At The Academy Volleyball Club, we have talked a lot about the ideal training versus competition cycle for the younger ages throughout the club season. In our gym, we have noticed that when we focus on doing blocked training, or less game-like training, our players tend to lack a desire to play every ball. After blocked training, they seemed to disengage in a 6v6 wash drill, thinking the person next to them will play the ball.
We find that the most important part of youth training is keeping younger players engaged. Not every player has a competitive nature that will show itself when you put them on the court with five other players.
A lot of youth development research has led us to explore training our youth in more random or game-like situations. By doing this, they have become accustomed to developing a sense of purpose to go after the ball. Our coaches focus on building the players’ desires to play with effort early on in the season. However, it can be challenging if young players are thrown into a 6v6 drill before they are ready.
Here is a simple progression that has been effective for us to keep youth players engaged especially when they are just beginning, and to improve their effort in 6v6 play throughout the course of their season.
- 2v2 Short Court Games to 5: To keep kids engaged, we start a lot of practices in the early months by allowing the kids to play 2v2 short court games to 5.
- We have found that decreasing the number of players on the court and shrinking the amount of space they have to cover drastically improves a player’s ability to stay focused on the game being played.
- Due to this being a more game-like situation, it allows the players to practice certain skills they wouldn’t be able to if they were doing blocked training, for example, reading an attacker.
- When a player knows they will touch the ball every time it comes over the net, they have no choice but to stay alert and focus on the task at hand.
- 3v3 Skinny Court: From 2v2 short court we will progress to 3v3 skinny court where we split the court into halves or thirds and the playable area spans the full length of court but only a width of 10-15 feet.
- Adding the extra person into the mix gives the coach an opportunity to emphasize communication because now there is more than one person to take second and third contacts.
- Playing the full length of the court also forces players to be more active and cover more ground.
- 4v4 Full Court: The next progression would be 4v4 full court games to 5.
- Allowing them to play the full court with less than six players forces them to learn to read and react defensively.
- In addition to reading and reacting, now they must put more effort into making a play because less ground is being covered by their teammates. games to 5.
- 6v6 Full Court: Our final progression is to move them into 6v6 play.
- We are always impressed with the amount of hustle that players put forth when they have gone through the full progression from 2v2 to 6v6.
What percentage of practice should be game-like and competitive vs blocked training?
At the beginning of the club season, we feel that a typical youth team practice should include about 60% competitive, game-like drills versus about 40% blocked training. As the season progresses, we will continue to tip the scales in favor of competitive, game-like training. Around the end of February, which is about a third of the way through our season, practices will include about 70% game-like training and 30% blocked skill training. We will increase game-like training towards 80% the final third of the season with less time dedicated to blocked training.
The progression of game-like drills resembles the season development as a whole. Teams start out early in the year working every week to get better and improve their skills. They attend tournaments and learn from every match, every set, and every point. Once April rolls around, it’s incredible to see the growth and improvement. This is one of the many reasons we started The Academy Youth Jamboree, a large tournament in mid-April to celebrate personal and team growth. It’s extremely rewarding for the players, parents, and coaches to see the advancement of skills, and this tournament is the perfect culmination to compete for many teams.
Join us on April 13-14 in Indianapolis, Indiana for this inaugural event through the JVA Challenge Series. We hope to celebrate your player’s development and progression of the game this spring! More information and registration can be found at www.theacademyvolleyball.com/jva-youth-jamboree.
About the Author
Sam Thompson has coached club and high school for a combined 10 seasons. Sam attended Adrian College and was a setter on the mens volleyball team. In his time as a club coach, he has worked primarily with players age 15 and under. Sam now serves as a Program Director and 15-1 head coach for The Academy Volleyball Club, a JVA member in Indianapolis, Indiana.