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Before Fundamentals

Before Fundamentals VolleyballThis is a piece I wrote many years ago for my own use, but never posted on my blog. It’s interesting for me to read some old pieces to see how my coaching philosophies have changed and developed over the years. In some ways they’re very different, yet still the same. My blog is a place of reference for my own knowledge throughout a season. I post this information for others to enjoy too. So Enjoy.

The beginning part of a season is typically the time a coach focuses on the development of individual skill work, offensive strategies (playsets), defensive alignments (blocking and defensive systems) and line-ups. We (me included) often unintentionally overlook the “before fundamentals” that result in losing a couple easy points in a set.  When I first started coaching, my focus of fundamentals was the six skills of volleyball: serving, passing, hitting, blocking, setting, and digging. But there are fundamentals before these fundamentals that are often overlooked and not addressed with teams: communication, posture, and movements.

1.  Communication

Language – Be sure players are “speaking the same language”. If we have a player from Spain, China, and USA all calling for the ball in their native language, it would obviously be a bit confusing. How different is it when one player calls “Ball”, another player says, “Mine”, and another “I Got It”? The basic communication patterns are not the same. Words can overlap, create confusion and noise which can result in a ball landing between two players.

Clarity – Be sure players clarify who the ball is intended. Simply use a player’s name after contact.  Especially in an out of system situation when the setter is not contacting the second ball OR when the setter is beyond the 10’ line and she is setting a backrow player.

Responsibilities – Train the responsibility of the 3rd ball contact in out of system situations.  Too often a front row player will have their back to the net giving a freeball to the opponent versus a backrow player able to make a smart controlled attack on the ball.

2.  Posture

“Go Posture” – the athletic posture of the athlete to allow them to “GO” to the ball. Players should be engaged and be in this posture throughout a point.

Defensive Posture – a low, stopped and balanced position on every setter and hitter contact.

3.  Movements

The Cycle – 1. Base 2. Release 3. Cover – continued movement throughout a point.  Remind players to “touch their mark”. A mark is a location on the court determined for each position of the cycle (keep in mind that a mark can be alleviated when a proper read and movement is required).

Discipline is the key to success in these “before fundamentals”. Team breakdown occurs when communication is incorrect, clarification is forgotten, a posture is broken, or the cycle is not followed throughout a point. Teaching the Before Fundamentals will save you a few points a set.


  1. Very sound and important information.
    I agree with you 100%.
    Please feel free to visit my volleyball
    website at http://www.CAMPVOLLEY.ca
    Robert Grandmaison
    Edmundston, New Brunswick, CANADA
    Half a mile from the state of MAINE,USA

  2. Hi Rey,

    On the communication front one of the discussions I’ve had with other coaches (and blogged about myself at http://coachingvb.com/calling-the-ball/) is the whole “mine”/”yours” question. I am currently coaching at a the university and club level in England, which means I have players from literally all over the world (15+ different nations last year). This makes communication very important, and sometimes challenging. Everyone speaks English to a greater or lesser degree, but vary in how the make calls. My philosophy is to keep it simple and have the focus be on calling the ball for yourself on first contact, not for someone else (no “yours” calls). That prevents any confusion in the situation where players from different backgrounds may be saying different things because the way it work is that calls (other than in/out) are only made by those going for the ball. You still have to deal with seem responsibility, but at least you don’t have people being confused by what others are saying.

    As an aside, one of the things that’s stunned me is how quiet the court can be at times. I’m so used to there being a constant stream of talking during the run of play from coaching in the States and that isn’t so much the case over here.


  3. Hi John,

    Thanks for your insight.

    When I coached at the University of Minnesota under Hall of Fame Coach, Mike Hebert, he called the quiet court, “Clean Air”. It’s kind of like riding in a car with a significant other, when you are able to drive without having to talk and have this “Clean Air”, you know you are in a good relationship. The same philosophy applies with teams.

    Sounds like you are doing it right.


  4. Hey Rey,

    Love Coach Hebert’s stuff. His books were very influential for me as a young coach and I’m looking forward to see what he has to say in his new one now that he’s retired. Had a chance to coach against him one year when I was at Brown. I’m pretty sure that was a couple years before your time at Minnesota.

    I would be fine with the “clean air” if I were watching a team full of players who had a lot of experience playing with each other and knew what they are doing. When a team is moving in unison because they are all on the same page it’s a think of beauty.

    Alas, that is most definitely not the case in what I’m seeing over here. We’re talking about teams with lots of turnover, players from literally all over the world, and squads who only get to train together maybe a couple times a week. They need to be talking – especially early in the season when I really noticed the quiet most starkly.


  5. I’m a fairly new high school girls coach and am interested in learning more about “The Cycle – 1. Base 2. Release 3. Cover – continued movement throughout a point. Remind players to “touch their mark”. A mark is a location on the court determined for each position of the cycle (keep in mind that a mark can be alleviated when a proper read and movement is required)” I’ve never heard of this. Where can I find more info?

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