By Rachelle Manske

Every coach, at sometime in their coaching career, has stood on the sidelines and watched a free ball fall between two athletes with no words exchanged. All across America there are coaches telling their teams to “talk it up out there,” but the average team playing junior club volleyball does not seem to know what they are supposed to be talking about.  Is there a detailed specific plan for success in this area?

Talking vs. Communicating

First we need to be sure that everyone understands the difference between talking and communicating. Talking by definition is: to articulate words. No one needs to receive or exchange any information in order to talk.  Believe me, my girls talk all of the time and I am sure that yours do, too, but what happens when they get to the court? Silence can be deadly.  Maybe it is being unfamiliar with the topic of conversation that causes the uncomfortable silence when young volleyball athletes hit the court.

Communication on the other hand is: the act of exchanging information.  This is really what we would like our kids to do on the court.  So many girls think they are communicating with their team but when you ask the other teammates if they heard what the athlete said they will say “no” or they will say they did not understand what they were saying.   In order to effectively exchange information to communicate you must:

1. Know what you are communicating about.

2. Speak in a language that is understood by the people communicating

3. Keep the words quick, short and specific

I would like to talk with you today about teaching the kids what they need to communicate about so that they can be on their way toward successfully 
communicating with their teammates.

What are the topics we need to communicate about?

First, the girls need to know what they are communicating about.  Every area of the game of volleyball requires us to communicate about different aspects 
of the game.  Some specific topics to cover would be pre-match communication, serve/receive, serving,  team defense and offensive strategy.

Pre Match Communication

In our traditional club warm up of 2-4-4 you have just a small window of time to assess a team but it should give you a feel for hitter’s tendencies and strong servers to watch for. Encourage the kids to watch during their 4 minutes off and have an open dialogue with each other about what they see. Who is their big hitter?  Do they prefer to hit line or angle?  Do they tend to tip?  Is there a back row attack or a fancy play they like to run on a perfect pass?  Do they run a quick on a perfect pass or not?  Can they run a quick on a not-so-perfect pass?  Who will they set to out of system?  There are many pieces of information that the kids can share with each other quickly so that adjustments can be made to the defense on the fly.   If we teach the kids to look for these things they will better understand what they need to be communicating about.  In club volleyball there are many instances where you have no idea who you are playing and what they are all about, so it is important to think on your feet and when you see specific tendencies to point those out so everyone is on the same page.


Every athlete should be able to clearly communicate to their teammates the specific area of the court that she will be covering on s/r.  This not only mentally prepares her to anticipate those balls but allows her teammates to mentally release those areas and focus on other parts of the court for court coverage.  The less cluttered the mind is the better the body is able to execute the fundamentals.  Some other aspects of s/r are to communicate about would be server tendencies.  Does she float, top spin, go deep or short? Where is she looking with her eyes to serve?  Simple pieces of information before the serve will assist the team in being best prepared in anticipating what is to come. 

Serve/Receive is also the time that your setter should be checking in with each of your hitters about the offensive attack so that they can be prepared for the hit that they will be executing out of S/R.


During team service is a great time for the serving team (defensive side) to point out the big hitter, where the setter is and if she is front or back row.  You can also have the kids verbalize how many hitters are front row and hitting tendencies to watch for.

Team Defense

I call this the "verbal narration" section.  Great defense is a group of athletes who move as one body reading and responding to what they see on the other side of the court before the 3rd contact has occurred. They anticipate what will happen based off of the information gathered visually and they communicate with one another continuously to keep the team on the same page.

The kids should be able to narrate what is going on on the other side of the net during the entire play.  Is the other team out of system? Is it a perfect pass?  Is the set too tight or off?  Do you need to watch for the setter attack?  Where is the set going? What offensive tool is the 3rd contact going to execute?

Tip? Roll?  Hit? Down ball? All of these things can be a verbal or non verbal narration for the kids to keep them engaged and see the correct and important elements of the game. Again, all of this is to help each player anticipate what is going to come over the net before that last contact on the opponent’s side.

Obviously as the ball makes its way over the net they can give a verbal “MINE, IN, or OUT,” but it is beneficial to have your athletes call each other by name if they are not going to take the ball so that they communicate clearly who they are trusting to do the job. That way there is no question about who will take the ball. Be sure to shorten names to one or two syllables. For example Cecelia would be  “C”.  This will allow the kids to be able to communicate quickly and clearly with each individual.

Offensive Strategy

We would love to have perfect passes all of the time and have our plays go like clockwork, but that does not usually happen, so we need to be sure that the hitters know how to give a  verbal to the setter about where they are ready to hit from in an out of system play or if they are not going to be where originally planned.

The back row should be looking to the other side to let the hitter know how many blockers are going up and if line or angle is open.  A verbal reminder to the entire team is always a good thing with young athletes to get them to cover the hitter every time.

Introducing your athletes to the art of communication

As with everything, teaching your young volleyball athletes to communicate will take time and patience.  Coaches often teach the physical skills of the game of volleyball without teaching the kids the game of volleyball.  We play a visual sport that requires us to see what is going on and be able to anticipate what is to come.  If we can teach our young athletes to communicate with each other it will raise the overall ability of a team to compete at a higher level without requiring a change in their physical skill level.  You will find that less balls will drop and more balls will be offensively potent.  

In closing, as you start your season and cover the fundamentals, remember that communication is a fundamental.  A team bound together for a common purpose is not easily beat.