Manny Johnson: Blog 2 at 2008 HP Youth Holiday Camp

Jan. 21, 2009, 5:03 p.m. (ET)

Day 2 Session 2 12/27/08

Today began with our pre-practice activities, then we went into serve receive (s/r) passing.  Neil put some keys on the whiteboard, the first three were 1.) volleyball is a visual motor sport 2.) we want simple duplicatable movements 3.) efficient and simple.

After Neil explained the importance of these things he went on to go over the keys for s/r passing.  First was wrist and hands; this key is the basis for all passing.  Good wrist and hands open the passers forearms creating a bigger sweet spot, wrist and hands line up the platform evenly, allow for a greater range of movement side to side (think of a pendulum), and they create a flat surface for the ball should it hit your hands.  At this point we had the players toss pass and catch.  The players had to be mindful of their wrist and hands and the tosser couldn't toss unless her partner had her wrist and hands together.

After each player passed and the coaches were satisfied that players grasped the concept of wrist and hands we reconvened at the whiteboard and went on to the second key, straight and simple.  A lot of the players started w/their elbows tight to their body and/or had lots of movement w/their arms.  Straight and simple is just like it sounds we want the players arms to be straight and their movement to pass a ball to be simple and in one direction.  Passers should start w/ their arms low and straight then move their platform up to meet and redirect the ball.

After discussing the importance of straight and simple we reminded the players about the first key and had them pass some balls back and forth.  While the players were passing coaches walked around and made sure their movements were simple, no bobbing their arms up and down, no scooping the ball, no praying, no leg or head movements.  Once we saw that all unnecessary movement was for the most part eliminated we met at the whiteboard and discussed the third passing key, face the ball and angle the platform.  This is an important point because volleyball is a rebound game in particular passing.  Arms and hands respond faster than feet so to us it is more important that the players create the correct angle for the ball to ricochet off than to get their hips behind the ball. At lower levels when the ball is not moving very fast hips behind the ball is great because whenever possible we want the players passing in midline but as the game speeds up you don't always have time to get behind the ball.

We then had the players do a butterfly passing drill.  During the butterfly we had the coached bowl balls into play and reminded the players to be mindful of the first two keys while focusing on shuffling to pass in midline or when that wasn't possible creating an angle to pass.  We had the passers start a little bit shorter than normal (about 12/13 feet vs 15) because distance equals time players can get to the deeper ball easier than they can the short ball.  In order for all these things to help players pass better they have to be able to see the server.  They should pick up the ball when it is in the servers hand and track it with their eyes as long as possible.  Two ways for coaches to tell if passers are seeing the serve are 1. is the ball hitting their sweet spot? & 2. are the passers taking any false steps, meaning are they stepping forward on a deep serve or vice versa.

Neil also talked about how passers never want to cross their feet to get to a ball, they want to shuffle and keep their right foot forward as it helps open their hips and create the necessary angles.  When shuffling passers want to keep their head and arms as quiet as possible (not move them).  After watching the passers overpass a fair amount of balls it was time to discuss the next key and standard deviation.  The Bell Shaped curve dictates that most things are in the normal range but there are standard deviations that occur.  Think of a bulls-eye and darts even the best dart players don't hit the bulls-eye 100% of the time.  They hit some above it, some below it some to the left and some to the right.  The better they are at throwing darts the closer to the center their misses are.

Now lets apply that to passing; if we are aiming tight to the net standard deviation tells us that we will miss over the net, its inevitable.  Let's say that instead we decide to aim for five feet, our misses now are on our side and in a place where we can actually set the ball to our hitters.  In addition to eliminating overpasses passing to five feet helps our setter get to more balls.  Remember that distance equals time so if your setter is on the net and you pass a ball to the ten foot line your setter has to go ten feet and the ball is going about five feet; she has to cover ten feet in the same amount of time the ball is covering five feet.  Meanwhile our setter is at five feet and only has to move five feet to the ball.

Let's extrapolate this theory of passing off the net even further, tight balls are difficult to backset, your outside sets are going to be coming right at the hitter instead of floating in front of them, the other teams middle is more likely to be able to read the dump, not a lot of good comes from tight passes.

After sharing all this info w/the girls we did another round of butterfly and overpasses were virtually eliminated.