Contacts Per Hour

Aug. 26, 2010, 12:22 p.m. (ET)

One of the four banners I travel with for clinics no matter where in the world I go, is a banner with the title of this blog. It is a way to summarize the motor learning principle of increasing opportunities to respond.  As we learn by doing, not watching, one of the core ways to get better faster than your opponents is to train in gamelike ways which also increase the number of touches each of your players are getting in that precious deliberate practice time. I am always amazed at how coaches somehow fail to maximize this principle, so a few thoughts on how to do such are what I am going to share…

Teams of Three

Every time we trained in FIVB or CAP clinics, I arrive in the gym and look for ways to get my yellow rope up down the middle of the normal training court. We use referee stands, basketball backboard raising cables, and anything we can make happen, so that the team can do its warm ups and up to half the practice on the shorter, but “double net” single court available. Now if you are our USA National team at the Anaheim Sport Center, you have some 18 guys training each morning, and some 20 full courts available. So they do not put a rope down the middle to get to small team competition courts, having so many to choose from. Then they too play 2v2 and 3v3 games for more than a little of practice, perhaps upwards of a third of practice even, they compete 3v3. Why? You are doubling or more your contacts per hour in a gamelike way.


This one both saves time and wastes time. For teams that have players who sprint in to each roundup call of the coach, those that run, save time compared to those who walk in. You get a lil’ conditioning sprint too, and depending on the amount of time you call your players in to talk, you save time and get in shape all in one gym tradition of value – sprinting into the coach. The other place that bears mention that is worth running, is AFTER you serve, even in 1 min (or God forbid, 10 minutes long) serving sessions. The powerful tradition is to serve and watch, rather than what you do in every game you play, serve and sprint to your defensive spot. Get your players to serve and sprint, and skip the running of lines, as noted below.

The wastes of time with running come from three other general traditions which are quite vast in their application. 

1. Running the mile in under X minutes – This tradition just has no value in developing volleyball players.  As I have said before, conditioning is homework, not something to do with the team when you could be playing over a net. That you might be in shape enough to run a mile or more fast does not significantly make you a better volleyball player. It does not help you jump better either, that comes from jumping, not running. Specificity in training cannot be ignored, but many do. If running a mile really mattered to being a good volleyball player, runners like Alberto Salazar would have been on the Olympic volleyball team for sure. Indeed, you can watch an adult match where in great shape 20 year olds take on out of shape skilled 40 year olds, and just about every time, the experienced, better reading, hardly jumping old players whump the youngsters. In our game on the skill to fitness scale, skill is more important than fitness at virtually every level of the sport.

2. Running lines – Another old tradition that wastes contacting the volleyball time. Especially when it is done as a punishment for losing in any form. At this developmental level, you are sending the clear message that getting in shape is a punishment, rather than a desired training objective. They don’t need to get better at running; they need to get better at volleyball. 

3. Running for “warm up” – For years, teaching the way I was taught, I would have my players jog for several minutes, then sit and stretch, sometimes up to 20 minutes or more each session while the net sat there, “ignored.” While getting the body temperature up is important, the best way to do this is to play small sided, short court games over the net.  This vastly increasing your contacts per hour while teaching your players the ball control and reading that so many athletes do not have NEAR the net. Play 1 vs. 1 competitively, and in five minutes you are plenty warmed up. Again, they know how to run; they don’t know how to play volleyball as well. The team can talk, chat and bond, as they work on setting new ball control records by scoring “cooperatively.” Then, having seen how many three contacts/net crossing combinations they can do in a row, they can even go to competitive scoring.

I think the urge to teach running rather than volleyball also comes from being frustrated as a teacher, in not seeing the level of play expected and desired, and, rather than continue teaching or creating new ways to get the reading and ideas across you expect, coaches stop teaching and tell players to run. What a waste of contact learning time…

Losers Watch

This is another too common error that coaches make, by having losers watch the winners. Now, growing up, I would put my name on the paper list put on the beach court 12x12 post, and watch. Then when my name finally came up, I would challenge, and lose like 2-11, as the games were short but still sideout scored and they wanted turn over.  Then I would sit down and watch, learning the lesson that “Winners Stay on” and not the tradition so many coaches err with of, losers run/sprint/do push-ups, etc. In my case however there was no other place to play. What we see happen too often in grassroots and school trainings, is that the losers, who could be playing the other losers or someone else, or even taking their losing team and splitting them into two and play on the other court or half court, rather than watch. This means you double the amount of learning. Sure there are a few times to watch and cheer the “championship” match, but the key thing is that you do not waste a chance to increase your contacts per hour rate.

Coaches Tossing

They lose the chance to read, and the players may get good at reading the variances of the toss of each individual coach, but such a “skill” has ZERO value to their ability to read. Indeed, as a young coach, coaching the way I was coached, I recall how I would stand at the net and fling balls for players to run down and pursue, heaving them underhanded from corner to corner as the players weaved and flopped around pursuing the balls I was tossing.  

Coaches Hitting

There have to be some coach initiated drills, but there is a HUGE, and I mean HUGE loss of learning going by the coach being the one who gets good at putting the third ball over, not the players. Not to mention the fact that by the end of the practice, the coach often has amassed many hundreds of contacts, by starting every round of a drill, while the players have 1/10th the total number of contacts on an average. It is important to understand that, as a teacher first, you can’t teach the essential “game between contacts” when you are hitting the ball. You have to focus on your toss/hit and can’t see the things happening before you make contact.  You simply can’t teach well if you are a hitting/tossing machine.

Let me say this again – when you hit to a player, who digs/passes it to the setter and then the ball is attacked, you - the COACH - is getting to be good at hitting the “third” ball over. Who needs to be great at this all important 3rd ball over contact? The PLAYERS, not you ever. They need your wisdom and guidance into being crafty, slimy, un-readable, creative third-contact-over-the-net-to-zones-one-and-two players. You will NEVER hit a third ball over in a match, you will sit and watch them do it, so increase their numbers of contacts by entering, from all over the outside, and even running inside, of the court the SECOND contact and let them get great at the third one. Throw it low and get them to forearm pass mean balls to the “gold medal” court areas we know as one and two. Throw it higher and have them overhead shoot pass mean balls to the same court area (not areas three, four, five or six, those are much easier for the setter and all sorts of other not-good-for-the-team things happen). Throw it even higher and teach them to effectively standing spike a nice accurate shot to the gold zone. Throw it even higher still and teach them to jump and spike hard into the court.  The tradition we MUST change here is that the players need to get these contacts per hour, rather than the coaching staff. 

Too Much “Explaining”

As the coaches’ coach, I would present a drill example or skill to acquire in camp, then watch and see how long it took until the last court was contacting volleyballs. Some new coaches would take 3-5 times longer re-explaining the game to play, than our demonstration took for the whole camp.  Remember --- I hear and I forget, I see and I remember, I DO and I understand.  Let them show you what they think they saw, and correct/explain things one on one, as the game continues. Say the same thing to four different groups of three, rather than stop everyone and explain things to all. It’s about time on task, not about time listening to you. Remember also – The more you know, the more you try to tell them, the more you confuse them.  Help them through questions in guided discovery as they play, rather than traditionally telling them the answers.

Use Stations More

The concept of creating “stations” so that your groups can train in smaller sizes – especially when teaching 40 kids on one court as PE teachers may be faced with – is an important way to get more contacts, rather than standing around watching. Remember, these contacts per hour need to be gamelike, and thus contacts one and three really need to be moving over the net as often as possible. So a station of passing/setting/spiking a ball repetitively against the wall, while traditional, is a pretty non-gamelike read. While the read is not too gamelike, if you do create “wall” stations, remember to teach positive errors first, not the negative ones traditional wall passing develops. So “serve” the ball at the wall over the 7’4 ¼ “ net line, then “serve receive” the first contact ball UP to yourself, then set yourself, then spike the third contact over the net line, not at the floor as in “under the net.”  These are reaction habits we want to make be positive in the reaction, not the traditional negative ones so many teach still.

Enter the Ball Faster

This is what wash scoring has done to traditional scrimmaging, giving 20-25 percent more contacts per hour over a regular scrimmage. There are just so many other areas in training we can get better at getting the ball back to flying over the court(s). In the great game of “monarch of the court” the tradition is for the challenging team to watch and wait for the winning team to run under the net, or get ready on the other side. NO! If you are playing double or triples games, have the next server simply yell out loud “ONE ONE THOUSAND TWO….then serve, even if the other team is not ready. They will learn to hustle faster under and get ready in short order. If you are playing four person games, the server can serve immediately after the ball goes dead, so that the setter nearest the net of the new monarch of the court, has to turn, watch/read the server while backpedalling to where the ball goes and while their teammates are still coming under the net. The intensity of the game will go up about 50 percent and the number of contacts per hour…gosh, it shoots up too. Divide the court in two as noted at the start, and you can have four teams playing on the two courts, with the losers in of the monarch side running to the other court, and vice versa. Gosh, running with a purpose and to increase contacts per hour, not just for the sake of running, what a concept…lol.

The game of Speed Ball, where there is not running under the net, just the losing side waiting serving over the same side losing team leaving the court, essentially keeps the ball in the air the entire time. You can do that with Monarch of the court, once the players really start hustling, but it is automatic in Speed Ball.

Hope these ideas help you grow the game faster in your area. Feel free to comment below with more ideas to share with all, or email me at  As always, thanks for coaching and giving back to our sport.


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

On August 26, 2010 Dan Mickle wrote

It is actually funny you post that. I coach club, college, boys and girls high school (yea, way too much). One of the things I changed this past spring (boys season) was the amount of times I personally do an action, like putting the ball in play for a drill. We are now 2 weeks in to the girls season and I can see the difference in both my mood and the reading and reaction of the girls. Such a simple concept with such huge rewards.

On September 04, 2010 Heidi Price wrote

@ Dan - there's no such thing as "way too much" volleyball!! @ Coach Kessel - thank you for everything you do for our sport. I always look forward to your blogs, as I'm a bit of a volleyball junkie myself, and I learn so much from you and so many others who post their volleyball adventures!

On December 13, 2010 John Kessel wrote

To all who seek to run "gassers" or waste skill learning time by conditioning in practice, this recent NY Times article is a must read. As noted above, you increase contacts per hour by training fast, but need not waste time doing lines and such... read this, it has a large number of good teaching principles included...

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