Most teams start practice with pepper*. It normally takes the form of some kind of throwing and spiking in pairs to prepare the shoulder for spiking. It then progresses to some easy underarm and overarm passing before the players begin to spike at each other in earnest. The intensity has a natural progression over the six to ten minutes the drill lasts for, and importantly, you should be able to hear that progression. As the players go through each stage, the time between ball contacts becomes shorter so noise increases in the gym. As the players start to spike and ‘defend’ they talk more as they push their teammates to chase down errant balls or joke with them for missing easy plays. And bodies hitting the floor adds to the overall cacophony.
At all points along the way the coach should be listening for the expected sounds. A crisp, strong contact of hand on ball when spiking, can indicate a high level of concentration and readiness for practice, just as poor contact can indicate disinterest and fatigue. Similarly, players who aren’t talking may also be showing their lack of engagement in the practice.
As with Tip #15, this is not a hard and fast rule. It is a little sign that experienced coaches can pick up on and if addressed early, either by additional verbal encouragement or tweaking the practice plan on the fly, can ensure that the quality of practice always reaches the appropriate level.
*We can have a discussion about the value of pepper and whether it is game like and whether it teaches anything. But for now, we won’t.
The collection of Coaching Tips can be found here.
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