World Championship Lessons LearnedColin McMillan-Head Coach Boys’ U19 (Youth) National Team:
As always playing in the international arena was a great and challenging environment for our young players. The experiences that they gained competing against the best players in the world at their age will certainly serve them well if they remember the lessons learned from the competition. We seem to be behind in many areas at this age group, I will focus on a couple that I think are coach-able, and can help individual players when they make that step up in competition.
The first seems very simple. Float serve and float serve reception. The vast majority of the athletes competing in Mexico were proficient at bringing a tough, consistent, and well located float serve. Our best point scorer from behind the end line was a float server. Too often with younger male players, and even players in college, the float or jump float is viewed as a secondary, weaker option. In reality if executed well and with precision, it can give your team the opportunity to score more points than most jump serves. On the other end of the serve, our reception needed to be stronger. Our players platform control and movement needed to be more decisive and precise. With the overhead reception rule still in place we managed to cover some deficiencies, but in the end we need to train our players to be more able and confident to handle these kinds of serve.
Another area that it was evident that we were lacking in was our physicality at the net. Where it showed up most prominently was in our ability to attack a solid block. Our hitters consistently looked only for the open court around the block, which is great, if you only have one blocker in front of you. When two or sometimes three blockers were well formed in front of the attacker we made far too many errors, and did not have an understanding of how score in that situation. Young players want to see the ball hit the floor cleanly, but they need to understand that hitting the ball off the blockers hands and scoring is just as impressive. This is a skill that attackers at all levels should be striving to achieve.
The reality of the tournament was that even at the youth age group many of the players competing were already playing professional volleyball in their respective countries. Those that weren't were often in special sports schools where they train together year round. It is very tough for our athletes to understand the level required when they are coming from high school and club volleyball, even at the highest level of those areas. Training athletes in the areas mentioned above will certainly help them get to that level sooner.
Jim Stone-Head Coach, Girls U18 (Youth) National Team:
I am pleased that the USA Girls Youth National Team was able to finish with a Silver Medal at the World Championships. This is the highest finish ever at this event for the YNT. It is worthy of examination as to what were the ingredients of this successful event for the USA Girls.
I will note some general observations of the teams that medaled, along with a statistical evaluation of the USA team that allowed for a successful finish. The teams that medaled at the event were able to 1) score points while limiting the number of unforced errors, 2) served very well and placed the opponent under pressure to sideout, 3) the top teams had a position or player that was a big point scorer on a consistent basis, 4) all the top teams had very good setting.
The USA team fit this mold very well. The Girls YNT served in-bounds 93% of the time, forcing the opponent to always earn sideout points. We also passed at a team average of 2.1 on a 3.0 scale. Our libero, Kenzie Maloney, had the most attempts and passed at a 2.28 level. So, generally, very few unforced serve receive errors. This allowed the USA team to be “in system” a majority of the time. Our point scoring position (211 points) was the middle hitters, with Mikaela Foecke, Audriana Fitzmorris and Danielle Cuttino all hitting over 30%, with Foecke hitting 44%. As a group, the middles scored over 40% of the total earned points. Foecke was very efficient in point scoring as she scored 122 points with only 18 errors. Finally, our setter, Jordyn Poulter, was named the best setter of the tournament. She also was able to score (40 pts) via attacking, blocking and serve. Her abilities, combined with good passing, allowed the USA team to get a lot of good swings at the ball and kept a lot of pressure on the opponent.
The takeaway from the tournament is when a team can limit the unforced errors; they increase the opportunities to win a point or a match. To score points while limiting errors is easier said than done. However, the top teams at the World Championships were very good at this concept. I would encourage club coaches to place a priority on points won vs. points lost for both individuals and the team. This will place a priority on both winning points while being aware of the number of points lost.
Pete Hanson-Head Coach, Men’s U21 (Junior) National Team:
The skill and/or art of blocking, particularly one on one blocking, was very impressive as performed by the two teams that eventually played in the Gold Medal match at the World Championships. Both Russia and Brazil had outstanding individuals who excelled at being able to tactically go one on one as a blocker and successfully not allowing the spiker a free swing, while many times touching and/or stuffing the ball.
The things that I saw that led to this capability were both a physical and mental trait. The physical aspect of being a good one on one blocker requires that the blocker understands that he must make his move early, he must be in the right spot, and he must get way across the net. The mental aspect of the blocking move must be that the blocker knows that to be effective, he must be as aggressive as he can be, and he must have the mindset of stuffing the ball. This mindset allows him to make all of the physical moves that are required. There has to be a complete commitment to not allowing the opposing hitter to beat him.
It was very easy to see that the Russian and Brazilian blockers had been trained in this fashion. Many times the middle blockers were committing or trapping away from a certain zone that left a particular pin blocker in a one on one scenario. Those players in that situation knew this from the outset and that allowed them to be very aggressive in making their respective block move and the intent that they had while blocking. With the sophistication and physical abilities of both the offenses and hitters, it put pressure on the block and defense of a team to take “Chances”. In essence, take a calculated risk to stop a certain player or play, and when you do this, there is one blocker usually left out there on an island. This was a tactic of those two teams and the blockers had been trained to not only recognize this, but to work as hard as they could to neutralize that opposing hitter in front of them. Thus training the physical and mental skill of being a one on one blocker.
Rod Wilde-Head Coach, Women’s U20 (Junior) National Team:
After competing in the Women's Junior World Championships this June it became very apparent that there are some very specific areas of emphasis that the USA programs need to make as focal points for future teams. We fully understand our limitations on training and competitions for our teams compared to the other top programs. Even with these limitations there are some specific skills that we as a group need to focus on to close the gap.
First, we need to continue to develop harder, stronger and flatter serves. The velocity and pace of the serving from the top teams far exceeded what our team was able to produce. Most were not jump serves but simply hard float or jump float serves that came very fast and low to the tape. The direct result of this was they were able to get teams off the net more often than we did.
Second, we need to be able pass these tougher serves. Because these top teams see the tougher serves every day in practice they are much more used to passing them. The only way for us to replicate the tougher serves on a consistent basis was for us to put coaches up on jump boxes and move them into the court so we could get enough pace and the lower trajectory that was needed. We spent a lot of time doing this but when we went into live play situations our lack of pace and speed hurt our ability to get the same type of reps that we saw in the competition.
Third, we need to continue to develop bigger more physical pin hitters that can hit us out of bad pass and transition situations. The top teams all had at least two bigger and stronger hitters that they could get a high ball to and terminate at a high level.
When I talk about developing stronger pin hitters I specifically mean we need to have hitters that can kill the ball against a solid block. They need to be able to tool the block and hit off the top of a well formed block. They need to be able to change the timing of hits and mix shots better. The better hitters internationally have the ability to not only hit high and hard but also put the ball deep into the court where the block cannot stop them. We also need to develop hitters that can kill the ball out of the back row. The top teams all have hitters that can consistently score out of the back row from both the pipe and D or Red - back position.
These are all skills that we have identified as important to winning at the international level before but we need to continue to make them a priority for the success of our teams at all levels in the future.