This article originally appeared on The Coaches Insider. Here I highlight some of the drills I have used and developed in my time coaching. These are great drills that I go back to often in training my teams.
I thought I’d take a moment away from philosophical writings to give you some meat and potatoes. I have heard a lot of coaches speak over the years. What I like the most is getting something that I can take back with me to the court and put into practice. Philosophies, systems and ideas are great, but sometimes I just want a good drill that will teach my team to hustle.
I’m not going to give you anything earth-shaking here; they are ultimately adaptations of drills that many of you have either seen or used with a couple new ones thrown in. I enjoy constructing drills. I would encourage every coach to get out there and develop drills to use. I find that I am much better at writing them during the middle of the season than in the off-season. I find problems with my current team, and I construct a drill to correct that problem. I give credit to Brad Saindon of Western Oregon University – In my three seasons there, I saw a coach who came up with great drills time and again and they addressed the teams needs while producing quality contacts.
In writing drills, you need a few things for them to work well.
1. They have to be appropriate to the level of play. I mentioned in my article, “The Great Divide” that I use college-level drills with my 12s. It takes a little time to get there, and I strip down a lot of the complexities of a drill to make it understandable for their level. But the goal and expectation is the same in that they learn to play at a high level.
2. They have to be competitive. If I walk into a new gym for a clinic or camp, one of the first things I look for is a scoreboard. I thrive on numbers. It helps me process. It helps the players process. It helps them track where they are and where they want to go. A big problem I see in training is that we still do block training. There is a need for lots of reps, but you have to get a scoreboard out once in awhile to let them compete. If you look at your team and think, “we train the heck out of them, but we still lose in competition,” that is because you don’t train competition. Find ways to make drills competitive.
3. Don’t re-invent the wheel. Like I mentioned earlier, these are adaptations of what a lot of people do. Take drills you have seen and change them, modify them, adjust scoring and ultimately make them work for you. If you really need to work on getting your Right Side hitter involved, make their points worth 5. But you don’t have to come up with something extreme every day. Tweak the parameters and you will keep it interesting.
Ok. I said no philosophy. My apologies. Here are the drills:
1. Servers vs. Passers (don’t forget your whistle)
I’m sure you have all done this one in some form or another. The basic premise is that there is a server or servers and there is a passer or passers. I always have an equal number of serving opportunities. I like this one because it is highly adaptable in both emphasis and complexity. I’ll start with my standard base form of this drill and how to adapt it.
Standard Version: You need at least six players to run. Seven players means you get 1 setter who will set for each team. 8 players gives each team their own setter. Beyond that make teams even and if there is an odd number, the short team will have 1 server serve twice when it is their time to serve.
Team B puts 3 passers on the court in the Serve/Receive pattern you use. Side A has each player serve 1 ball at Team B. Team B is working to pass the ball to the Target or Setter. If you have a setter, they can earn a +1 if they make a great set. Have the coach be setter target so they can count the pass and the +1 (if you have setters). Have an off player or other coach flip score. After team A finishes serving, then team B serves at team A. If B gets to 35 first, then A gets 1 chance to match or beat their score unless they started receiving first. If neither team is at 35 at the end of the round, then keep going. If you have extra kids, then everyone has to get into the passing line so rotate them in each round.
This is a great drill to get your middles their passing reps. We are having our middles learn how to pass, right?
Here is the scoring:
3 Pass (perfect) = 3
2 Pass (2-Option Set) = 2
1 Pass/Overpass = 1
0 Pass = 0
Missed Serve = Full Points
(If Setter then 4, If no Setter then 3)
Setter can earn +1 for accurate set to target
Play games to 35 Points.
I call out the pass as it peaks. I want passers to have that instant feedback. I call the “Plus 1″ if I like the set. I don’t just add in my head ‘One pass and good set” and give them 2 points. I want them to know what was earned. Only the passing team will score points. Each server serves so if you have 8 players, each side with 4, then the max points for that round is 16 if they are all perfect passes with the setter getting a “Plus 1” or if the serving team misses every serve.
This one won’t be anyone’s favorite drill, but it takes the monotony out of mindless serving and passing reps. It adds competition. Here are ways to adapt this.
1. Add a hitter if you have the numbers and once you get good at running it as is. The hitter can earn another “Plus 1” if they make a great swing or tip or whatever you want them to achieve. It makes a max score of 5 so missed serves give passing team 5 points.
2. Knockout Scoring – The complaint I got on this drill is that there was no scoring for Servers. I haven’t found a good way to have servers AND passers score without getting too complex, so here is Server scoring.
• Ace = 5 points
• 1 Pass = 3 points
• 3 Strikes = Knockout (A Strike is whatever you want.)
(I do a missed serve wide or long as well as if the passers make a good pass-2/3 pass)
• Missed Serve into Net = Knockout
I don’t like missed serves into the net so that is an instant knockout. Each server gets 1-2 knockouts and they are trying to score as many as they can. It is 1 server at a time until they get knocked out, and if they never miss, they can rack up 50-60 points so you can cap it if you like. If you are doing 2 knockouts, then have them go through the passing line or go to the end of the line before attempting their second round at the line. Keep score over the course of a season and you’ll find out who your best servers are.
3. Developmental Scoring – At the most basic level I like to do a “Catch-2.” That basically means that the passer has to pass the ball in the air and setter/another player has to run and catch the second ball. You can do 1 point if they have to run to it, or 2 if the target doesn’t have to run much. You will find your little kids really start to get that ball up in the air so their buddies have time to go catch it.
2. Walk the Plank
The kids will love coming back to this one. I pulled it out for some 14s that I coached when they were 12 and they couldn’t wait to play it again. It is a hustle game that emphasizes getting the ball back over the net when out of system. At lower levels, a good play when out of system can just be a Freeball. At higher levels emphasize finishing out of system plays with an aggressive swing. Divide players into teams of 2 or 3. A team of 2 should be more advanced players. You need at least 3 teams.
• First team on the court in the back row hustling to get 5 consecutive balls back over the net. That will advance them from round 1 to round 2.
• There are 3 rounds that must be completed to win. Round 1 is receiving a Freeball from the coach. Round 2 is a Downball and round 3 is a “Scramble Ball.”
• If they fail to get 5 (in a row) back over the net, then they are off. If they do complete 5 then they are off, but when they come back around, they indicate that they are on round 2 or 3.
• The Plank! If a player on their team does not go for a ball and it touches open court then their whole team goes to the sideline and is in the plank position until another team fails to go for a ball. It could happen quickly or they could be there awhile.
• The drill starts with no team planking. Once a team is in the plank, there will always be a team that is planking.
• Scramble Ball. Round 3 is a scramble ball. It is one that is intentionally thrown into the gaps or holes as you see them on the other side of the net.
Scale this one to the level of your team. They should be able to take a Freeball and get it back over the net so expect a lot of teams to advance to Round 2 easily. The fun begins with the downball and especially the scramble ball. Don’t let the team get through all 3 rounds on the first try.
3. Beat the Switch
This is a scoring adaptation. I’m sure you have wanted to be able to re-create 3rd set or end-of-set stresses and pressure. Mostly what I see is just making the score 22-22 and playing it out. But if you’re like me, you feel something is missing from that. The pressure of the situation still isn’t there. This version might help. Put 12-12 on the scoreboard. Playing a game to 15. Standard scoring and rotations.
• First team to 15 (win by 2) wins that round
• Reset the score, but now the team that won the first round starts with 11. So the score is now 11-12 and you play it out to 15.
• If the previous winner wins again, they now start down 10-12 playing to 15. Or if the first round loser wins, then that round starts 11-11. Basically, whoever wins the current round will start the next round with 1 less point.
• The ultimate goal is to win the set to 15 points starting at 8 points. To really make it real, make them switch sides once a team gets down to 8 points starting.
This one I have found works well if you have 2 teams scrimmaging where one is clearly better than the other. It builds in its own handicap. Another way to make it even is the stronger team has to get to 6 and win before the lower team gets to 8 and win. It’s a longer drill so they really have to earn the final Win.
4. Blazer Scramble
This is another high energy quick game. You will want to be as close to 6v6 with this one as you can. This one works if you have 12 on a roster, of if you are doing scrimmages against another team. This one is also good if one team is better than the other as you can adjust how you initiate the scramble ball.
Score starts at 50-50 or higher depending on how tough you want to be. First team to zero loses. Both teams are in Base Defense. One side is in “The Scramble” until they win a rally. If a team that is in The Scramble loses a rally, they lose a point and instantly get another “Scramble Ball.” If they win the rally, then the other team is in The Scramble and they instantly get a scramble ball.
You can be as tough with the scramble ball as you want. Initially a team will lose a good 5-7 points as they get their bearings as to the pace of the drill. By the end you will see your biggest wallflower diving into the chairs on the sideline to get a ball in the air. It’s fun to watch. If 3 players dive for a ball and are in a big pile you can guarantee my next ball is going right in the mix or behind it. Then the next ball goes right into the gap where the 4th and 5th player vacated to help the team dog pile in right front. Do this drill and within 5 minutes every other coach in the gym will be by your court wondering what the commotion is.
I hope it helps. If you need help with some drills or situations that you are trying to fix, you can reach out to me and I can send ideas. For video demonstrations of the drills listed above, feel free to go to my website: www.blazermedia.net and there will be a link to these drills there. Enjoy your fall as we get ramped up for another great club season.