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Smart volleyball players know both the technical and tactical skills

This is an excerpt from Coaching Volleyball Technical and Tactical Skills eBook by American Sport Education Program.

Technical and Tactical Skills

A coach has the responsibility of patiently and systematically explaining and drilling the athletes on the basic skills that make up the game. These skills, called technical skills, are the fundamentals that provide each player with the tools to execute the physical requirements of the game. Each day at practice, you must also create situations on the court in which players need to use their technical skills in a gamelike situation, forcing them to make decisions that simulate the applications of the skills and the choices they will have to make in a game. These skills, called tactical skills, are the bridge between practice performance and game performance. Although the proper execution of technical skills is necessary for success, the ability of athletes to make appropriate decisions, known as tactical skills, is the key to having everything come together when it counts—in the actual game.

Obviously, other types of skills, such as pure physical capacity, mental skills, communication ability, and character traits, all contribute to athletic performance (Rainer Martens, Successful Coaching, Third Edition, Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics, 2004, p. 186-188). Although all these skills are important, effective teaching of the technical and tactical skills of the game still provides the foundation for successful volleyball coaching.

This book focuses on the essential basic to intermediate technical and tactical skills in volleyball. The goal is to provide a resource that will help you improve your understanding and instructional methods as you strive to teach your players this exciting sport.

Technical Skills

Technical skills are defined as “the specific procedures to move one's body to perform the task that needs to be accomplished” (Martens, Successful Coaching, p. 169). The proper execution of the technical skills in volleyball is, obviously, crucial to successful performance. Most coaches, even those with little experience, know what the basic technical skills of volleyball are: serving, passing, setting, attacking, blocking, and digging. But the ability to teach athletes how to perform those skills usually develops only over a long period, as a coach gains knowledge and experience.

The goal of this book is to speed up the timetable of teaching skills, improving your ability to

  • clearly communicate the basic elements of each skill to the athletes,
  • construct drills and teaching situations to rehearse those skills in practice,
  • detect and correct errors in the athletes' performance of skills, and
  • help athletes transfer knowledge and ability from practice into games.

Effective coaches have the capacity to transfer their knowledge and understanding of skills into improved performance of those skills by their athletes. This book outlines a plan that will help you do just that by teaching you how to become a master of the basic to intermediate technical skills of volleyball and assisting you in providing your athletes with the resources necessary for success.

Tactical Skills

Mastery of the technical skills of volleyball is important, but athletes must also learn the tactics of the game. Tactical skills are defined as “the decisions and actions of players in the contest to gain an advantage over the opposing team or players” (Martens, Successful Coaching, p. 170). Basic volleyball resources might focus on the technical skills of the game and may overlook the tactical aspects. Coaches even omit tactical considerations from practice because they focus so intently on teaching technical skills. For volleyball players to develop better as overall players, they need to learn techniques and tactics together. One way you can approach tactical skills is by focusing on three critical aspects, “the tactical triangle”:*

  • Reading the play or situation
  • Acquiring the knowledge needed to make an appropriate tactical decision
  • Applying correct decision-making skills to the problems at the correct time

This book as a whole provides you with the knowledge you need in order to teach players how to use the tactical triangle. Part III covers important cues that help athletes respond appropriately when they see a play developing, including important rules, game strategies, and opponents' strengths and weaknesses that affect game situations, as well as ways to teach athletes how to acquire and use this knowledge. Part III will also help you teach athletes how to make appropriate choices in a given situation and show you how to empower players to recognize emerging situations on their own and make sound judgments.

Perhaps the greatest frustration for a coach is to witness athletes making errors in games on skills they have repeatedly done well in practice. For example, an attacker can successfully hit the ball hard and down into the opposing team's court in practice, but in a game situation when a ball is set to her in a less than perfect manner or she is in front of two strong blockers, she is not able to hit the ball past the blockers. The transfer of skills from practice to the game can be difficult, but you can reduce errors by placing the athletes in gamelike situations in practice to work on tactical skill decisions. Only after rehearsing the tactical decision repeatedly in practice will the athletes be prepared to execute those decisions (while maintaining their execution of the related technical skills) in the game.

Traditional Versus Games Approach to Coaching

As mentioned previously, transferring skills from practices to games can be difficult. A sound background of technical and tactical training prepares athletes for game situations. But you can surpass this level by incorporating gamelike situations into daily training, further enhancing the likelihood that players will transfer skills from practices to games. To understand how to accomplish this, you must be aware of two approaches to coaching—the traditional approach and the games approach.

Part IV of this book provides examples of both the traditional approach and the games approach to coaching. Although each style has its particular advantages, the concept favored in this book is the games approach. The games approach provides athletes with a competitive situation governed by clear objectives and focused on specific individuals and concepts. The games approach creates a productive and meaningful learning environment in which athletes are motivated by both the structure of the drills and the improvements they make. Finally, the games approach prepares athletes for competition because they will have already experienced settings that closely resemble the tactical situations they will see in the game.

Traditional Approach

Although the games approach to coaching has much merit, the traditional approach to coaching also has value. The traditional approach often begins with a warm-up period, followed by individual drills, group drills, and then a substantial team period (or scrimmage) at the end of the practice. The traditional approach can be helpful in teaching the technical skills of volleyball. But unless you shape, focus, and enhance the team training with gamelike situational drills and games, the athletes may be unable to transfer the skills they learn in the drills into the scrimmage situation in practice or, worse, into effective performance, especially of tactical skills, in games.

Games Approach

The games approach emphasizes the use of games and minigames to help coaches provide their athletes with situations that are as close as possible to how a real game is played (Alan G. Launder, Play Practice, Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics, 2001). But this method requires more than just putting the players on the court, throwing out a ball, and letting them play. You should incorporate the following three components any time you use the games approach:

  1. Shaping
  2. Focusing
  3. Enhancing

Shaping play allows you to modify the game in a way that is conducive to learning the skills for that particular concept. You can shape play by modifying the rules, the environment (playing area), the objectives of the game, and the number of players (Launder, p. 56). In scrimmage situations the stronger players often dominate, and the weaker players merely get through the scrimmage without playing a strong, active role. The goal is to increase each player's opportunities to respond, so if you shape play by reducing the playing area or number of players, every athlete will have the opportunity to gain more contacts as well as to learn and practice the skills for her specific position on the court.

You also need to focus the athletes on the specific objectives of the game. Players are more apt to learn, or at least be open to learning, if they know why they are playing the game and how the tactics they are rehearsing fit into the bigger picture. Provide the athletes with clear objectives of the skill, drill, or game and a straightforward explanation of how those objectives will help them become better volleyball players not just in practice but also in competition.

Finally, you must play an active role throughout practices, enhancing play either by stopping the game for the whole team at a teachable moment or by taking individual players aside and instructing them about how they could improve their decision making or technical skills in that situation.

An example of a games approach to teaching tactical skills in volleyball is a game called narrow-court triples. To set up the court, place an extra antenna in the middle of the net and a line on the floor down the middle of the court (lengthwise on both sides of the net). One side of the court will have three players on it, with two back deep to receive a serve and the third player at the net ready to set the pass. Three other players are on the other side of the net, with one of them serving the ball from behind the end line. Since the court has been made smaller, the server will need to be more accurate. The opposing team receives the serve and will pass it to the setter near the net. The setter will set the ball to one of the two hitters on her side of the net, or she can dump the ball over the net to try to score. The receiving team has a small area to cover and pass the ball, so they should experience more success.

The defensive team has only half the court to block and dig, so they can narrow their focus on the setter and two attackers. They will learn to read the hitter's movements and position themselves around the blocker so they will be able to dig up the volleyball. They must control the ball in a smaller court, so they will need to become more accurate with their dig up to their setter. This small court with fewer players teaches the athletes to be more accurate with their serving and attacking and narrows their focus on defense to cover a smaller area. A smaller court and fewer players also means more contacts per player in the same amount of time. Once the athletes go back to a regulation-size court, they will see the difference in how much they have learned.

More Excerpts From Coaching Volleyball Technical and Tactical Skills eBook