Boys volleyball is becoming increasingly popular, as many decide to leave the field and step onto the hard court. With the transition, male athletes are entering an entirely new competitive environment. In every sport male athletes are naturally driven to use their physicality to be the best at what they do. In volleyball, however, their physical strength and build alone will not win them games. It is up to the coaches to train male players to become more mentally and technically sound, to increase their volleyball IQ, and to use more than just their physical strength to dominate. But how? We reached out to a few successful JVA coaches in the boys’ community to give us some advice.
Set goals, write them down, and compete.
“We work hard to ensure that our practices are as competitive as possible. When planning our practices, I always devote 75-90% of our time to games that are scored and a competition between two teams. I write a practice plan out on a white board and always list our three main focus points, and number three is always to compete at a high level. This allows our guys to mentally prepare for every drill and get a grasp of how they plan to win.
Most of our drills are 6 on 6. It’s difficult to get them to focus on one area of the game in that scenario so we give them a stipulation. For example, every team must set the opposite out of serve receive if right side attacking is the focus. Sometimes you get a bonus point for a kill by the middle attacker. It prepares the defense for a likely attack, much like a scouting report does in a tournament match, and teaches the attacker to find ways to score against a solid block and defense. This allows them to think through the best time to go for that bonus point or how to cover a hitter and strategize during competition rather than in the vacuum of an isolated drill.”
– Matt Martin, High Performance (Saint Louis)
Keep cues short and encourage camaraderie.
“Many male athletes, in all sports, tend to rely more on their physical abilities to short cut fundamental techniques, thus making it more difficult as coaches to bring sound technique into the training. At A5, we really focus on the details of technique in our boys program, sometimes with success and sometimes not. Like many coaches, we use short verbal cues, like “feet to the ball”, “turn your thumbs down”, or “elbow above the shoulder” to reinforce these techniques. We spend a lot of time on this during practice, especially at the younger ages, since bad habits become ingrained as athletes progress. Unlike the girls, getting the boys to talk on the court is always one of the biggest challenges, and we insist on it from our players. We of course introduce consequences to the drills if the players are not following these coaching cues in reinforcing sound technique or for not talking on the court.
We also work on developing mental toughness with the boys, since they are naturally not as driven as our female players. We use wash drills and other game like situations in which the A side is put at a disadvantage and must come back to win the game. We also really focus on players picking each other up, especially in adverse situations (shanked pass, hitting error, etc.) and coming together after every point. We tell our kids that it’s easy to be positive when things are going well, but a player needs his teammates support most after an error. We keep tallies of hand slapping and recognize players at the end of practice who do the best job of being a good teammate.“
-Kip Buss, A5 Boys (Atlanta)
Connect with your players. Grow the trust.
“When meeting with our boys’ coaches, we often hear they are having a difficult time convincing their team to focus during practices or that players are only interested in the game-like drills – pretty much that boys are only looking to compete and do not care about technique or volleyball IQ. In many cases, this lack of interest in learning volleyball stems from disconnect between the player and the coach on a personal level. Athletes need to trust, respect, and connect with a coach before they are willing to listen when they would rather be playing.
Because of this, we’ve found that it’s a necessity in boys’ volleyball to recognize that you cannot coach each team, or even each player, the same year to year. Many elite level coaches who have had success in the past become fixated on their “method” or ability to train – if you are looking to be a successful leader long-term it’s important to realize that you need to adjust to the player’s personalities as much as they need to buy-in to your program. Team bonding, 1on1 conversations, goal setting, mid-season evaluations, and forming personal connections with athletes have become as important as building effective practice plans.
The old school way of thought was that players need to buy-in or get out, that it is the responsibility of the athlete to mold their personality to that of the coach. In reality, with the length of club seasons and the ever-changing priorities of young athletes, it is the job of the coach to recognize what motivates their current players and work to connect with them early in the season. This doesn’t necessarily mean a coach has to change their training methods or even their team policies. In reality, it’s about a coach recognizing that part of their role is to get to know their athletes and understand how to connect with players in order to get them to focus.
The most common pushback I receive when discussing the need to adjust to athletes is that coaches don’t want to be “soft” or that “when I played my coach would have made me run for two hours if I wasn’t listening”. In my opinion, these are all ego driven issues for the coach and it is important they accept that connecting with players is beneficial to achieving the goals they have for their teams. Legitimately caring about what matters to your players is not soft, it’s being an effective leader. If you’ve invested that extra personal time with an athlete, if that player truly believes that you have their best interest in mind, then that individual is much more likely to take time off from competing to actually learn from you.
-Derek Jensen, Division1 Volleyball Club (Chicago). JVA Board Member, Boys Representative
If your club does not have a boys volleyball program yet, here are a few ways to get boys interested:
- Invite Brothers to Practice: little or big brothers are invited to practice once or twice during the season. It is fun to change up practice in the middle of the season, and a great way to attract boys who are already familiar with the sport.
- Boys Practice Players: invite boys to come train with your teams. They will challenge your players to be smarter attackers, and give you opportunities to compete in 6v6 wash drills. You could even designate one court to just the boys for part of the practice so they can feel what it would be like to compete on a boys team.
- Host an Open Gym: Pick a Friday night once each month and invite local boys to attend for free or $5. Invite local male players who are home for the summer or competed in college (club or varsity) to come play as well. This is a great way for younger players to have role models in their sport to look up to and learn from.
High Performance St. Louis, Division1 Volleyball Club and A5 Volleyball are all members of the Junior Volleyball Association. To learn more about the JVA click here. For related reading on boys volleyball click here.
About the Author
Erin is the JVA Operations and Event Coordinator. She joined the JVA Staff in February 2017. Erin spent most of her club volleyball years playing for Fox Cities Elite in Appleton, Wi. Erin completed her volleyball career at Marquette University in 2016, and graduated with degrees in Elementary Education and Communication Studies.