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Volleyball/Number of girls in serve receive and volleyball offense


I am coaching a 15U club team this year (2 high school freshman, 8 8th graders, and 3 7th graders).  The 2 high school freshman and 1 8th grade players played on the 15U team last year, 4 of the 8th graders played on the 14U team, and one of the 7th graders played on the 14U team.  A tidbit of additional information is that both the 15U and 14U teams played a 6-2 offense last year and 93% of the 15U teams finished ahead of our club team and 84% of the 14U teams finished ahead of our club team.

Note that I am the junior high coach of a school that had an enrollment this year of 24 kids total (starting lineup was 3 8th graders, 2 7th graders and 1 6th graders) and we ran a M serve receive and a 4-2 setting from the middle.  We did not play a team that had an enrollment of less than 75 and 2 with over 600.  Although we did not win many games we did beat all of the schools that these girls will be playing as varsity players when they get to high school at least once.  In addition, none of the other junior high teams that we played (including those that the current players on this years 15U team) ran anything other than a full 6 person, M, or W serve receive.  Enough with the background.

I have been pressured to have this years team run a 5-1 or 6-2 and a 3-person serve receive because 'that is what they are going to run in high school'.  My initial reaction is that the next coach can teach them what he/she wants to teach them and if I do that for him this year I am not being a coach and will be sacrificing performance and enjoyment this club season just to make his job easier.  Again, I get the common refrain that the 3-person serve receive is 'better' than the 4-person serve receive that I am currently running.  However, I have been running a butterfly serving drill where one side is in a 3-person serve receive and the other side is in a 4-person serve receive.  Each player serves three balls to each side and therefore there is a total of 78 served balls that are passed between each side and I always use a random mixing chart to set the initial players on the floor.  Therefore there isnít any intentional bias.  Here are the results of the 5 practice sessions average serve pass rating with the 4-person serve receive always being 'better': 1.25 for the 4-person and .95 for the 3-person.  The 1.25 is hardly good enough to run a multiple offense let alone run hardly any offense yet the coaching director and the high school/club assistant still insists that I run a 3-person serve receive.  In addition, given that out of the 12 girls that will be traveling to the tournaments, only 2 can attack the ball in a manner that you would consider proficient.  All of the other girls just down-ball attack the set regardless of the position that they are playing.  Therefore, I am running a 4-2 and setting from the right side with the most athletic hitters hitting from the middle.  This way I can get them to either run a slide (complicated move) or just shuffle to the right side on occasion.

I would like an experienced coachís opinion given the above circumstances who doesnít have any vested interest in our volleyball programs in our area.  Am I right to stick to my guns and run a 4-2 with a 4-person serve receive using actual practice statistics to indicate the relative performance between the offense and serve receive?  Most of the girls are really playing to hang out with their friends and I have already been admonished by one parent that I am being too technical in expecting the girls to learn and play in the manner that I am teaching them already.  Thank you for any insight.

Coach Rich

Hello Coach Rich:

I'm so sorry that I've been so late in following up on our conversation.  My team spent 3 days in Richmond, then 2 days in Sevierville TN this past weekend.  So much logistics!  Meanwhile, my staff and I have directed 10 camps this summer so far, I'm giving lessons, practice Tues & much fun!  And time.  

Your question is typical!  I hear it often.  "The high school coaches want me to....."   

I agree with you.  Teach your players what they can execute.  If the next coach wants more, he/she can teach them that then....or before their season at their summer team and/or site camp.  I always fix/adjust/change what my players are doing in-season or pre-season.  

I'm pasting an article that I wrote....10 year ago.  It's spot on!  Plus, since I'm so late following up, please email me at, and let me send you some free handouts, articles, etc.  Whatever you need.  

If you have a few moments, please visit us at   I think you will LOVE the smiling faces, and what we can offer athletes.  And there's still time to schedule a site camp for your athletes for 2015.  

I hope it's a wonderful week in the gym!


Coach For Today!!!!  Only Implement What Your Players Are Old Enough To Execute
August 21, 2005

I've been emailing a lady who is concerned about what off/def to expect her 7th graders to execute.  Here's part of her email.  

"Half of my middle school team can execute a defense and offense game nicely, however the other half, 5 girls, are basically brand new.  One of my concerns is my private school competition.  Most of the other teams just 1-ball and 2-ball us. Only a few of the teams will even try to use three hits.  What complicates matter more is that I'm getting a little pressure from my A.D. to run a more advanced offense.  She's a well-meaning lady who's a friend of the high school coach and who played at the high school.  Her thoughts are this:  they won't win much, but they'll be that much ahead of the game when they try out for high school ball.  My thoughts are:  I want to educate the girls as much as I can; I feel it's my job as a coach.  I want to give them tools to use so they will be challenged and strengthened as a player.  Does that make sense to you?Ē

I coach for today.  Yeah, I may show my players a taste of this or that, but I teach them an offense and defense that (a) they are old enough to execute and (b) is best suited for their needs.  If I have 6th graders who can run a high school 6-2, with backsets, back row attacks, etc.....then that's awesome.  But if the other teams just 1-ball and 2-ball, then that 6-2 may not be the best choice, or it may have to be adjusted somewhat.  Hereís another example.  Suppose I had a high school team where the tallest girl was 5'4"   Yeah, these ladies could probably master any type of offense I taught. However, why have 3 blockers standing at the net when they canít even reach the top of the net?   The typical 6-2 isn't in the best interests of that team either.  

I teach my players the skills and the offense and defense that they need to be successful today, next week, next month, this season.  I let the next coach teach them what they need to be successful next year.  And I've always said:  If the next coach is requiring that you teach next yearís off/def, then that's wrong.  That's their job!  Why canít that coach teach it?   It doesnít take 2 or 3 years to teach a base defense.   If the next coach is so concerned that his kids learn it before the next season begins, then he/she can teach it little by little at home camps, at away camps, at open gyms, during preseason, etc.  

Sure if all the teams at your school can run the same off/def this season, thatís GREAT!!  Several times, Iíve been the varsity coach in a program where the JV team was running a 5-1.  Itís GREAT!!   It will indeed make the transition to the next team a little easier for the players.

But you know why most high school coaches want the middle schoolers to run the same offense & defense?  Just saying what I feel:  Theyíre lazy!!  But the words they use try to cover that up:
ē   it'll save the high school coaches time and;
ē   itíll make the high school teams more successful.  

Letís look at both of those assertions!!
First, how much time will it save?  5 hours?  7?  10?   That would be maybe 1% of the total practice time for the season?  Thatís not worth making the 7th grade team go 2-11 (like my stepdaughterís team did in the 7th grade as they tried to run a 6-2!!)   

Second, how much more successful will it make the next team?  1 more point per week?  1 point per match?  Itís insignificant.  I donít think itíll translate into even 1 extra win.  (But it will create more losses at the lower level!!)  What determines wins & losses at the high school level is not what off/def you used in the 7th or 8th grade.  Itís how much SKILL you have!!  You win and lose high school volleyball matches by how well you (1) serve receive, (2) serve & (3) set.  In my list of priorities, running a disciplined off/def is 4th.   

Iíve had JV coaches work under me for 9 years.   And only in only 2 of those years did I create and implement the off/def that the JV teams were to run.  Those were the years that the JV coaches had little experience and they asked for (and needed) the help!  I allow my experienced JV and middle school coaches to design their own off/def as long as they followed the stipulations above:
ē   It must be executable for the age group;
ē   It must give the kids their best chance for success.
ē   It must not be completely off the wall!  Haha

Why sacrifice success at one level hoping for success at another level?   It doesn't make sense to me.  

Finally, I don't teach Calculus to my Algebra II kids so that maybe they can make a B or an A in Calculus two years down the road.  "Of course you don't do that, Tom, that's stupid!  They don't have the prerequisite knowledge, plus theyíre not old enough yet to grasp the concepts."  Exactly!  Maybe I should have put those few sentences at the beginning of this article and then just stopped typing!  


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Tom Houser


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