It's important for a coach to train the team to understand the game without the ball. It is important to be great without the ball because a player spends about 1 percent of a one-hour match actually playing the ball.
When my nephew started T-Ball in 4th grade, I was excited to see him play because baseball is my favorite spectator sport. Having said that - I had low entertainment expectations because sometimes elementary school T-Ball is about as exhilarating as say - counting your fingers.
I was dead on with my prognostication, but I did walk away with something valuable by watching the coaches and one invaluable piece which has resonated with me over the years and is an important part of any success I have had as a coach.
First of all - I would like to say that the coaches of this team were thoroughly impressive in the focus they had for the kids. They clearly understood it was about the players having fun regardless of failure or success with the ball. The overriding agenda was making sure that T-Ball was so much fun that they would want to ask mom and dad to sign them up for the next session after this season was done. I am a firm believer that this should be the overriding agenda for volleyball players all the way up to 15's or 16's - but that is an entirely separate article.
The most important idea I took away from that day:
Every player who managed to tick, nudge or coerce the ball off the tee received the same piece of coaching - immediately and without fail.
"RUN TO FIRST!!!! STOP WATCHING THE BALL AND RUN TO FIRST!!!!
Every. Single. Player. Every single player, no matter what.
As I polished off my third raspberry-mint iced tea, I had a bit of a eureka moment: In this T-Ball "game" that was being "played", the actual clock time any player spent playing the ball was 1% or less of the entire one-hour game. Imagine how much better of a T-Ball player you would be by comparison if you simply just ran to first after hitting the ball with no delay. It seems like such a small thing could glean such a huge benefit as you would reach first base a full 4-6 seconds sooner than the rest of the kids on the team standing in the batter's box just watching the ball.
There are parallels in volleyball:
After a blocker lands, track the ball and transition to hit immediately. (RUN TO FIRST!!!)
After a front row player plays off blocker defense, transition to hit immediately instead of watching the digger. (RUN TO FIRST!!!).
If the back row setter does not big the ball, run to the net in anticipation of a perfect pass instead of hesitating to hedge against a poor pass. (RUN TO FIRST!!!)
If the outside hitter is receiving serve and another passer calls the ball, transition to hit immediately instead of standing in place to see where the pass goes (RUN TO FIRST!!!).
It's important for a coach to train the team to understand the game without the ball. It is important to be great without the ball because a player spends about 1% of a one-hour match actually playing the ball. Just the simple act of immediately taking action after you know it's not your turn to play the ball can have astounding implications for improvement. As a coach, this can also remove an unending source of frustration as you watch your players stand idle while someone else plays the ball.
Here are 4 ways to help your players become great without the ball:
1) Extend the parameters of a skill-based drill. For example, when a player lands from blocking in a drill, add a transition to attack movement until it becomes muscle memory. When a player serves, have that player run to base and make a defensive movement.
2) Keep drills game-like. The off-blocker will dig and transition or only transition - no third option. If the ball is hit near enough for you to play it, do so - if not, transition immediately to hit, no exceptions!
3) Watch match film. Watch a recent match on your own and with your players. Identify ways your team can improve individual skills, reading the game and being in the right position on defense. You will be amazed at how many errors of inaction there are during a standard match. Also, have your players watch film on their own and take notes before you meet with them.
4). Run a drill without the ball. This might seem cliché but it can be a fun and helpful drill. In order to focus on the actions that take place without the ball, remove the ball from the play and have your team act out a play happening as if the ball was in play. Play 6 on 6 or 5 on 5 and train your players to read the game. The defenders will learn how to read an attacker's arm, body position and approach, and communicate about what they read. This drill is an excellent way to increase your team's level of communication and volleyball IQ. When you put the ball back in play, emphasize that the level of communication remain the same.