Ok, it’s 2:30 in the morning and I really should be sleeping, but anyone that knows me knows that I keep some pretty crazy hours. Tonight, I can’t sleep because I’m thinking and working on volleyball stuff again and my mind keeps wandering back to a couple of unique experiences that I had during last night’s practices. They are unique because very few coaches will ever get to go through them quite the way I did (as a coach and director of a club). They are completely separate, but they are tied together very closely for me.
First: The 17N team has been playing some extremely high caliber volleyball lately, but we have also been working through some injuries and illness. So when we started practice tonight with only eight players, I was about to scrap our practice plan and wing it. In order for us to practice some 6 vs. 6 tonight I was going to have to find 4 players to fill in. We had two coaches willing to play and I can mix it up when I have to, but where would we find one more? It just happened that one of Coach Casey’s 13s players was hanging around after her practice.
Now in order for a younger player to work with an older group (much less five years apart, which they are) you have to have at least three things. The younger player has to be good, has to have heart, and has to be fearless. Check, check, and check. We went through a full practice with a number of small group competitions and culminating in regular game play. I am absolutely blown away at how successful this player was on our court. She didn’t shy away from the competition and was very effective playing libero with and against some of the best players in our region. Her teams actually won most of the games we played. She got a couple of key digs and handled serve receive very well.
This player is a second year player and was able to decipher exactly what was going on in practice. She knew the terminology and the adjustments to make. She was able to fit in and actually contribute. This is an extreme example of the consistency of coaching and learning that our players go through. From year to year, from the younger age groups to the older ones, from coach to coach, and from practice to practice, the details and the concepts and the learning are the same. It really pays off in so many ways.
Second: I am involved with developing the curriculum and laying the foundations for every team in our club. I am in the gym every week with six of our teams working closely with the coaches to develop practice plans and strategies and generally helping out wherever needed. But anyone who has ever coached can tell you that there is a definite difference between helping out with a team’s practice and actually running it.
Since Regionals is over, I am taking over the day-to-day operations and head coaching responsibilities of our 14National team. The upcoming birth of Coach Emily’s child precludes her from being able to attend the AAU Nationals tournament in June. To complicate things further, we’ve added three players from our regional team to the roster.
I spent Monday really observing the team and doing some video taping to evaluate where we are at and what we need to work on over the coming weeks. We can always work on fundamentals, but the main thing I came into practice last night wanting to accomplish was simply picking up our practice tempo. Playing faster both during rallies and in between rallies.
We teach every player in our club the same basic fundamentals and systems. A player should be able to go from one team’s practice to another without missing a beat. Even so, there should be some adjustment period when you are mixing in several other players. Well, something special happened last night. As the 14s adjusted to playing at the tempo expected of them, the transition of the new players became seamless and everyone’s fundamentals became sharper. We had many high quality rallies and the level of play in the gym was far beyond what I thought it would be at this point. There were great pass/set/hit/dig rallies and we were able to run our transition offense through the middles many times. This is extremely difficult to do unless you are playing very high-level ball.
Last night’s great practice is not possible without Coach Emily (14N) and Coach Erika (14R). Even though they have not worked together until tonight, they have done a remarkable job of teaching consistent fundamentals and systems. They have taught these concepts to a level of detail that these young players were able to coordinate fluidly and make adjustments on the fly with only a word or two of instruction. Really good stuff!
In fact, our entire coaching staff is really on the same page and has done a phenomenal job of teaching the sport. Our players and teams have been improving by leaps and bounds since the beginning of the season and even from year to year. This is the direct result of a strong, dedicated and unified coaching staff. Way to go coaches! And GO PLA!!