How do I give constructive feedback and improvement suggestions without sounding like a “know it all”?

Always refer to it as OUR TEAM. Get into the figurative team boat with them and stay in the team boat no matter what. If the kids see you bail out of the boat they may not let you back in to the boat.
It annoys me greatly to hear coaches - “We won” - “They lost”.
It should be “We won” or “We lost”. You are either part of the team or you are not.

You can take this philosophy to your trainings.
E.g. we (our team) will be better if you can manage this / change this / improve this.
I think I can help you here. How about we try this because ………………………………………..
In China some players do it this way…………………………………….
There are a couple of options to improve this skill………………………………….
I like what you are doing here but perhaps we can improve it even more by doing…………………

The critical point here is once the kid has agreed that a change is warranted / desirable then you have to make sure changes are done immediately and without fail. Show them the new teaching point and demand a change. Also explain to them that the changes will take up to 4 weeks to implement. But “legends” will do it quicker.

How do I keep kids interested in passing practice which is necessary, but can be considered boring?

How do I keep kids interested in passing practice which is necessary, but can be considered boring?

Another great question. If you have to do passing drills then you have to do passing drills.
- Kids will be motivated if they can see they are getting better.
- Tell them how good they have to be to win the nationals (Average of 2.4)
- Train to be at 2.4 – Measure them every 2-3 weeks. If they see they are improving motivation will not be an issue.
- Train for 10 minutes, get a drink, swap ends or change partners and guess what, they will think it is a new drill.
- Add setting and hitting to the drill. The best passing drill is a dig, set, spike drill.
Have the players set the goals for the session. As a team make sure they are achievable, and then go for it as a team.
In serve reception show them the “Ronaldo in the dark” video on YouTube, so they can work out what is important when passing the serve in a drill.

How do I keep the children’s spirits up/focus when they are not doing well in a game?

How do I keep the children’s spirits up/focus when they are not doing well in a game?

How do I keep the children’s spirits up/focus when they are not doing well in a game?
Another great question. If I was taking a group of beginners I would like to see us be able to do a dig, set, spike over the net. For a junior group 3 per set would be great, 5 per set would be fantastic. I would keep the score of these spikes and that would be about all I would focus on. If you team is playing a clearly better team, this should be your focus, not winning. If your team is playing a clearly WEAKER team, this is still your focus.

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Question #1 from Eldo's New Zealand coaching tour

When coaching a group that has a range of skill levels, how can I use time most effectively to ensure that all players are benefitting from the session?

Excellent question. This is not often addressed by coaches well enough and is a reason why some of the better players are not challenged by some trainings AND also the reason why some players give up on the sport if they are not achieving at the rate of the “high flyers”.

1. There is no reason why kids at training have to work on the same net height or with the same target size.  With spiking for example, you can have the net set up at an angle with the net higher at one end. Some times as coaches we are lucky to have a group of equally motivated, equally skilled, equally sized athletes but NOT VERY OFTEN. Good considerate coaches can still make the training challenging and relevant for all. ‘Factor’ wash drills are great in this situation.

2. Sometimes you can use the better players to work with the beginners to help them BUT DO NOT overdo this as the good players also want to get better. 

3. Use wash drills every play, but “Jake” is only allowed to hit line. If he wins a point crosscourt, it is play on.

4. Want to have the new jump servers jump serve. BUT you get fault 1 and fault 2 or even fault 3 when you serve.

It's only a week away!!

The National Schools Cup is fast approaching with teams having one or maybe two training left until they hit the big stage. As a coach what should you be working on to ensure that your team plays to its potential in a weeks’ time? Changing a player’s technique or implementing a new game strategy would be nearly impossible in this short period of time, so what can a coach focus on this week to get the maximum benefit from their team? 


* Repetitions - Controlled passing and setting repetitions for your players is a great way to get plenty of touches of the ball without causing stress on the body. Ensuring that players are focused and completing the correct technique is essential to get the maximum benefit. I found in my final year as a libero in 2012 that packing hundreds of repetitions into the last few days before I left for the Nationals really boosted confidence and trust in my own game and skills.  

* Serve receive - An aspect of the game that won't cause your players a large amount of stress on their bodies. You can get a lot of improvement through working on basic communication between players and ensuring that your team is clear on passing rules/seams that you have created during the year. 

* Game protocol - It’s a good chance to run through an official warm up that your players will complete before a game whilst away. Include what your team would do before the on court warm up as well as the time allocated on court. Call captains, practice signing the score sheet and run an official warm up to get players used to what they will be doing in a weeks’ time. 

* Fun! The players are excited and are itching to get over to Melbourne and play so it's crucial that the training is full of enthusiasm, laughs and fun before you head off on your journey. Playing some fun games to break up training is a great way to give the team a mental break especially if you're doing a lot of repetition work. Creating a fun environment this week will build a great feeling within the group as well as helping to get the maximum potential out of your players going into the week competition. 


Getting your players to do penalties and intense physical work isn't ideal as it can potentially crush enthusiasm within the team or cause an injury. Building confidence in your playing group is the biggest tool you have this week before you leave. Trust in your game strategies and what you have worked on all year, add confidence to the playing group with the belief of success and you have the ingredients for a great week away.


Great suggestions! Thanks Peter Giannes - (Junior and State league coach, Heathfield Honours coach, Aus Junior coach)


To D or not to D, is not the question. The question is which defensive structure do you use?

There are many to select from but how do you chose which one is right for your team?

First, let’s look at the different types:

Line or 22 defence: position 1 & 6 cover the line, 4 & 5 cover the cross court

Cross or 31 defence: position 1 covers the line, 4, 5 & 6 covers the cross court

Perimeter: All defenders cover the perimeter of the court

Tip cover: normally the off blocker comes in on the 45 degrees angle to cover any tips

So which one is right for your team? My suggestion, all of them! Volleyball is a dynamic, flexible & adaptable sport where no 2 rallies are the same, thus playing defence must also become the same. The key to playing solid defence, is knowing your opponents tendencies, strengths & weaknesses. If your opposition have several big cross court hitters, that don’t tend to tip then 22 perimeter defence may be your base structure. If your opposition like to hit balls outside on the stick more & swing line, then 31 tip cover may be your base structure. The important thing to remember when playing defence is reading what your opposition is showing you & taking away their strengths. You must be flexible & adaptable, chase every ball & have a never say die attitude! Even that ball you think you can never get, go and get it!

Thanks Jason Potts! (AVL, League, State and AVSC Coach)


What are you coaching?

What accidental habits are you teaching your players by the drills that you do regularly?

For example:

A warm up drill that is done regularly in my trainings is the "back court hitting drill", fairly self explanatory. However, this drill, if not done right has the ability to create a poor defensive pattern. If the players do not reset back to the "neutral"defensive position every time the ball goes back on the opposite side of the net then the players are training to defend in a line. Not the ideal position when playing games.

My habits while coaching are changing, I am forever looking at the drills I design and make sure that they are fostering habits that I want the players to have when they are playing games!

The old cliché "train how you want to play". So, I ask the question again, "What accidental habits are you teaching your players by the drills that you do?

13 Random tips for Melbourne.

Make sure your trial matches and trainings at the moment are as close to what you will get in Melbourne. I even had a tape playing the Melbourne background noise I had recorded one year to make the trial match/training experience as real as possible during some trainings and trial matches.

Meet with your team now and discuss expectations of team behaviour and team rules on player court time in Melbourne.
Remember, they have all paid the same money.
Also discuss a number of what if's.
What if we win the 1st 2 matches?
What if we lose the 1st 2 matches?
What if Mary gets injured?
What are your team aims and expectations for the week?
What are your aims and expectations as a coach for the week?
Let us hope these are  reasonably congruent or it will be a tough week for you both.
My job as head coach at Heathfield was to marry the teams and the team coaches aims as close as possible as early as possible. Sometimes I would have to negotiate some clear common ground.

Always let your players get their drink bottle before you talk to them during a time out. If you try to catch them on the way to the drink bottles you may get run over and they will not be listening to you anyway. It will also give you time to lose any negativity that may have made you call the time out, and prepare a positive attitude for your team to see so they can go back into the match with positives, not negatives. This will give your team a chance to improve from your time out and not continue to spiral down as they may have been before your time out.
Use the word “WE” in time outs, not the word “YOU”. Frame your comments as positives not as negatives. Three points maximum with the most important point last.

Players, even senior players, do not process information well during time outs. Some of the complicated stuff I have heard in junior volleyball time outs is ridiculous. Explaining stack blocking to year 9 girls during a time out is a complete waste of time.
(And I saw it last year in an Under 15 Division 2 girls match.)

Use your two time outs if you are losing the set. Remember statistics show you have a 60% chance of the opposition making a service error after you call a time out. If you lose a set without calling time outs, YOUR BAD.

Calling your second time out at 22-12 is a waste of time. You are way, way, too late.

Don’t make silly unenforceable rules about kid’s diets during the week, e.g. no soft drinks, no chips etc. Your best attack is encouraging sensible behaviours that are going to help your team achieve the team aims. As soon as you say no chips, that means you as well.

Catch the kids doing good things both on and off the court. Highlight these behaviours every time you see them. If you are just starting off, get your teams to watch the "best practice" behaviours of the elite teams in the tournament.

Make your other school team's matches special and memorable by both you and your team being there and, actively supporting your other teams. It always makes it exciting to be both supporting and supported in Melbourne.

Ensure all your kids on the team have “their moment/s”. These may be on the court or off the court. You will need these moments to encourage them to train hard next year and come back.
See our new fantastic Elson Volley scoreboard



Be Consistent - not like the cricket commentators

Watching cricket over the summer, I realised just how inconsistent and unfair we can be as coaches to our players.
Players can do exactly the same skill the same way and in the same match context and we give them different feedback based on the result.
EXAMPLE 1  - Cricket
David Warner belts a cover drive over the boundary for 4. Feet did not move, bat away from the pads and no movement of weight forward. "Beautiful shot" wail the plethora of past cricketer commentators. Next ball exactly the same scenario but he snicks the ball to slips and is caught. "Undisciplined"  "Poor play", wail the same commentators - "He did not move his feet". However he played the same shot in the same match context and ONLY the result was different.

Example 2 - Football:
Rory Sloan (ex Upwey lad) picks up the football on the wing and heads off to the goals. He burst through a tackle and kicks a 50m goal. "Great play", wail the commentators. "Way to take the game on" they chant in unison.  Rewind back 30 seconds and Rory Sloan picks up the ball on the wing again but this time fails to break through the tackle and is caught holding the ball. "Too slow", "selfish", "goal hungry" may be some of the terms thrown Rory's way by seemingly intelligent ex-football commentators.

The good thing now is that I am hearing the very best football coaches applaud Rory for both actions and, both results even though the results were vastly different, because they were the same decision being made and both actions were actions the coach was seeking. In this case, taking the game on. If this is what the coach wants then as coaches we have to take the rough with the smooth and, the successful outcomes with the unsuccessful outcomes.

In the cricket example, the 4 runs hit by David Warner was the wrong action unfortunately giving him an initial positive result. The action may also have been the correct one if this action was in the final overs in a limited over game. Whatever the result, we have to judge the actions  of the player for what it was, without our unfair benefit of seeing the result then trying to sound like a know all.

If one of your kids dumps and wins the point then you need to judge the decision to dump NOT based on the result. If you cheer and pump the air like the legend coach you are when the kids wins with the dump, then when the kids dumps again (in exactly the same match context) and gets picked up, you may be unfair in demanding that the kid swings away, "attacks", "be positive", and the old, "don't be a wimp" are comments that are often made.


We all need our kids to be responsible for their own decisions and by and large kids will mostly accept that.
As coaches we DO NOT HAVE the right to judge their decision based on the result you have just witnessed, (unlike the football and cricket commentators continually do). Letting the kid know dumping in that situation was OK, but did they see that the setter was up there ready, the blocker had pulled off the net or there was no block and a swing was the best option, is a far more positive way of giving feedback.

Good luck in the upcoming season.


Well I am here today at the National Under 16 National Championships, still one of the best volleyball events on Australia’s Volleyball calendar.

The difference between the good servers and the bad servers is way too extreme.

Do basketballer’s look at the ring before they take the penalty shot?
Does Tiger Woods look down the fairway and line himself up before teeing up.
Does a lawn bowler look down the green and have a look at the position of the jack before having his bowl.

All the answers are the same. Yes, Yes, Yes.

Good servers do this and more.

Bad servers just wander back to the baseline, turn around and serve, often with predictable unfortunate results. The real pity is experience coaches can predict the outcome before the serve is ruined.

Good servers have a plan. Whether it is their plan or the coaches’ plan they do indeed have a plan, a pre-service routine and a mental pre-service statement. If you want to be a good server, get your act together.

You need a serving plan.
You need a serving routine.
You need a preservice statement
And then you need to watch then hit the back of the ball.

Hit it, Hit it, Hit it.


These 6 words can be the most damaging 6 words on a junior girls’ volleyball court. Balls that are a mathematical impossibility of being hit for a winner are irresponsibly hit out by the spiker and yet the team celebrates. “Way to have a go”, “Way to swing,” are the usual words of consolation to the error maker and the team once again celebrates a poor decision making event.

Over many years of watching and coaching junior volleyball it is not hard to see balls that are in a position to be effectively attacked and there are balls that mathematically must be saved in order to fight later in the point. The attacker in this situation often has a next to zero chance of winning the point and so, in my opinion they DO NOT have the right to lose the point. If the rally continues, the opposition can and do stuff up the free balls, your team may win the counter attack with a block, the opposition can and do make an attack errors and your team may make a sensational dig and then you are back in the point again.

Hit it, Hit it, Hit it, in my view can be rightly used to encourage junior volleyballers to be more aggressive and to take a risk (especially girls). This is vastly different to throwing points away in the hope you may get very, very lucky with the hit it, hit it, hit it gamble.


Red Line Volleyball

Last year I asked USA coaching guru John Kessel what would be the three most important things he would do if he ran a volleyball program in Australia.

Number 1 on his list was "Red Line Volleyball". And here is the drill on video. Fantastic - thanks John.

Can Australian Coaches work better?

An inflammatory question perhaps.

I am not talking about how many hours you spend coaching, but what you do in those hours. Can we as a coaching group get better value out of our time on the court?

Many things we have to do when coaching involve modifying player behaviour.  We need to make required actions, movement patterns and skills automatic for our players for our teams to improve.

If we are training a dog to sit, we show the skill to the dog and we have to be relentless in ensuring the dog actually sits on command. If we accept the dog sitting one time out of five commands then we would not consider that to be good enough and certainly we could not suggest that the dog has actually learned the skill of sitting on command.

I think we sometimes coach like this. We set the bar too low. Is coaching volleyball any less demanding than training a dog?

If we are training a team and we are suggesting that a skill or movement pattern would make the team better then, once we have shown the team/player that skill or movement pattern, we have to be relentless in ensuring that this pattern is learned.

The challenge to us as coaches is that we have to do this in a positive, fun and motivational manner. We have to, as John Kessel suggests, “catch them doing it right” and then make an effort to ensure that the players know we saw them doing it right.

Teaching the skill/pattern and then allowing the players to do it right in a wash drill or in a match one time out of five attempts will lead to failure, just as the dog will not learn to sit.

Perhaps sometimes we can work a little harder and, if we do better results will follow.

The Elson Volley website has been upgraded with a new web shop still with the best prices and the best service in Australia. 

It is a clean, modern look with full support for tablets and smartphones, now also featuring pages of information supporting coaches.

Getting teams to talk

 Communicating in court

This is the second post in a series on communicating on-court. For the first part, see here.

As a coach, the oft-used comment “talk it up” is just not useful.

If you want your teams to communicate (“talk”) then you have to train your teams to do it. If you have not trained your team to do something a 1,000 times in practice, then you have no right to expect it to appear on court in a match. You certainly do not have a hope in hell of it occurring in a pressure situation.

Talking is a habit - just like getting outside the court to spike - and it has to be taught so that it becomes a player's habit (hopefully, a lifelong one).

Having the wrong people saying the right things is also not helpful in games.

What does this mean? Examples are many, and could include the libero calling “free ball” when the setter has not made the same decision and has not penetrated into the front court, or a loud enthusiastic call of “out” by the team mate who happens to be in the worst part of the court to make a good call.

Step 1

As a coach, it is your job to work out what communication you need your players to involve themselves with on the court. Then you have to work out who in the team is responsible for that communication.

Having half the team calling “out” with the other half calling “in” is just as bad as nobody in the team calling anything. In my last post I gave you a list of key volleyball words and who I thought should be responsible for using them.

Step 2

You need to have a discussion with your team on why communication is important. If your team is not willing to buy into this, then get another team.

Work out with each player in your team what calls do they make ALL THE TIME. If they make three calls instinctively, then go through the list and see if they can add a fourth call. If a player does not make any calls, then work hard with them so that they at the end of the month are making at least one call.

Step 3

You then have to manufacture wash drills so as to test your team’s lines of communication.

Do not worry about the score. If your team is young, base the score on good calls by the appropriate person. Take points off a team if the responsible player does not do their job. I used to give a good call by a player 2 points and non-calls by a player minus 1 point. That way we are rewarding good behaviours or, as John Kessel says, “catching the players doing something right, and telling them.”

It will take at least four weeks of relentless work by you as the coach for your team to pick up the “good talk” habit. The good thing is that most players, once making some good calls, will have this habit for life. However, do not rest there. There are always more and better quality calls that can be made.

Good Luck and Good Coaching.

John Kessel: Blogs that are Making a Difference

John Kessel kindly gave me a mention in his latest post on the USA Volleyball blog: Blogs that are Making a Difference. I'm flattered to be in such good company.

I highly recommend taking a look at (and bookmarking) the other blogs John mentions in his post.

Coaching Development Session


Thanks must go to Hugh Nguyen for taking a great coach development session last night. Participants included three South Australian state team head coaches, coaches from the major volleyball school programs, club coaches, and even a school coach from Queensland who was in Adelaide for the holidays.

Huy in his clear meticulous manner discussed the new video delay programs available for coaches, and the strengths and weakness of each. This is clearly the way to make great gains in both individual and team learning.

It is a matter of concern to me that this development seems to be passing most coaches by without so much as a cursory glance. I think this "head in the sand" approach could well be a telling factor into the future. I can clearly remember the clear, quick, precise changes kids have made when seeing the type of feedback Huy was demonstrating. The cost to set up a club or individual coach is about the same as a used bag of old volleyballs.

The second part of the session was based on high definition stats and integrated video packages. The benefits were obvious. The view was that these should not be done by coaches while coaching but should be done by assistant coaches, parents or support staff. The high quality discussion revolved around the best cameras to use. The key fact to look at was the format the camera used with MPEG4 being the preferred option. Huy uses cameras costing way less than $200 (which is good seeing as he has six of them).

All in all, a great well prepared session Huy. Thank you on behalf of all the coaches present.

Why teams need to talk.

 The art of good time outs must be taught.

The art of good time outs must be taught.

"Talk it up"

Nearly every coach in nearly every time out has either said this, or has wanted to say this.
At the recent Mikasa Gold Ball tournament a beginning coach asked me for some strategies to get his team to talk.

He suggested his team was losing up to 7 points a set because of the lack of communication in his team.

Beginning teams need to communicate because their game consists of "confusion opportunities" everywhere.

Calling a timeout after your team has just lost 4 points, due to confusion and a lack of talking, usually is an opportunity to tell your team that they "need to talk it up". This is a perfect example of what we call a "no shit statement". This is when the coach says something so obvious that the team in chorus, says "no shit".

It is great that Aussie kids are too polite to pay out their coaches so appropriately with their many "no shit" statements.

The nature of volleyball mandates that effective teams have good communication.

This may be team rules which clarify situations and mandated responses from designated players on the court.

The nature of our game dictates that a great deal of the time everybody is looking up at the roof making it difficult for our limited peripheral vision to be able to see our teammates.

So talking is good. Targeted talking helps make winning teams.

Here are my 10 words for beginners: (print it off as a word file)

 10 words for beginners

10 words for beginners

In my team it is just as wrong for the libero in the team to call "Free Ball" as it is for the setter in the team NOT to call "Free Ball".

Players have roles and for us to be successful they have to do their jobs. It is our job as coaches to get new players through the confusion zone as quickly and as positively as possible.

This is just hard work and good coaches do it and weaker coaches hope that the kids eventually get it.

The answer to the coach at the Gold Ball tournament was essentially to positively encourage his players to talk in the last few games.

ASC volleyball is expensive: $3,000 a touch?

I made a post before the Australian Schools Cup on how coaches must get "benchies" on the court in tournaments.

Unfortunately, while at the ASC I heard a rumour that there was one player who paid over $2,000 to attend and was on the court for one (1) serve. Also heard that his dad flew over to see him play. Another $1,000. This team dominated all week only dropping one set until they reached the finals. Certainly more than enough opportunities to get all of the team's players onto the court.

This is why the Australian Schools Cup Commission have been such enthusiastic supporters of the 12 sub rule. We see this rule as a way to ensure all kids have the opportunities to get on the court.

My personal view is that if volleyballers pay to play volleyball then we should use the 12 sub rule so they have the greatest chance to get their money's worth.

If they get paid to play volleyball (and how often does this happen in Australian volleyball?) then use the 6 sub rule. If they don't get on the court then tough, train harder.

I certainly hope my information is wrong because if it isn't, then this situation is deplorable and the coach need to have a good look at what has happened here.

"You pick them, You play them."