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Volleyball/I'm trying to be a good coach .....but.....where do I start?


I am starting my first season as a coach for a 15s club team.  I have some coaching experience at a lower level, and my playing experience, which only goes up through high school, was quite a few years ago and I'm finding I don't remember a lot about what high school practices looked like. I went to a coaching clinic, and have done some reading, which were both very informative about general philosophies, but when it comes down to what I should do tomorrow, I'm finding myself overwhelmed and unsure.

My main question is about planning practices.  I'm not sure how to build an effective and logical progression within the season as a whole and even within each individual practice.  Despite spending quite a bit of time planning my practices, the first couple have felt haphazard and disjoined to me.  I also feel like I'm starting at square one every time I plan a practice. I I have no point of reference for what I will cover in each practice and in what order, or how much time to spend on different aspects. I find myself scouring books, websites, and videos before every practice looking for ideas, but having trouble deciding what to use, when, and for how long.  

In summary, I have these two questions:
1. Is there a basic template or pattern you would recommend for planning a practice?
2. When you approach a new season with a new team, how do you begin, and how do you progress from there?

I realize these are two big questions and that answers likely vary depending on the skill level of one's team, but if there are any basic principles or starting points you would recommend, I'd appreciate it a lot.  I went to a coaching clinic, and have done some reading, which were both very informative about general philosophies, but when it comes down to what I should do tomorrow, I'm finding myself overwhelmed and unsure. Thanks for whatever you can offer.

Hello Melissa:  
It's great to hear from you.  You have a lot of courage to send an email like this.  Many coaches will just do the best they can, budgeting very little time, and then say, "I'm doing the best I can."  You're not that kind of coach....and I'm proud of you.  

To answer some of your questions directly:  
* We KNOW what will win/lose most vball matches:  Serve receive.  I spend 30% of practice on this skill, presenting a different kind of drill each night.  
* The next things that win matches (in this order):  Serving, setting, being a bonded team, team defense, hitting, conditioning.  For most high school or club teams, the categories of running plays, blocking, etc. don't have any impact on the match.   
OK, let's get after it!   :)    Below is how I plan practice.  The article below is one of hundreds that I have written.  Some are in my two ebooks.  And there's a drill collection full of drills that I created myself. (I'll be sending out 2 more this weekend to the "I Can't Wait" members.)  

What else can I do for you?  If you have any other questions, please contact me here or at   


The Seven Parts Of A Volleyball Practice  
August 2, 2008

Coach Houser:
I have been coaching for about 6 years, but I only coached at a small middle school. Last year I got a job at one of the biggest public school, coaching JV.  I have a lot of drills, but I am struggling putting them all together to make an effective and efficient practice.  There are only two coaches there most nights. I know we waste a lot of time and don't make the best use of our 2 hour practices.  

Any suggestions on how to put together practice plans?  I love this sport and I love coaching, but I am really struggling to be effective use our time!


Dear Coach:    

Before I start, here’s how to judge your practices:   
“You can judge the poor quality of your practice by how much time each of your players is doing nothing, learning nothing, not involved, chatting, daydreaming, waiting for your next direction, etc.”

Two Critical Practice Rules.  

When one of my coaches or I am telling a player something and the rest of the team is waiting, then it should only be a reminder.  And the instruction better be finished in like ten seconds.  Really!  We call it the “Ten Second Rule”.  If an explanation takes longer than 10 seconds, then we have to assume that no girl who plays that position knows it!  Thus we should be fixing that in stations, away from the rest of the team.  DON’T take time away from 10 girls explaining things to one or two.

Another of my staff’s rules is the “Five Percent Rule”.   We only allow our players 5 minutes out of every 100 (not counting water breaks) to be uninvolved.  That’s only 3 minutes every hour.  Only one minute out of every 20.  If they’re standing there bored more than 5% of the time, then our practice plans stink.

“But Coach Houser, we only have 2 coaches.”  So?  I’ve coached alone the majority of my coaching career.  (And many days I broke the Five Percent Rule, I’m sure of it.  *sigh*)  There has to be a way.  You cannot accept girls standing around at volleyball practice picking their zits.  Why do girls go home saying their school practices are boring?  Because they’re outfielders standing in the cold wind while the hitters are being blown away by the pitching machine.  Or they’re hitters standing in line for 20 minutes waiting to hit an often rotten set.   “How was practice today, darling?”  “Mom, it was boring. I don’t even know why coach wanted us there.  All we did was stand there and watch and wait.  Well, at least I know what I’m writing my paper on for Mrs. Smith tomorrow.  I got that all thought out.”  

OK, if you must break The Ten Second Rule, then let’s do something useful!  Let’s say one of my assistants at practice or at camp takes too long to explain something to a player.  I will do one of two things.  I either write what the coach is saying in my hand and say, “Shannon, come on, we’ll do that in a station,” or I’ll look around and teach a player -- or a group of players -- something until my assistant finishes.  I won’t stand there and watch and wait, watch and wait.  I hate it also.  Boring, boring.      

Now, here are the seven parts of my practices.  Yes, I actually label my page in parts, just like I’m labeling this article.

Before I Even Write The First Drill:  I Can’t Bypass A Critical Step.

I make a place on the page to write my goals.  “What do I want to accomplish today?”  And as I create my practice plans, and each goal is addressed, I scratch the goal out.

Some days you will be out of ideas.  Then look back at previous practices.  Were there drills that you deemed very important, but you never got to?  Was there a goal that you never wrote a drill for, because you had Drill Creators Block?   If that doesn’t help, look at last year’s practices.  What were you doing at the same time last year?  If all else fails, watch some video of your team.  That always gives me plenty of ideas.  

I also have places on my page where I list any players who will be late -- or were unexpectedly late -- and their reason, any girl who will be absent -- or was unexpectedly absent -- and their reason, and any other notes.  I write the day of the week, the date, .the time of practice and length of practice.   

Part I.  Warmup.  

My players warm up by doing something that’s volleyball related.  It’s low impact, low risk.  No, we don’t run laps (boring!!) and we don’t play tag (too risky with cold muscles).  

Here are some good warm up drills.
*  Three-step approach and tip or slam the ball that’s tossed.   (two or three lines!!  Jog and shag your ball!)
* Passing 500 free balls to target.  The girls rotate so that each girl is a target, a shagger, a hander, and a tosser.   
* Doing 500 total correct spike approaches, emphasizing one specific thing.  Maybe it’s the off-arm coming up, maybe it’s snapping the wrist, maybe it’s going up with both arms, etc.  
* Station warmup.  OH’s do one thing, MB’s do something, rights and setters do something.

A smartly planned warmup will do two things.  Players will break a sweat, and the drill will reinforce a skill that’s not being done well enough during competition.  My warmups can last 5 minutes, 15 minutes or sometimes 30 minutes.  Sometimes I do 2 warmup drills. The girls like them!  They’ll quickly realize the benefit, and they’ll thank you for not just running laps each day.

In the “I Can’t Wait” Drill Collection, I have written out 22 warm-up drills.  But, as I told a coach recently, as soon as you watch 15 minutes of the video of your first scrimmage, you will probably be able to create warm-up drills (and entire practices haha) for the next 2 weeks!  

Part II.  Stretch and Announcements.  

The girls stretch, maybe with the captain leading.  Maybe with the Captain Of The Day leading.  And I make my announcements.  Again, taking care of 2 things at once.  

Here are the announcements I made at my club team’s practice on January 6, 2008.

* Wednesday’s practice is 6:30 to 8:15.  That’s a little different that what you’re accustomed to.  But, remember, all our practices are on the website! Arrive on time.
* Saturday : Meet me at Macey’s church gym at 10:15 a.m..  The scrimmage begins at 11am.  
* Captain Of The Days:  Today, Lauren.  Wednesday, Rachel Kennedy.  Saturday, Aidan.  Next Sunday, Bekah.  Next Wednesday, Caroline.  
* Macey:  I have a one-on-one announcement for you.  See me during a water break.
* This is our 18th practice since our opening meeting.  Wow.  Can you believe that?
* Rachel Thomas:  On video I see that you’re not getting off the net ready to hit the ball!  You’re standing there too long.
* Our first tournament is six practices away.  Is that scary?  NOPE! We’ll be ready!  Don’t miss practice, or you’ll miss out on something!  If you’re sick, or have a headache, see if you can come and just watch.  
* Do you guys have any announcements?  Grades?  Field trips?  
* Lauren, our COD today!  They are all yours!  

Lauren takes 30 to 60 seconds to speak to her teammates without any coaches around.  No one may speak unless Lauren asks the teammate a question or unless she says, “I’m done.”  If I hear anyone else’s voice, I clear my throat really loud!  Haha  

Part III   Warm Up Arms, Pepper, Ball Control.  

I call out “Pepper Partners”.  No, my players don’t choose their own warm-up partner.  That reinforces cliques.  Not on my team.

a) The girls warm up arms.  These are the minutes they can talk a little, they can say, “What are you doing tonight?”  There’s not a lot of concentration necessary to warm up arms!  haha

b)  Pepper.  This usually lasts 5 minutes or less.  Sometimes we pepper longer.  During those times, we pepper hard!  “You’re already warmed up and stretched.  Let’s GO!!!”  Another thing I tell my players:  “You can beat a team sometimes with how hard and how well you pepper before the match even starts.  They’ll look on the other side of the net and go, ‘ Oh, oh.  We’re in trouble!’  And peppering is FUN!!  GO FOR IT!!”  

c) Ball Control.  On those days when we have a long practice (or if my team has a marked weakness in their ball control), we do ball control drills.  Here are a few examples.  

“Hit/Dig/Catch”.  One girl in the pair gives her partner a down ball, the partner digs it, and the hitter must catch the ball with 2 hands at her forehead.  The hitter may run anywhere to catch the ball.  This continues for x successful catches.  Then the girls switch responsibilities.

“Continual Hit/Dig”.  One girl in the pair gives her partner a down ball, the partner digs it, and the hitter hits it again!  This continues for x successful digs.  Then they switch.  

In the “I Can’t Wait” Drill Collection, there are 15 ball control drills; but, just like musical notes, there is an endless combination of notes that’ll make a sweet song!    

 Part IV  Stations?  

As I coach more, my kids get into stations more and more.  If my club team practices 3 times a week, I’ll guarantee we’ll be in stations once.  Stations allow my teams to play better in fewer days of practice!  It’s awesome!

Yes, the team does need more coaches.  Maybe, however, if you don’t have enough coaches, one of your older girls can help you with this.  But I warn you!  She needs to be (a) respected by her teammates (b) immune to getting a big head (c) know pretty much what she’s doing and (d) be ready to read long emails (or notes delivered to her in class) from you listing what you want her to accomplish.

Here’s an example of the stations that I do at STAR site camps.  The stations below may last for 20 or 30 minutes, too long for a 2-hour practice, but just fine for a 6-hour a day camp.    

a)   Sam, you take the MB’s.  Teach them MB footwork, then they land, they find the ball, get off, stay out of the setter’s way and take their approach TO the setter -- no, not to the center of the net, they go TO the setter.     
b)   Devyn, you have the OH’s.  Show them how to set the block, why that changes, how to limit being tooled, how to protect against the tip when they’re the off-blocker, and how to bust their butt preparing for the ball to be set to them.
c)   Maggie, you have the DS’s and liberos.  Show them how to play the deep middle position.  Show them how to dig with their hands.  Then get out the mats and see if they can learn how to over-the-shoulder roll if you have any minutes left.  
d)   I have the setters!  We’re going to make sure we can set properly with our arms, our sets are high enough, we’re calling for every ball and we know how to set a back row player.

You cannot expect yourself to explain each of these skills to your players during practice and still be a disciple of the Five Percent Rule.  If you try to do it all, and I come by your practice, I’ll probably christen you “Sir 40% Coach,” because that’s how much of players’ practice time you’re wasting.  

Part V:  A Drill That Concentrates On A Skill Or An Area of Weakness  

Most coaches incorrectly believe that this is the most important part.  No, it’s not.  It’s just another part.  

And for many coaches, this is the hardest part of practice.  “What do we do today?  What drill will use the entire team?”  Well, if you ever are at a loss, then work on serve receive, serving and setting.  Can’t go wrong there. Here are two drills that we used during the 2nd week of January.

“Today it’s Coach Tanis again. But it’s different!  Today, we’re going to play Coach Tanis Servers vs. Passers!  I will split you guys into 2 teams.  Servers will serve 5 balls each.  Passers:  How many of these serves can you pass a “3”?  Passers will rotate every 5 serves.  Servers you may serve 1 ball a piece or each of you can serve your 5 balls in a row.  Whatever you think will win the drill.  If servers miss a serve, it counts as a “3” for the passsers.   The team that has the most “3’s” at the end wins and does less conditioning after the drill is over.”

“The next thing we do is the “Ridiculous Digging Drill”.  Right/setter/middles, you will be team 1.  DS’s/liberos/OH’s you will be team 2.  Coaches, get on the boxes.  Coach Smith you will his line shots at team 1.  Team 2 will shag, hand and be target.  Team 1, you get 3 minutes to get 30 into the target’s hands.  After 5 mins, Coach Jones will hit lines shots at team 2.  They get 3 minutes to get 30.  Coach Jones, then cross to team 1.  Three for 30.  Then Coach Smith, cross to team 2.  Three for 30.  Coaches:  Challenge them!!  Let’s GO!!”  

So many coaches -- in all sports -- each day force their players to walk through the ABC Drill, then the Wildcat Drill, then the UCLA Drill, then they go home.  Then those coaches wonder why their players don't play the game well.  It's because the players have never been drilled on their weaknesses!  They've only run the same drills each day, which don't address their needs.  

Part VI:  The Final Part.  The Culminating Activity!  

No, don’t let your practices end with a “thud”.  And, no, don’t have practices end with a drill the girls can’t finish and you’ll all be ticked off at each other.  Watch the clock, budget your time, and let’s end practice with a “bang”!  

* “We’re going to end practice with “Server vs. Server,” a 6-on-6 drill where there’s no rotation until I see 10 total perfect digs or serve receives.  These passes must be “51’able”.  Here are the teams.”  I call out the teams.  I evenly split the girls unless my starters need time together.  “Remember, we can’t go any further until I see 10 perfect passes of serve or perfect digs, so you may want to serve lollipops. Play it out until you hear the whistle. Jenny, serve first.  Tweeeeeeet.”    

* “Now we’re going to play 6’s.  It’s MB vs. MB.  After that it’s OH vs. OH.  Then it’s right/setters vs. rights/setters.  First girl to get 3 kills in each competition, her team gets a big point.  Then each team will switch back row and front row and do it again.  The team that gets the most big points does less conditioning when the drill is over.  Oh, if there’s a tie at three wins each, we’ll randomly select one girl from each team to play it off.”  

* “We’re going to play “Cooperative Jumpset During 6’s”.  This drill will go on until our setters can jump set 100 balls that end up being attackable by a teammate.  The quicker we get through with this the better, because then we can go on to another drill.  So if you get a good set, you may not want to pound it, but hit or tip so that it’s dug!  Yeah!!  Coach Jones, poke to Jenny’s team.  Go.”  

Part VII:   Putting Up Equipment.  

My practices end a few minutes early or they end on time.  Parents won’t understand me being 5 or 10 minutes late, then having to put up equipment, then having to make announcements, then waiting while the girls change shoes, etc.  Neither will my spouse!  Haha  

Coach Houser’s Equipment Rule: “No one changes shoes, changes shirts, touches water, their phone or their book bag until all equipment is put up. If you’re done with your chore, you can either help others finish, or you can stand in the middle of the court and wait.  No laughing or being loud.  We’re a team and we won’t leave our teammates behind.”  

Part VIII  Wrapping It All Up.  

“GREAT JOB today!  The 2 hours just flew by.  Our COD gets the final word.”  

Our COD: “You guys were awesome today.  Passers, great job!  Setters, you make jump setting look easy.  I had a lot of fun today.  I’ve got brownies for everyone!”  

My final announcements:  “Listen.  Listen.  Wednesday’s practice time is different, right?  Macey, I still need the one-on-one.   Rachel, ice that shoulder, OK?”   

I hold out my hand.  Everyone puts a hand in.  One, two, three:  “TOGETHER WE CAN.”  

Finally.  Teenagers don’t even tell their parents “Thank you for the money you gave me.”  So don’t you expect any praise for a great practice!  Haha  But maybe, just maybe, about once a month, a girl will say, “Practice is over?  Wow, that went by fast!”  And that’s the best compliment my practice plans can receive.  GOOD JOB!!!


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Tom Houser


I can answer any type of volleyball question: middle school, high school, college, club, coaching, playing, etc. (I am not, however, a athletic trainer! If you have a knee, ankle, back, etc. question, I'm sorry, but please search for another expert.)

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In the past 10 years, vball has taken my to San Francisco, Miami, Alaska, Pennsylvania, both Carolinas, and Salt Lake City. We can't wait to come visit you!

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32 years coaching varsity, JV, club.

You can see all about me at There are also free downloads for coaches & parents, and lots of smiling faces for you volleyball players!

BS degree from Va Tech in Math Education. MS degree from Va Tech in Secondary Administration. In the fall, I'll be starting my 31st year teaching high school math!

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The picture that you see is the 2015 15's team that I'm fortunate to be a part of. We will participate in 10 tournaments: Monument (Richmond) in January, Capitol Hill (Wash DC) in February, Shamrock (Roanoke, Va) in March and both BigSouth (Atlanta) and Northeast Qualifiers (Philadelphia) in April. My teams have qualified for Junior Nationals in '06, '09 and '12. We can't wait for this season to begin!

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