoff. If I split my team into starters and non starters, then I can expect my starters to play better together, but I sacrifice a smooth transition in case of injury, and hinder the building of the team. If I continually mix my team in practice, my ‘starters’ will take longer to develop an optimal group understanding and performance. But others will be ready to peform at their best if needed, and the team unity and training level will stay high.
I have always been a coach that likes to build a team.