I have been fortunate to have great mentors in my volleyball life. Al Stern is one of them. Al is now 73 years old. He holds two gold medals and one bronze medal in the Master’s Division at World Championships. His Bluffton High School Team was a runner-up at the state championship in the second year the high school was in existence, and followed it up with a state championship two seasons later. In eleven years of coaching club, he has four junior Olympic club regional championships (the club has a total of only three or four teams each season). Most notable is his competitive fire that continues to burns brightly inside to become a better coach. Al is always trying to learn, always trying to be a better coach. Awesome!
Following is an excerpt from Al about what he has learned while coaching over the past 11 years:
I have attended a lot of coaching clinics and in every one I’ve gone to there are common threads that are woven throughout. They are:
1. All drills should be competitive unless there is an overriding reason to make them co-operative. Competitive drills should either keep score or make the players reach a specific goal to achieve success (e.g., you must pass 50 balls on target out of 100 serves to be successful). If the player(s) lose or fail to meet the definition of success they must pay a penalty (e.g., frog jumps, pushups, etc.).
2. Any drill that is co-operative must have a time limit attached in order to avoid boredom or spending too much or too little time on a skill.
3. All drills should be run at a high level of intensity where repetitions are fast and the demand on the players is as game-like as possible.
4. All drills should be as game-like as possible and should include the net in the drill. For example, when introducing the ball into a drill, do it from across the net because that’s the way it will be in a game.
5. All drills should be designed to make sure that the players spend the minimum time standing around waiting to do something and that they repeat a skill many times in succession rather than with a lot of time in between. For example, if you are practicing spiking do not have anyone standing around waiting to hit. Instead have 1 setter, 1 hitter, 1 blocker, 3 back row defenders, and everyone else shagging balls. Then set the hitter 5 straight sets in rapid succession and rotate players.
6. All drills should involve a lot of movement so that the players get conditioning work while they practice instead of just running laps. The only running, not part of a drill, which the players should ever do, is suicides if they are doing something poorly.
7. Don’t give the players long water breaks. It is much better to give them more frequent breaks of 3 minutes each (the time between games in a match). And during those 3 minutes they should drink liquids and talk to each other about volleyball, just like they would in a match. NO CELL PHONES MAY BE USED DURING PRACTICE EXCEPT TO CALL PARENTS FOR A RIDE HOME!
8. The girls have to have social time because they are teenage girls. So instead of letting them gossip all practice long, like they do now which is very distracting, we will do the following (and then insist that they concentrate totally on volleyball for the duration of the practice). At the beginning of practice the girls on each team will sit in a circle and each girl will have 1 minute to talk about anything in their life they want except volleyball. No one else can talk during that 1 minute. The coach will keep the time but will not comment. At the end of that time (let’s say 10 minutes for 10 players) practice begins and from that point on it’s all business. This should also help with team building.
9. At the end of practice all the girls on each team will sit in a circle and have 1 minute to talk about what they believe they as an individual player did right and wrong during the practice and what the team did right and wrong during the practice. Again, no one else can talk during that 1 minute. The coach will keep the time and may make comments about the practice after all players have spoken.
10. EASY PRACTICES DO NOTHING TO HELP PLAYERS BECOME WINNERS. HARD PRACTICES ARE THE KEY TO MAKING OUR GIRLS THE TYPE OF COMPETITORS THAT WILL GET US TO THE STATE CHAMPIONSHIPS.