Wednesday, 22 May 2024

Drill Design & Player Abilities: Enhancing the High School Volleyball Program

For coaches seeking to elevate their athletes and teams to new heights in the volleyball hierarchy, drill design plays a crucial role. Whether aiming for national, state, or local recognition, it is important to consider how drills align with team objectives. Key questions to ask include: What will this drill achieve? Is it safe for the athletes? Is it valuable use of time? Do the drills accurately reflect the dynamics of the game?

A) Designing Effective Drills with Clear Objectives

As coaches, our goal is to prepare athletes physically, cognitively, and affectively for the game. It is vital to establish and document the objectives of each drill, and determine how to evaluate the athletes’ progress. Flexibility is key – be prepared to adjust the difficulty level of drills if needed. This approach resembles the drill philosophy commonly found in football, which emphasizes repetition and game-like situations. Drawing from the principles of sport psychology, volleyball and other sports have embraced these concepts.

B) Tailoring Drills to Different Skill Levels

The term “beginner” varies depending on the source, including those that provide sample drills. High school programs differ in skill levels, ranging from lower-level varsity teams to those with well-developed feeder systems. It is important to address the varying levels of individual ability. Drill objectives must be adjusted based on prior instruction, whether athletes have been taught game concepts or have only played recreational “sling” volleyball. In some cases, athletes may have limited exposure to volleyball outside of the school season, so cognitive aspects of the game become crucial. Teaching drills effectively saves practice time and helps athletes transition seamlessly between tasks.

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C) Progression in Drill Design

Quality drills require an element of competition, where there is a clear winner and loser. The consequences need not be severe, but should be challenging enough to motivate athletes. For example, after a drill, athletes could be responsible for tasks such as ball shagging, net takedown, or even simple exercises like crunches or wall touches. Minor consequences like these can serve as powerful motivators. When designing drills for lower levels, consider how players rotate within the drill (especially when errors occur) and if the drill allows for adjustments to accommodate player progressions. What if you lack a strong setter or struggle with serving? Can the drill still achieve its objectives with suitable modifications? Continually evaluate the athletes and the drill to ensure its effectiveness, particularly when working with new athletes. A well-designed drill leads to a smoother flow of athletes.

D) Ensuring Drill Efficiency

Efficiency is a crucial aspect of drills that is often overlooked. Coaches need to set time limits for drills to assess athlete progression. Unmonitored drill time can consume valuable practice time and diminish performance quality due to boredom. When planning practices, set allocated time for each drill, allowing extra time for teaching new drills or progressions. Design drills in a way that enables all athletes to progress, even if they have different skill levels. This means that better players must continue to improve, even if it means challenging the less skilled players. Every athlete has unique abilities, and goals must be adjusted accordingly.

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E) The Role of External Participants in Drills

Some coaches bring in outside players, such as blockers and hitters, to practice against their starting team. These external athletes can provide valuable practice partners if properly integrated. It is crucial to communicate expectations clearly to these players and emphasize safety. The last thing a coach wants is a group of non-serious athletes potentially causing injury. These outside players should be considered part of the practice plan, with specific restrictions on their involvement in drills, in order to benefit the team.

F) Conditioning and Evaluation within Drills

Conditioning should be incorporated into all drills, especially during preseason or early season training. By gradually increasing the pace of drills, coaches can help athletes improve their conditioning while ensuring adequate recovery and muscle group balance. Utilize the time between drills and before breaks as opportunities for conditioning, such as running to retrieve balls or gathering for instructions. Continuous activity during downtime replicates the pressure of real-game situations.

Constant evaluation of drill effectiveness is essential. Assessing the transfer of skills learned in drills to actual game scenarios helps identify wasted practice time. Remember, drills are meant to facilitate athlete progress, not just fill practice schedules. To maintain athletes’ focus, incorporate goal-oriented criteria and creative scoring systems that incentivize improvement. While encouraging players’ growth, coaches must also hold them accountable to meet the criteria of each drill.

Drilling in volleyball practices should not feel like a chore for players. It is an integral part of the game that enhances learning. By designing drills with clear objectives and incorporating monitoring and scoring, athletes can experience the competition they crave and continue to strive for improvement. Building drills with specific objectives and progressive criteria enables significant growth. Always remember: Pressure equals Flow.

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Q: How do I determine the difficulty level of a drill?
A: The difficulty level of a drill should align with the skill level of your athletes. It is important to gauge their abilities based on prior instruction and adjust the drill accordingly. Consider their familiarity with game concepts and positioning. If necessary, modify the drill to suit their skill level to ensure a productive practice session.

Q: How can I make drills more engaging for athletes?
A: Incorporate competition and consequences into drills. Set clear goals and provide rewards for achieving them. Creative scoring systems and incentives for winners can help maintain athletes’ focus and motivation. It is important to strike a balance between challenging athletes and keeping the drills enjoyable.

Q: Can I bring in outside players to participate in drills?
A: Yes, incorporating outside players can add a new dynamic to practice sessions, particularly when they play as blockers or hitters. However, it is essential to communicate expectations clearly to these players and ensure their actions align with the team’s goals. Additionally, prioritize safety and avoid unnecessary risks that could lead to injuries.


Effective drill design is crucial for the growth and success of high school volleyball programs. By clearly defining objectives, tailoring drills to different skill levels, and incorporating competition, coaches can create engaging practice sessions that promote athlete development. It is important to continually reassess drill effectiveness, maintain efficiency, and encourage a positive learning environment. With careful design and monitoring, drills can become a catalyst for player improvement, leading teams to achieve their highest potential. For more information on improving your volleyball program, visit Alpinetgheep.