The best drill to learn to pass is to do a drill in which you PASS – set – hit; the best drill to learn to set is a drill in which you pass – SET – hit; and the best drill to learn to hit is to pass – set – HIT. What this quote, attributed to former national team coach Marv Dunphy, implies is that skills are best learned within the context of the game and not as isolated entities. John Kessel, director of player development for USA Volleyball, refers to what he calls “grills” to emphasize that drills need to be game like in nature.

Developing game like/competitive drills involves trying to isolate, or place emphasis on, a particular aspect of the sport by playing a game. This can be done by manipulating one or more of the following variables:

  1. Dimensions of the court
  2. Scoring system
  3. Number of players used
  4. Setting specific rules of play
  5. Changing the way the drill is initiated

Note: in many cases two or more of these variables are combined: e.g., 2 vs 2 short court which changes the dimensions of the court and the number of players

Advantages of these types of drills are they:

  1. Develop skills within the context of the game
  2. Force the players to think and stay mentally engaged
  3. Help players learn how to execute a game plan
  4. Teach players to compete and find ways to win
  5. Allow for the development of game-like drills that do not have to involve 6 v 6 play (important for club teams that typically have less than 12 players)
  6. Are fun for the players because they get to play!

A possible disadvantage is that an individual player may not get enough reps in a particular skill with game play only. An ideal practice format would include individual work in the early part of practice to work on the skill(s) which will be used in the group/team drills to be played later in the practice; e.g., before playing the line hitting/digging drill described below, the coach could drill the individual action of line digging by repetitive hitting from a box to a line digger or, preferably, repetitive line hitting from a hitting line. Another important aspect to consider is the skill level of the players. For example, the players may not have the individual setting, hitting or digging skills necessary to make the game competitive or time productive. Therefore these drills must be carefully planned and adjusted to skill level.

Following are examples illustrating each of the variables:

1.  Changing the court dimensions:

a.  Use cones/poly spots/long elastic bands etc. to make a new “court” and then just play! Adjust the court size to fit the level of play; smaller areas benefit the defense while a larger area benefits the offense. a. to work on hitting and digging down the line shots. Simply mark off the line alley on both sides of the net then just play a regular game; a ball hit outside of the “line alley” is out. Play may be initiated by either chipping in a ball or start with serve and pass within the “normal” court. Play can be 4 v 4 / 5 v 5/ 6 v 6; add a middle attacker who must run slides and hit down the line; add a middle back to pick up the deep roll/tip or if your team plays a rotation defense.

b. To work on cross-court/cut shots by the left side hitter: play 4 on 4 (3 front row positions plus left back, or 3 on 3 without a middle blocker, or 5 on 5 and play the setter in right back) Note: you may need to dictate to the blocker where to set the block, e.g., make sure you leave the line open or allow the inside cut shot etc otherwise blockers will begin to cheat since they know where the attack is going; however, that is not always bad because it helps develop the idea of executing a game plan; e.g., you must take away the line shot, and it teaches the digger to then read the line is blocked and release up for a tip etc.

c. Another very popular example is to play 2 v 2 “short court” or play half court lengthwise.

2.  Scoring system: play a “normal” game but use the scoring system to place emphasis on different aspects of the game.

a. only the middle may score a point to emphasis middle attacking (if anyone else scores that team receives the next ball but does not score a point) This concept may be applied to any court position – only rt side may score etc.

b. add bonus points for a particular skill: e.g., a backrow kill counts as two points

c. start games at a designated score, e.g., 22-22 or 22 – 20 etc to simulate late game situations

d. same as C but do not let the teams know what score they need to win; forces players to focus on winning the next play as that may be game point

3. Number of players used:

a. 3 v 3 (all in the backrow or 4 v 4-add a middle) to work on attacking and digging backrow attacks

b. 5 v 5 with no middle to work on attacking and blocking/digging in one on one situations

c. 5 v 5 with no left front and the setter in the front row; to emphasize forcing the middle attack

4. Setting specific rules of play:

a. ball may only be passed/dug with the hands to work on overhead passing/digging

b. attacks must be a tip or roll shot to work on hitting and defending off speed

c. only a designated player may attack, i.e., middle front or backrow players, and everyone else must return the ball with a freeball

d. side B may only use 2 contacts or they must only return with a free ball to allow the side A to get a lot of transition work from down/free ball situations.

5. Change the way play is initiated: Allows the coach to put the team into a specific situation from which to start play. This is a great way to work on out of system situations.

a. start play by tossing a ball above the net for the two sides to “joust” and play out from there

b. bounce a ball for one side and have them send a free ball to the other side to work on free ball transition

c. bounce a ball on one side which is the first contact – the team has two more contacts to get the ball over the net.

d. chip a ball to a backcourt player who digs to self and then sets a hitter so the hitters are hitting sets coming from different areas of the court By keeping these variables in mind and with a little creativity, any coach can develop game-like drills appropriate for his/her team.

For related articles click here.

About the Author

Mark Britner is in his 39th year of coaching, which includes 19 years at the collegiate level and 25 years of club volleyball. He is in his 5th year at Team Indiana.