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Elements of a successful prematch routine

This is an excerpt from Volleyball Systems & Strategies by USA Volleyball.

Match Preparation

After a successful prematch routine, your team should be both physically and mentally ready to step onto the court. Once the match is about to begin, coaches, and to a lesser extent players, have several things to think about before the first serve is contacted. These include starting positions, time-outs, and substitution patterns. Once the match is underway, adjustments nearly always must be made based on your team's performance and the abilities and tactics of your opponent.

1. Starting positions: Before a match begins a coach must submit a lineup to the scorekeeper to indicate who will start in each position. Decisions on starting positions are generally based on basic volleyball strategies and individual team tactics, including those that follow.

Put the best server in right back or right front. If your team is serving first in the game, start in a rotation that places your best server in right back, making him or her the first server of the game. If your opponents serve first, start your best server in right front so he or she will be the first server upon rotating when it's your team's turn to serve.
The best blocker blocks against the opponent's best attacker. Assuming you have information on how your opponents will start, start in a rotation where your team's best blocker faces your opponent's best attacker for the most rotations possible. If the opposing team's best attacker starts in the left front, start your best blocker either in left back or left front so he or she can block against the best attacker the majority of the time he or she is in the front row.
Use your most effective rotation. Instead of starting your players in specific positions to match up against an opponent, place your players in what has been your most effective rotation. Your most effective rotation is typically the one in which your team scores the most points. (You can get this information from official score sheets after matches have ended. Simply add the number of points your team scores for each rotation and subtract the number of points lost.)
Put the best hitter in left front. Start your best hitter in left front to give him or her the most opportunities to hit. If your best hitter is your only legitimate offensive option, this tactic is particularly recommended. It gets tricky if your best hitter in left front is part of the rotation that allows the most points. In such a case, the coach should make the decision he or she is comfortable with, knowing it could go either way.

2. Time-outs: Coaches need a time-out plan so they can communicate and share information with their teams as efficiently as possible in the limited time allowed them. How best to spend this time will vary from team to team; the important thing is not to waste any precious seconds. In a 30-second time-out, for example, coaches might choose to talk for 10 seconds, give the players 10 seconds to talk, and then devote the last 10 seconds to water breaks and maybe one-on-one quick pep talks between coaches and individual players. Some coaches like to ask guided questions of their players during time-outs to keep players focused and help them learn lessons that will help them not only in the current match but in future matches as well. Remember that every match is not only an opportunity to earn another victory but also a chance for instruction that will carry over to the next match. It is smart for coaches to include time-outs in practice to train making the best use of time-outs during matches. Regardless of how you construct your team's time-outs, be sure that you have specific objectives for those time-outs, and that they are met. Finally, coaches should have a protocol guiding when to use their time-outs. For instance, How many consecutive points will you allow an opponent to score before calling a time-out? Should you save your time-outs for late in the game? Would you ever call a time-out when your team is serving? Early in the game?

3. Substitution patterns: With so many teams specializing these days, most teams have predetermined substitutions, such as a back-row player going in for a front-row specialist. Though having a predetermined subbing pattern is sound strategy, coaches should also consider substitutions that allow certain game-time objectives to be met. For instance, you might have a player (not a predetermined sub) come off the bench to serve a jump serve in the hopes of catching an opponent off guard. Another player might be a blocking specialist coming in at the end of a game, especially if you know where the opposing setter is going to set the ball. Trust your instincts. Not everything has to be by the book. There will be many times when a substitution that isn't predetermined makes sense from a technical and tactical standpoint.

4. Game and match adjustments: Every team encounters scenarios that require rethinking the original game plan. Adjustments might be based on an opponent's unexpected tactics, or on the performance of your own team. Say you're playing against a familiar team who always starts in the same rotation with the same players (e.g., the best outside hitter starts in left front). You want to get your best blocker in a starting position that allows her to block against their best attacker. You line up in game one assuming your opponent will start its best outside hitter in left front, only to discover that she's starting in right back. This means your best blocker won't be blocking against their best attacker. Such surprises happen all the time at all levels of play. Once you see that the opponent is using an unfamiliar rotation, express confidence to your team that they'll still be able to execute a large part of the game plan.

More Excerpts From Volleyball Systems & Strategies