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Basic Team Systems and Tactics by Doug Beal

doug-beal-1984-olympic-teamBasic Team Systems and Tactics
By: Doug Beal
USA Volleyball CEO and 1984 Gold Medal Winning Coach

Excerpts from the FIVB Manual

In volleyball, we must work very hard to position our bodies correctly before returning the ball.

In volleyball defense, we want to be aggressive to create opportunities to score points.

The coach must train his team to actively “win” the game as opposed to waiting for the opponent to “lose” the game.

We believe that since the universal player is “the ideal”, we must spend time training players in all volleyball skills.  This becomes virtually an impossibility in real-world situations.  There simply are not enough hours in the day to train all players equally well  in all volleyball skills.  The coach’s role, relative to rotation, is to work within the rules to build in specialization and overcome the idea of the universal player.  This is consistent with all sports for achieving success.

Great specialization always equals greater success.

Each movement and contact in volleyball is part of an unbroken chain.  Players who perceive it this way contribute to a strong team more effectively than players who perceive their actions and movements as independent and separate from team patterns.

Volleyball is dominated by movement before contact and player movement between contacts.

Volleyball is really six distinct games within one game.  Each rotation presents a different team and a different set of criteria to the players.  To be successful in the total game, we, as coaches, must see it from the rotation point of view.

Players must be trained to compete within themselves.

Players must be coached to be the best they can be.  If they are content merely to be the best on their team or better than the opponent, they will eventually fail.

Each player on a team must have a specific and critical role in team strategy and tactical outline.

Players must understand their roles and the roles must fit their technical abilities.  You can never expect a player to perform within a tactical construct outside his technical capabilities.

It is important for the coach to understand that each player on the team must have a specific role.  The player must accept the role, feel comfortable with it, and feel confident that the coach will, in fact, use him or her consistently whenever that role is required regardless, if the player is the best or the poorest on the team.

In selecting the team, the “twelve best players” are never chosen because the “twelve best players” will never make the best team.

Players willing to subjugate their egos for the good of the team, are more valuable than those better players who may not be starting players and who will destroy the internal fabric of team cohesion.

Generally we look for nine potential starters – three who will not start, but who will replace, by position, the six starters.   The balance of the squad is made up of specialists who have one or two outstanding skills which have the capability to directly score points, to change momentum, or to prevent the opponent from gaining momentum.

Create a very specialized tactical system which takes maximum advantage of the players’ abilities.  Specialization is most likely the key.
Pre-match warm-up – the team should ignore the opponent as much as possible.

Immediately before the game begins, the coach should gather the players together so the last thing they hear before going to the court are the two most important elements of the team – strategy and tactics.

During the course of the match the coach must constantly remind the players about the strategies and tactics to be used.  The key element is to constantly refocus the players’ attention, which will naturally stray off the game plan, back to those tactics which will bring success to the team.  You must constantly focus and refocus the players’ attention.

It is important for substitutes to be used early, especially in a match that the coach expects will be a long, close, difficult one.  For a substitute to be effective, he cannot be put into a match for the first time and be expected to perform at a high level.

Substitutions should not be made simply to allow players to play.  Players to do not have the “right” to play, they have an obligation to do what is best for the team – that, by definition, is what the coach decides.

Coaches Must Develop a Philosophy with which the Team can Identify

Every team will take on the characteristics, the demeanor, the emotional nature of the head coach.  The coach must be aware of this and must strive to create a positive environment so that his strong characteristics will be adopted by the team and the team will benefit by the very natural association that they have with the head coach.

It is critical the coach exhibit some of the following traits:

a)    The coach must be prepared at all times.
b)    The coach must demonstrate to the team that he is extremely organized.
c)    The coach must demonstrate confidence.
d)    The coach must demonstrate technical and tactical competence.
e)    The coach must demonstrate maturity.
f)    The coach must be a behavioral role model for the players.
g)    The coach must define leadership as seeking the answers when an unexpected situation or a conflict presents itself that must be resolved.
h)    The coach must demonstrate flexibility and must demonstrate the ability to deal with players on a multitude of levels.
i)    The coach must never forget that his own will to win, his own leadership, his own competitiveness, his own persona will be transmitted through the team and that the team’s success or failure will be his success or failure.

Defense must be thought of as an aggressive, risk-taking component of the game.

The keys to developing a strong defense begin with the block and we must think in terms of matching our best blockers against the most likely point of attack.  We must move away from the concept of a pure middle blocker who is always in the middle of the court of in position #3; to a more flexible system which has equal blockers in terms of their ability to block in position 2, 3, or 4.

Click for the complete FIVB chapter


  1. Doug Beal is not a “gold medal winning coach” as you say. He coached a gold medal winning team, but coaches do not win medals in the Olympics. Only athletes.

  2. You are correct. I was not aware of this until after I met Hugh McCutcheon and learned this was true.

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