This article was published in the May 25, 2017, Badger Beacon

I’ve been a co-director at Milwaukee Volleyball Club for 6 years and have been coaching for 13. MVC is formerly known as North Shore Milwaukee Volleyball Club and I actually got my start in the world of club ball with them when I was 15 and never looked back. Getting the chance to help keep the oldest boys club in Wisconsin going is an honor and it also gives me a unique perspective on the boys side of the Badger Region. I’m currently serving as the Junior Boys Representative on the Board of Directors and am in my second year. I’m very fortunate to be in a Region that is very proactive about growing the boys side of the sport and those in the Region office deserve a big salute for those efforts.

I’ve coached nearly every level of junior boys volleyball over the last 13 years and loved every minute of it. It is a never-ending learning experience that challenges you as a coach with each new season and each new team. Over the last five seasons I’ve had the privilege of coaching some extremely talented 17 and 18-year-old teams at MVC.

One of the recurring questions that I found myself facing is one that will force any coach to look at their overall coaching philosophy when it comes to higher-level volleyball. How much time should we spend going over game plans for specific opponents with our players relative to training a system allows them to play freely?

At the higher age levels, it is my firm belief that, unless you have an overwhelmingly talented team (which are extremely rare), you better be implementing some kind of a game plan to alter your opponents style because the top teams will almost certainly be scheming against you. If part of your clubs philosophy is to also prepare athletes for the next level, giving them a taste of what it means to execute a game plan should be a part of that preparation experience.

I’ve had teams that are very cerebral and soaked up game plans in a very short period of time and I’ve had very instinctual teams that nod their heads when receiving a scouting report and then completely forget about it literally five seconds into the next play.

It is your job as a coach to use your time wisely early in the season to figure out what kind of players you have and how they respond to game planning. Early season tournaments are often used only to help implement offensive or defensive systems and develop rhythm. Those things are important to be sure, but in the older age groups it is also important to give your players some kind of game plan for them to try to execute and see how they respond.

Practicing what it means to execute specific game plans within the moment of competition is only possible with just that …competition … so don’t pass up the valuable opportunity.

Coaches need to use those tourneys to see which of their players can process verbal instruction and immediately convert it into correct action and which players need more…Sometimes a player needs to know the “why” that helps understand the “what.” By that I mean if they don’t understand why they need to set up so far inside on a block or move 6 feet to their right on defense, they likely wont be able to execute that adjustment because its so foreign to their natural movements.

However, if you explain that you want a certain player to be baited into swinging to a certain area because it will produce this result for the team … most players will begin to understand its importance and buy into the plan.

You will want to practice what those kinds of blocks and defensive moves feel like when done perfectly and what to expect if it works. Not an inordinate amount of time and nothing that cuts too far into your serve/serve receive training but 15-20 minutes here and there can go a long ways. If you have the luxury of scrimmaging during your club practices, its well worth your time to have your players focus specifically on adjusting to 1 or 2 key players on the other side of the net. This way, the players have made the unusual adjustments a few times before being asked to do it on days 2, 3 or 4 of Nationals. If you really want to hammer home the point, you can use film of scrimmages or previous tournaments and point out the well-executed game plan movements vs. the movements that need work. It’s also a great opportunity to continue showing and explaining the “why” and “what.”

As the season progresses, you can start to layer on more responsibility towards game plan execution if your players are handling it well. The hope is that when nationals comes around and you’ve got shot charts, serving charts and rotational information on key opponents …you can put together a game plan that you’re confident your players can execute while still playing their style the majority of the time. Some of our biggest wins in previous seasons came as a result of a game plan walk through in the conference room at our hotel the night before and morning of those matches. Regardless of how prepared you think your team is, the execution of the plan will still rest on your shoulders. The players will need verbal reminders between plays from rotation to rotation about what they should be looking for and then trust them to go out and execute. It’s a very cool experience to watch players buy into a game plan, execute it and take pride in how well their collective efforts disrupted the other team and turned into a victory.

Whether you’re coaching boys or girls at the older age groups, game planning is a learned skill both by the coaches and players. The more you do it, the more you practice executing…the better the results. I do believe that teams have identities and systems that serve to maximize their strengths and by sticking to them you can win a lot of matches. I also believe that a good game plan can produce the extra three or four points that so often are the difference between winning and losing in a sport that is seeing more and more parity at the higher levels.

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