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Originally published in the Spring 2015 issue of VolleyballUSA

After attending a USA Volleyball CAP I clinic, I started thinking about contacts per hour – how to increase the contacts per hour and how important it is. I researched the differences between how many contacts per hour that some popular drills facilitate. I was particularly interested in serving and passing, but also tracked hitting, setting and “other” touches, which included freeball passes, freeballs sent over and occasionally a touch on a scramble play that did not fit into any other categories.

I used a friend’s 17s club team to do my research. The level of play was average. This team is not nationally competitive. I attended and filmed one practice where I ran each of the drills I wanted to test with the 14 players at this practice. Later, I reviewed the film to tally up the number of each type of contact. I tested Queen of the Court, Speedball, a Modified Butterfly, two versions of hitting lines, and a simple 6 vs 6 freeball drill. I chose these drills because they are fairly simple, and in my experience, are commonly used with variations.

Drill Descriptions

Queen of the Court: I used two permanent setters on each side, then an additional three players on the court on each side. I also used standard rules: if you win, you stay on or go to the “queen” side; lose, and you are off.

Speedball: Again, I used two permanent setters on each side, and then there were two teams of three on each side of the court. One team on each side plays at a time. The teams off (one team per side) have a ball ready to serve if their side loses the rally. The losing team goes off, and then the waiting team on that side serves and comes on right away. The drill is inspired by Queen of the Court, but designed to be even faster.

Modified Butterfly: This drill is strictly to work on serving and serve-receive passing. One side is serving to the other side of three passers and a target. After a player passes, she becomes the target, and the target catches the ball and goes to the serving side. After players serve, they go to a line to fill in for the passers.

6 v 6: I had six players on each side of the court and a coach on each side to initiate freeballs. After each rally, the winning side got the next freeball. We kept score by counting each rally as one point. I chose this drill because it is simple and can be modified in many ways.

Contact Type Descriptions

  • Passes: Serve-receive passes only
  • Serves: Players serving the ball
  • Hits: Players hitting a ball over the net using an approach, jump and swing
  • Sets: Player setting the ball to a hitter
  • Digs: Player digging the ball from an attack
  • Other touches: This included passing a freeball, sending a freeball to the other team, or the second or third hit on a scramble play

Chart for Contacts Per Hour

Analysis

The results from my experiment were not quite what I expected. The results show that each drill does have an advantage over the other drills in a particular area.

For example, even the Modified Butterfly, which had by far the least amount of total contacts per player, had the highest serves and passes per hour. I had thought that the serving and passing numbers might be comparable to Speedball or Queen of the Court, but they were significantly higher. Therefore, that would be a good drill if you strictly wanted to work on serving and passing.

Hitting lines on two sides had the most contacts per hour of any drill, although only two skills were performed-- setting and hitting--and most players only got hitting reps. The Modified Butterfly and both variations of the hitting lines are arguably the least game-like, since there is no exchange back and forth over the net, which is an important consideration.

I was surprised to see that Speedball had a few less contacts per hour than Queen of the Court. I had expected the opposite. One potential reason for that could be that the team I was working with does at least a few minutes of Queen of the Court during every practice, and most of the girls had never played Speedball. Their unfamiliarity with Speedball could have slowed down the drill a little bit, although they did get the hang of it pretty quickly.

Another interesting thing with those two drills was that in Queen of the Court the group missed tons of serves. As you can see from the table, in Queen of the Court they had 23 serves, but only 14 passes per player per hour, due mostly to missed serves and some aces that were not touched by a passer. In general, the numbers show that for this group, Queen of the Court was played with fewer quality reps than Speedball. Even though there were a few more contacts per hour, there were more missed serves, sets that were not able to be hit and “other” touches.

For the hitting lines, it was interesting to see that using only one side with three lines was only about 10 less hits per hour than lines on each side, but way more than half the hits per hour. For the two sides, I had the players toss to the setters themselves. For the three lines, I had a coach tossing to the setter. This is probably what caused the three lines to go at a faster pace. The three lines has the advantage that players get to hit from all positions on the court, but the coach tossing the balls and keeping the drill running at a high contact rate per hour was really not able to give the players any feedback.

As I had expected, 6 vs 6 had a high number of contacts per hour and even higher than Queen of the Court and Speedball. In some ways, 6 v 6 is as game-like as possible, so the fact that this drill turned out to also be high contact is encouraging. The downside with this drill is that it does not incorporate serving or passing, which are two of the most, if not the two most important aspects of the game at every level.

If I were to do another study like this I would want to count the contacts per hour in a 6 vs 6 drill that incorporated serving and passing, as well as count for a regular match or regular scrimmage in practice. I would expect the amount of contacts per hour to drop some as it takes some time for the players to get a ball and go back to serve, but to see how much the number dropped would be interesting.

While some of the numbers I found do not seem that significant, over the course of the season they add up. Conservatively, suppose your club team practices twice a week for two hours for a five month season. I would expect that most club teams would practice at least this much. Many practice significantly more. Five months of practice twice a week would add up to about 44 practices, and at two hours each would mean 88 practice hours. Suppose you can increase the contacts per hour by just five more contacts per player per hour. This would equate to 440 more touches per player over the course of the club season.

What I learned from my small experiment, and what I think is important for all coaches to recognize, is that different drills and activities you do in practice have advantages and disadvantages. Increasing contacts per hour is a great goal but the numbers are not everything. It is important to have goals for what you want to accomplish each practice, which, in turn, help you progress towards your goals for the season.

Coaches should understand what certain drills accomplish and deliberately choose drills that suit their team’s needs. All practices are going to be composed of several different drills and activities, and the best drills for your practices are ones that are a combination of being game-like, providing high contacts per hour and suiting the needs of your team.