Wednesday, 22 May 2024

An Open Letter to All Coaches

Dear coach,

Have you ever observed a youth volleyball league and felt a wave of nostalgia for your own Little League baseball days? The memories of standing in the outfield, waiting for a ball to come your way, and eagerly anticipating your turn at bat. As I watched a recent volleyball game, memories flooded back to me, and I couldn’t help but compare the experiences of different sports.

While observing the game, I noticed a high failure rate in serving and serve reception. There were countless untouchable aces, yet the coaches and parents remained supportive, applauding each contact. It left me questioning, what are they celebrating? Amidst the clapping, there were only a handful of successful forearm passes and one exciting rally.

Now, let me clarify that I applaud the effort and dedication of these coaches who love the game and want children to enjoy it as well. They spend countless hours nurturing young talent, cheering them on, and providing positive feedback. While technique-focused comments are not the priority at this level, I couldn’t help but notice that the emphasis on clapping for every contact overshadowed the opportunity for skill development.

It disappoints me to see that we continue to introduce young kids to the adult version of 6 vs. 6 volleyball. The concept of minivolley, which was introduced 40 years ago in East Germany, seems to have been overlooked. Soccer, on the other hand, has embraced small-sided games for kids, and its popularity continues to grow. It begs the question, why do elementary schools and youth recreation programs persist in teaching a game that encourages standing and clapping rather than active participation and learning?

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To truly foster skill development, I believe that children should start playing and practicing doubles, triples, or four-sided games on smaller courts. Only when they have acquired the skills of learning, reading, anticipating, and timing the ball will they be better prepared to play the full six-person version of the game.

Many successful volleyball players, including Karch Kiraly and Misty May, credit their foundation in the sport to playing doubles on sand with a partner. The ball-to-player ratio increases significantly in doubles, making it an ideal environment for learning movement and fundamental skills.

Partner drilling, although it provides many touches, does not replicate game-like situations that require players to read, anticipate, judge, and time their actions. Unfortunately, many coaches neglect to utilize the net during training, spending excessive time on partner pass or circle pass drills.

I implore coaches to consider the importance of game-like scenarios and small-sided courts. By warming up and training on smaller courts, players can experience a higher volume of touches and develop a better sense of court positioning. Let’s encourage our kids to play doubles against adults of varying skill levels during their free time.

Finally, I must emphasize the significance of setting in becoming a better hitter. In younger kids’ games, I propose running a 6-6 or 6-3 offense rather than the common 4-2 system. We need our kids to develop their movement and decision-making skills, and the 4-2 system doesn’t provide the best platform for that.

For more information on youth programming and team systems, I recommend referring to the 2002 IMPACT manual, which covers skills and systems in a condensed yet informative manner. Additionally, two valuable books for coaching younger kids are “Coaching YMCA Winners Volleyball” and “Coaching YMCA Rookies Volleyball.” These guides provide strategies for coaching volleyball the YMCA way, emphasizing tactics, skills, rules, fitness, and character development.

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Let’s work together to create opportunities for our younger players to experience small-team, small-court training. By doing so, we can enhance their learning and development and help the game of volleyball grow. Thank you for your dedication to coaching and for supporting the growth of the sport.

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1. Why is it important to introduce small-sided games in volleyball?

Small-sided games, such as doubles or triples, allow for increased player involvement and more opportunities to touch the ball. These games create an environment that fosters skill development, as players must learn movement, positioning, and decision-making in a game-like setting. Small-sided games provide a solid foundation before transitioning to the full six-person version of the game.

2. How can partner drilling be improved to enhance skill learning?

Partner drilling should be incorporated with the net to simulate real game scenarios. Instead of mindlessly passing or circling, players should focus on actively reading, anticipating, and timing their actions. By using smaller courts, ropes, or linked nets, players can experience touches and see more balls coming over the net, enabling them to learn proper positioning and movement.

3. Why is the 4-2 system not recommended for younger kids’ games?

The 4-2 system, which involves four hitters and two setters, doesn’t promote the movement and decision-making skills necessary for young players. By utilizing a 6-6 or 6-3 offense, players can learn to move and think, positioning themselves strategically on the court. This approach allows for better skill development and prepares players for the adult version of the game.

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In today’s open letter to all coaches, we explored the importance of introducing small-sided games in youth volleyball. By shifting the focus from 6 vs. 6 to doubles, triples, or four-sided games on smaller courts, we can create an environment that fosters skill development and active participation. The experiences of successful players who began with doubles, such as Karch Kiraly and Misty May, highlight the value of learning the game through increased player involvement and higher ball-to-player ratios.

Additionally, we discussed the need for partner drilling that replicates game-like scenarios and encourages players to read, anticipate, judge, and time their actions. By utilizing the net and running 6-6 or 6-3 offenses in younger kids’ games, we can nurture the movement and decision-making skills necessary for their development.

To learn more about Alpinetgheep and our dedication to promoting the growth of volleyball, visit our website here.

Remember, learning equals touching, not watching. Let’s create an environment where our young players can truly experience the game and develop their skills to the fullest. Together, we can help volleyball flourish and create a brighter future for the sport.