Manny Johnson: Blog 1 at 2008 HP Youth Holiday Camp

Jan. 21, 2009, 4:59 p.m. (ET)

Day 1 Session 1 12/26/08

The USAV Youth Holiday Camp started today at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, Calif. 12 of the top athletes in the USA High Performance Program gathered here for high-level training.  Coaches for this camp are Neil Mason, founder and CEO of TCA volleyball Club, Blaine Tendler, director of Piedmont Volleyball Club, Abbey Masters of Top Gun Volleyball Club, and myself, Manny Johnson, director of TCA Northern California.

We opened camp with a session designed to gauge the abilities of the players. Obviously all these players are very talented and athletic, but we wanted to see what they did with all their talent and athleticism.  Neil had us introduce the different things the players need to do for us a pre-practice warm-up.  Pre-practice consists of approaches, transition footwork, blocking movements, some defensive maneuvers (sprawls & pancakes), along with push-ups, crunches and squats. The players do these things at different times so that there is not a logjam at the net. We know the kids are done with warm up because they begin playing one of the three types of pepper we introduced; USAV eschews traditional back and forth pepper because it teaches players to pass the ball back where it came from. We introduced three different kinds of pepper; the first is one-way pepper, where a player is about five feet off the net and her partner is at about 20 feet. The player at the net hits to her partner who digs to herself and then sets her partner and the process repeats itself, the players switch after a certain number of reps or a certain amount of time. The players usually do the drill twice the first time focusing on underhand digging, the second on overhand digging. The second type of pepper is six-touch pepper where the two players have to contact the ball six times each, dig, fist, fist, tomahawk, set and hit back to their partner.  Six-touch pepper helps the players work on emergency maneuvers that extend rallies.  The third type of pepper is three-person pepper in which two players hit and dig and the person in the middle sets them. The setter works on covering, bump setting, back setting and reading a ball off the passers arms. 

While the players began going through the pre-practice routine, the coaches met and Neil explained the three types of drills we would be doing at camp.  1.) Teaching drills - these drills are cognitive based, coaches introduce the skill being taught usually using the whole-part-whole method.  These drills are slower paced and technical in nature, we try to do these drills about 15% to 20% of the time. 2.) Cooperative drills - these drills are designed to keep the ball in play for a certain amount of rallies.  Cooperative drills are usually done as a warm-up and we try to limit them to about 1% to 3% of the time. 3.) Competitive drills - these drills are scored and players are trying to win the drill, competitive drills make up the bulk of practice as we try to do them about 70% to 80% of the time.

After the girls were done with pre-practice we did some high-ball hitting. We varied both the set location (anywhere from five to 20 feet off the net) and where the set was coming from (anywhere from the 10-foot line to the corners of the court).  The players were asked to focus on hitting high and deep cross court.  Athletes need to be mindful of what they are doing so it is important to give them a focus point for each drill.  This type of hitting is not easy but we want the players to be comfortable in uncomfortable situations.

We finished the session with a spirited round of doghouse. It actually started out listlessly but after a touch 6 session with Neil it got a lot better.  Touch 6 is used as encouragement to go for balls; there are 3 players on the court and they have to touch 6 balls in a row all initiated by Neil and none easy.  Doghouse is like reverse queen of the court, meaning that when you lose you stay on the court and the winners go off, the theory being that you need more reps if you lose.