Thoughts on Warming Up - Practice & Pre-Match

Dec. 09, 2010, 11:38 a.m. (ET)

I am a month into coaching my 14 team, I call them the Fourteeners, after our 52 highest 14,000 foot plus mountain peaks we have here in Colorado, including the snow shrouded one right out the USA Volleyball office window known as Pikes Peak. I figured I would simply share what I wrote my team, BOTH players AND parents as we want to keep them ALL in the loop, and Chris,  who asked a classic question or two on warm up, so you can see where the rubber meets the road in the ideas being put forth in this blog...

To My Fourteener Players (and Parents)

OK 14ers, tonite we are missing two, due to Christmas Concerts, so to help them know what we will all do for each of our 9 matches on Sunday, here is an email I just sent to a coach asking how best to warm up. I decided to kill two birds with one email….

We will practice this several times tonite so we know what we are doing Sunday and can just get right on the court and do it.  See you later tonite. - John

To: Coach

From: John Kessel
Sent: Thursday, December 09, 2010 9:30 AM
Cc: Cody Kessel
Subject: RE: Warming up thoughts

Thanks for the kind words. More importantly thanks for caring enough to seek and learn.

I call warm up by the recess rule – in that you sit 2 hours then go full bore for 15 min, no problem. So we warm up by playing small sided games. The butterfly “drill” is a good start the practice warm up option too, but a lot of 1v1, 1v1 plus 1 and 2v 2 small sided games are the BEST way to warm up, as players need to learn how to play the ball OVER then net when inside the 3 meter line area…we Americans are good off the net, but the closer we get, the more we fight the net if we do not play over it/inside the 3 meter line games.  In normal “pepper” the closer you get to your partner, the more you tap/hit it down. In REALITY the closer you get to your opponent, the more you have to hit UP and OVER the net that keeps looming larger and larger… That is a skill, and I even do a run forward warm up where the teammate tips very short/near the net over the rope/net, and the partner must run forward, get low and "J" stroke the ball UP or even BACKWARDS away from the net. The tradition is to run forward and put it over (or into) the net. The athletes need to know how to charge the net and still put it up HIGH and OFF the net as a skill set.

Now, if you want to two person pepper, you MUST do DIG TO YOURSELF pepper, or alternating (where you move forward and back to be the player in the middle who sets then moves back to dig) pepper. Dig to yourself (then set then hit) is how I teach playing against a wall as well, which is a warm up option too, especially if you are the first one on the court. The wall has a “net” from duct tape at 7’4” (download and review the Minivolley book for more on this), which you hit/serve the ball over the stripe, then when it rebounds, you dig to yourself, set yourself, then hit over the stripe – and repeat. We simply must teach young kids the habit/reaction of digging UP first, NEVER back to a spiker… see the grassroots article “From Positive to Perfection” where I argue for teaching good mistakes first, not how we do now where we are teaching negative errors first and all the time….

My team is about to play their first tourney Sunday, so tonite’s practice will be learning our PRE MATCH warm up. We go 2-4-4 here, so this is what we will do:


Players in 3 person pepper weave. I have nine so that works great. If you had 10, you could weave with 3 groups, one of 4 persons. What is 3 person weave? Let me see if I can X draw it

A ---- B --- C  is how the three start. A hits/serves OVER B to C, who digs/passes to B, who sets back to C. C then hits over B and then SWITCHES with B, as B becomes digger/passer and C the Setter/Target/Net.

A ---  C --- B

Of course when C hit over B, A digs, now to C, who sets A, who hits over C and C and A switch. And on and on…

C ---  A --- B

So that is moving AND never digging back to the hitter, both core concepts for REAL defense.

I have also had a parent stand at the endline, holding a rope attached to the net which is our own “warm up net” for two min or more, and we weave pepper over that rope/net.  Might do that Sunday too….it helps them hit OVER the 7’4” barrier they will encounter all their volleyball lives (unless they play coed, and have to deal with an 8 foot net).


 We set up front/back and hit a) 1 min 3 meter line, b) then 2 min off the net then c)  serve 1 min. What is "front/back"?

Players overhead pass balls to right or left side, players pass then hit (P/H) then move to set, then chase ball and then OHP…  On my team of 14s, I am teaching EVERY player to set at this point of the season - running a 6-6 or a 6-3, so they hit, then set, then chase/enter ball OVER the net. If you have designated setters, you hit then chase, and switch the two setters half way so they both FRONT and BACK set.  Too much of our training in the USA is front-front - so we are good at hitting zone four, and blocking it, and weak at zone 2/backsets and blocking that area too.

            OHP line

 _________________ net ______

                            S  S

   P/H      P/H                  P/H

 Rest waiting to pick a front or back set option to P/H

 We can set backrow A/pipe/D, then set outside or middle and back sets. Kids pick each line as they wish, but must hit some back sets.


 With the new rules, when we are off, we scout 1-2 min to see if any player is lefty or goofy footed, then we circle up to cheer and dance.   If you can warm up somewhere off the court on your non-court time, we do a player controlled modified butterfly/circle drill, where the players serve/hit, to two passer/diggers side by side (not in a line) who pass/dig to setters who set and then the player jumps and tips it or jumps and catches it, before moving to the serving/hitting line which is 15 feet further than the setters – NOT in the same “line” like 95% of the coaches do….

We might also just play tennis for 3 min then serve 1 min – see my blog "Tennis Anyone" for more on that.

Hope this helps. Keep up the great teaching. I am copying my son, who is interning for me this year before he goes to Princeton to play varsity volleyball there – to see what we can do to get a section for THE NEW COACH – it makes sense to put core/key things there all in one place, even if we need to do new writing. This email, for example could do it, especially if we have flash video embedded to show what I am writing about.

Here is an absract of the article for reference.


THACKER, S. B., J. GILCHRIST, D. F. STROUP, and C. D. KIMSEY, JR. The Impact of Stretching on Sports Injury Risk: A Systematic Review of the Literature. Med. Sci. Sports Exerc., Vol. 36, No. 3, pp. 371-378, 2004.

Purpose: We conducted a systematic review to assess the evidence for the effectiveness of stretching as a tool to prevent injuries in sports and to make recommendations for research and prevention.

Methods: Without language limitations, we searched electronic data bases, including MEDLINE (1966-2002), Current Contents (1997-2002), Biomedical Collection (1993-1999), the Cochrane Library, and SPORTDiscus, and then identified citations from papers retrieved and contacted experts in the field. Meta-analysis was limited to randomized trials or cohort studies for interventions that included stretching. Studies were excluded that lacked controls, in which stretching could not be assessed independently, or where studies did not include subjects in sporting or fitness activities. All articles were screened initially by one author. Six of 361 identified articles compared stretching with other methods to prevent injury. Data were abstracted by one author and then reviewed independently by three others. Data quality was assessed independently by three authors using a previously standardized instrument, and reviewers met to reconcile substantive differences in interpretation. We calculated weighted pooled odds ratios based on an intention-to-treat analysis as well as subgroup analyses by quality score and study design.

Results: Stretching was not significantly associated with a reduction in total injuries (OR = 0.93, CI 0.78-1.11) and similar findings were seen in the subgroup analyses.

From: A Coach

Sent: Monday, December 06, 2010 6:01 PM
To: John Kessel
Subject: Warming up thoguhts

Hi John,

Thank you so much for your writing on your blog and your teaching in the Impact classes.  It never fails to excite me invigorate me, and challenge me when I read or hear your teachings.

I was searching for recommendations on warming up before practices as I try to change the habits of all the teams in my club and am having a hard time finding recommendations.  They, of course are still doing static stretching and I need to give them something other than “that is bad and do something more like this…”  I have seen some of your general comments and your referral to the great NY Times article, which is what got me going on this a few years ago, but nothing on volleyball specific warming up.  Do you recommend playing “light” 2 on 2  or 3 on 3 over a net only?  Or do you have other warmup things you suggest in addition?  Any thought, links, book referrals would be appreciated.

Also, a comment on the USA Volleyball site.  As a coach I have come to the USA volleyball site multiple times and searched for information on running practices, drills, warm-ups, etc. and outside of your blog haven’t found anything useful (well other than the excellent CAP and impact material).  I would live to see a part of the website dedicated to the thousands of new or learning club and school coaches who are trying to figure this stuff out for themselves.

Thanks again for all you have given to all of us!




The following comments were made on our previous web platform and have been transferred here to maintain the historical record.

On December 14, 2010 Chris VanDoren wrote

I am a bit confused on the 4 min full court drill. How is the ball initiated? And then the first person on the OHP line overhand passes to any one of the three P/H lines who passes to the setter and then that same passer then hits? Also you show two setters next to each other? Thanks I look forward to trying this.

On December 15, 2010 John Kessel wrote

1. Initiated by the first player in the OHP line - which means OverHead Pass - so they free ball a confidence building but still gamelike pass over the net to one of the three lines. (this is where coaches usually initiate, not the players). So they self toss a low ball to OHP over the net. 2. Yes, the passer then hits, unless you have a libero who might pass alot more. The concept in part is...can't pass? Can't hit....but we want to build confidence. 3. Yes the two setters are "sharing the same spot" if they were to pass perfectly - the trick is to alternate the OHP over the net so that once a ball is safely near/or being set, the next OHP player in the line puts the ball over the net - thus the ball will arrive same spot but in alternating times and not be a problem. You can't toss same time to both lines or else the ball, if passed perfectly, arrives to both setters at the same time and they would collide. Hope that clears it up!

On December 16, 2010 Joseph Trinsey wrote

John, Good stuff- like all of your blog posts! I had a lot of success implementing some similar stuff that you mentioned in a previous blog posts with the middle school I volunteered at this Fall. For practice warmups, I showed them how to do 1 vs 1, 1 vs 1 + 1, 2 vs 2, etc. and told them they weren't allowed to use the court without using the net. For game warmups, I taught the girls 3 or 4-person pepper (so they had to dig to a setter, not back to the hitter), and then we would do our hitting lines "beach doubles-style" with the setting hitting a downball to the hitter first. I would have liked to have the ball come from over the net, but unfortunately our area's middle school warmup is apparently still shared hitting, so that wasn't possible. The girls really liked it, and it hardly took any time to teach. I actually didn't even go over it at practice; I just showed them how to do it while we were warming up for the first match and they pretty much figured it out right away.

On May 10, 2011 Sd wrote

Read this, interesting.


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