Our high school seasons are wrapping up across the nation. With this, comes a time that many coaches seem to dread: Giving out Post-Season Awards. Why? Countless times I've been told horror stories concerning the negative reactions that follow this positive, congratulatory event. Players and parents become upset with the coach's decisions and many times angrily react-leaving everyone involved with a bad taste in their mouths. I, myself, have had to deal with this numerous times over the years-and quite frankly, it's something I put right up there with toothaches and speeding tickets on my list of things to "avoid at all costs." Although it simply is not feasible for coaches to expect to find some "magic formula" to make this unpleasant time disappear forever, I do feel it is possible to significantly limit the times we must endure this ugliness. Coaches, give the following philosophy some serious thought-it just may help you avoid some unpleasantness in the days ahead: -Give a lot of awards: Hey, your players have worked hard-they feel they deserve recognition. I give 7-8 awards each season-and if I have a deserving player that doesn't fit any of the established categories, I invent one that does. I'm sure some of you are thinking, "but doesn't that take away from the significance of getting a special award? If everybody gets one...." First of all, we all usually carry between 10-15 players on our varsity. And I've found that the more players I carry, the more have made a significant contribution to the team in some manner. If you carry 10 players, then maybe you give 5-6 awards-or maybe even more. The key point to remember here is that a player (and her parents) only care about one thing: The award that player gets-sure they will sit there and pay attention and clap as the other awards are given out-but internally, they are focused on one thing: their own recognition. Everyone wants to feel appreciated-especially when they have put their heart and soul into something-and we all know that receiving recognition for our efforts gives us that very feeling we all secretly desire. And three-five-ten years down the road they will remember only one thing: the award they did (or didn't receive), and the feelings they have attached to that event in their minds. Reward as many of your players as you can logically explain-they deserve it, and will appreciate it. And for many, it will help their self-esteem grow!! What's more important, risking that some may feel their award is less significant because many were given, or aiding one of your players in feeling better about themselves and their efforts? Seems like an easy choice to me. Rewarding an underclassman also presents another bonus: "Coach saw how hard I worked-it feels good to be appreciated like that". Sounds like someone that is going to be motivated to work even harder next season! -Give everyone something: Now I'm not talking about every player getting a special award-unless that's what you want to do. But I do believe in giving everyone a gift of some sort as a reward for their time and hard work. A season highlight video or team sweatshirt are a couple of ideas I've used in the past. In doing this you insure that everyone walks away with something they feel they earned-after all, the only people in the whole school to receive this gift are your players-and that has significance, and again, it shows your players (and their parents) you appreciate them.
At our camps we use the following progression to teach passing, no matter the experience level or talent of the players. Of course, how much time we spend on the following is dictated by the passing prowess of the players. However, I have never conducted a camp where the passing fundamentals of even the most experienced players could not be improved with a little more focus on technique. Typically, the better the players pass when we begin, the faster we run the drills, as most players passing accuracy decreases as their speed to the ball increases. This passing progression has improved the passing accuracy of every team I have ever worked with, so here we go: THE STANCE: -Feet wider than shoulders with rt. foot slightly in front of left (big toe on lt. foot lines up to instep of rt. foot) -Ankles flexed or bent forward so that weight is on front of feet and heels feel like they are barely touching the floor. (This will cause their knees to bend naturally-but telling them to "bend their knees" will not guarantee their weight is on the front part of their feet.) -Hands waist high with elbows bent in front of hips, palms facing each other. -Hips up, shoulders forward, so that the back is flat and parallel to the floor. Tip: You do not not want them to bring their heals off the floor in their stance. USA Volleyball did a study awhile back and concluded that if the heals are off the floor in the ready position, the first thing that happens when the player begins to move is that the heals go down to the floor anyway, thus slightly slowing down the start of the movement to the ball. Tip: Each time they get into the ready position, have them lean forward and "swipe" the floor with their right hand with a sideways motion, touching it with their finger tips-this tells them they are low enough and helps to ensure their weight is forward on the front of their feet. Do not let them "squat and poke" the floor, make sure they lean forward and swipe instead. THE RHYTHM STEP/PASSING PLATFORM: -As the all comes in to them, they take a small "left-right" step to the ball. It's almost a shuffle, as the left foot should never come totally in front of the right foot. -As they are doing this, the arms/hands are extended straight out from the body. -Hand position: lay the right hand across the inside of the left hand so that the first knuckles of the right hand are just outside of the pinkie of the left hand, then bring the base of the thumbs together and rotate the wrists so that the thumbnails are pointing toward the floor. Tip: This hand position guarantees that the fleshy part of the forearm will be exposed to the ball. This leads to more control of the ball upon contact than if the ball were to contact the bony part of the forearms-which is what is most exposed to the ball if the old "make a fist and wrap your other hand around it" technique is used. THE PASS: -Keep the ball between their hips -Point their passing platform at their target -Watch the "bottom-half" of the ball into the fleshy part of the forearms. -If the ball were to somehow pass right through their arms it would hit them right in the mid-to-upper thighs. -Hold the platform to the target until the ball reaches the target (or gets far enough away from them that it misses the target) Tip: After they pass, have them stay low and again lean forward and swipe the floor with their right hand. This keeps them from bringing their shoulders up, and thus producing too much arm motion on their follow through, which produces too much force on the ball. PRACTICE: -Start them with the "Stanford Passing Drill" -Pair them up with a ball for each pair. -One girl from each pair is 15 ft. off the net, the other is at the net as the tosser/target. -Give them a goal of so many good passes in a time period, and make sure to define for them what counts as a good pass. Tip: As their passing level progresses, move the passers to the ten foot line. (The closer they are to the target, the harder the drill becomes.) Next go to "Short/Long Passing Drill": -Same alignment as "Stanford" to start. -First ball is tossed so that the passer has to shuffle three steps minimum to make the pass. -Passer then holds that position until the tosser tosses the next ball at least three steps minimum to make the pass. -Passer holds that position until next toss is made in front of them like the first toss of the drill. -Go for 30 secs with a "total good pass goal" and make sure everyone goes twice. Next use the "Passing Footwork Progression Drill": -A coach stands at center net on the same side as a single file line of players on the endline at middle back. Two players are to the left of the coach at the net. One serves to hand the next ball to the coach and one is at the target. The drill starts with the coach rolling a ball to either corner. The first player in line must shuffle to the ball in their passing stance and let the ball roll through the center of their legs (mid-line of the body) while keeping their hips and shoulders square to the net. The player then turns and runs to retrieve the ball and moves to the target position to the left of the coach. The player serving as ball hander gives the coach the next ball and runs to the end of the line at middle back. the target player moves to the ball hander position, and the drill continues in rapid fire fashion. Progression: -After a few times through the line, the coach moves to bouncing the ball on a low and quick path. -After a few more times through the line, the coach moves to tossing the ball and the player passes the ball to the target. -After a few more times through the line, the coach moves to the opposite side of the net about twenty feet back and throws the ball overhand to the corners, and the player passes the ball to the target. Tip: Stress "beating the ball to the spot". This gets the players to focus on moving quickly enough to be in correct passing position when the ball arrives. This is a great drill for teaching shuffling to the ball while staying in the passing stance and square to the net. The progression allows the players to apply the footwork and body position to actually passing a ball immediately. Next use the "Triangle Passing Drill": -Groups of 3 girls/two balls-aligned in a triangle formation with the two tossers about 10 ft. apart and the passer about ten ft. away and in the middle of them. -One tosser tosses ball directly out in front of herself and passer must shuffle over and make pass back to her. -As soon as the pass is made, the passer starts shuffling to get in front of ball tosses by the other tosser, who tosses it as soon as the first pass is made. -Go for 30 secs. and the score is the total of the good passes to both tossers added together. More Tips: -During this entire progression, periodically have them take off one knee pad and place it between their shoulder blades. This keeps them from bringing their shoulders up, because if they do, the knee pad falls off. -With each of these drills, be sure to make sure they remember their scores and then set a goal to beat that score the next time the drill is run. -Any time the ball is more than three shuffle steps away, they need to break down and run to get behind the ball and then quickly get back into their stance to pass the ball. Make sure they focus on "beating the ball" to the spot, not "meeting the ball at the spot". -As you move into drills that are more of a combination of skills, make sure to demand they continue to focus on their passing fundamentals. Usually the more involved the drill is, the more they let their basic passing fundamentals drop off. Good Luck!