Recently, I spoke at the AVCA Convention to an overflow crowd, using a ribbon down the middle of the court (thanks to Sports Imports for the use of a box and standard to give me an anchor point). The title of the talk was Small Sided Games for Warm Up. I showed 1 v 0, 2 v 0. 1 v 1, 1 v 1 plus 1, and loser becomes the net games. 

You see, what most coaches fail to realize, is that volleyball mostly is played…ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE NET…For traditional reasons – including the ease of “ball control” that is provided by ignoring the net – most players warm up in some form of pair pepper and passing.  This ignoring of reality (the net is known as regulatory stimuli), makes for a false, and even bad form of “ball control” where the players are best a reading a ball bumped/passed to them, straight back to where it came from, without the “feedback” of using the net. Without a wall for an anchor point (see this video to see how to put up 6 wall “standards” under the six baskets found in most schools).

I could only show the two options USA Volleyball has created. Those are the Proctor and Gamble Net Band, and the “Four Nets on One Rope” system. Yes, those are 8 swim noodles being used as antennas on the four net system. My bet is your can make your own four net system by simply threading one long good rope through the two unused/damaged nets sitting in the gym closet. We will soon have a video on how to make such a system from two low cost nets.

The importance and value of playing over the net/on the other side of the net is well known by our USA National teams. When you walk into their training center in Anaheim, CA in the morning, the coaches have 39 courts available all under one roof. So our USA program is never at a loss for having enough nets to play over, and thus can easily play 2 v. 2 and 3 v. 3 games using a variety of scoring options at any point and time. Indeed, Riley Salmon and Rich Lambourne played competitive 1 v. 1 for warm up for almost a decade. 

The one warm up game I wish we could get our sport to replace the tradition of two person pepper with, is a game we call 2 v 0. You can see some 10 year olds playing it here at its first level just using overhead passing as the skill. As you get better, you add in forearm passing/digging, standing spiking, then finally jump setting and spiking in the air. In every version with spiking, you want your players to remember to not hit where they are facing, while still keep this cooperatively scored game going by facing away from their partner so the either cross body/wrist and wrist away/arm swings are learned.  It is also of high importance that each player learns to warm up/swing with the non-dominate hand injury prevention.

I have seen this game played 3 v. 0, where each player goes to the other side of the net/ribbon/floor marker “net, which is of course another option. The reason I do not advocate this version is simple for those who understand the importance of doing/getting reps in acquiring any skill – you get 50 percent LESS repetitions for the group of three as compared to a pair warming up with this game, in the same amount of time.

I also want to strongly encourage all coaches, to increase the number of two contact games you play. Why? Because the most important skill is reading – especially as noted in the start of this blog, that of the ball being sent over the net by an opponent. When you play two contact games, vs the three contacts normally used and allowed by the rules, you increase the number of chances to READ the opponent’s attack/send over ball by 50 PERCENT You also get to train more chaotically/ugly, as we say in the nation team gym, and learn to attack/better the ball over the net which arrive in imperfect and far more random/different ways.

This reduced contact option in warm up and games is well seen in beach (a warm up often called “vollis”) and indoor in the warm up game covered in this blog “Tennis Anyone?” When you warm up with one, then two contact games – starting with cooperative scoring, then going to transition and finally competitive scoring – your players, both youth and Olympians, get to read the over the net “attacks” (even if they are limited to only forearm passing or overhead passing), by the opponent. This one hit reading skill is VERY important at the youngest levels, where the worst teams too often win the matches by simply hitting EVERY first ball back over the net to your team – any way, any height, any place over the net they can.  Warm up with 3 groups of four on the ribbon, or in two groups circulating on and off the court after contacting a ball over a full size net (teams of 2, wait on the court until you touch a ball and rotate off to come back on).  One hit or two, you get more chances to read the ball. A similar one hit, standing spike/overhead/forearm pass warm up game is called “Chaos” where you put TWO balls into play – one by each team, and only lose the point when both balls fall on your side.If one of the balls has landed on your side, any player can run/get the ball back to a “server” who once they serve the ball into play, continue on.  You only win a point when you get BOTH balls to fall on the opponent’s side of the net before they can serve the one ball back into action that has fallen on their side.    

Some coaching friends noted that “Kessel used a BOX!” when I moved the box of Senoh standards to one endline of my court during my presentation as I said at the start of this blog.  This tease comes from the fact that I never use a box in my practices to hit from/stand on to block from etc.  As Karch noted in the same convention, “I have never seen my opponents hit on a box in any game…”  It should be noted however that I do use a “box’…just not a box…. Kathy, one of the coaches attending our CAP clinic in Millersville University, PA this month said this idea was worth the entire clinic for her – it was her “money ball” What is that ball you might ask? It is another idea shared along with the “skull and crossbones” ball idea – one special ball which when “activated” is worth 2-5x the points, while the “toxic” ball when activated in a game or drill took ALL the points away from the team losing that point.  So what was this idea? Simply lowering the net down to 4, 5 or 6 feet, so the players on your court can do the skills of hitting and blocking – in the right place – just without jumping. You know, like you coaches want to do when you use a box. The thing is, the ENTIRE COURT and space beyond the court lines is now your BOX….This warm up/game is shown in the video Two Balls Revivable.” You can also see a variation of this, which has helped the Dutch increase boys volleyball participation by 240 percent they say – in this game called “SMASHBALL." In any case, the idea is to simply lower the net and let your athletes warm up/play the whole GAME – 1 v. 1 to 6 v. 6 and all other team sizes in between. 

You can see by clicking here, how to set up a permanent multiple nets system on one rope, using rope wall “standards." You can make your own system from those two unused/imperfect nets sitting in the closet right now. You simply run a new, low stretch 5/8 or so inch (it needs to be small enough to run through the top band of the net!) 100 foot long rope through the top of those two full nets. Then you cut the two 10 meter full nets into four 5 meter nets. Seal the cut edges with a flame and over those net edges in duct tape and you are set.  If your space is different, you can make 3 nets on one rope, or even 5-6 smaller nets. Just make sure to allow for a 2 meter buffer space between the nets.  When you want, you simply close the two smaller nets together, and make a full size net.  Add in a pair of full length swim noodles woven into the net squares on the side edge of each smaller net, and you have both required “regulatory stimuli – net and antennas – for athletes to get good at playing the game as it is supposed to be – OVER the net.  

Note that those teams wanting to double the repetition on one court by playing “narrow court” doubles, should use swim noodles to be the inside “antennas,” rather than moving one antenna to the middle of the court. It is important to keep a 2 meter buffer between the two narrow courts you create in this fashion, for safety, and not put up one antenna to mark a shared court sideline.  As an added bonus you can loop swim noodles at the top of the net into the shape of a ‘support our troops” ribbon and create a “blocker” for the hitters to hit over/around. This is valuable when you have a team too short to put up a block like your opponents are able to do against you. 

Got some ideas to enhance what I have shared or have input on how these game have improved your reading/game play at any level?  Let us know in the comments below and thanks for your help in growing the game together.