Friday, April 14, 2006

Volleyball Game 3

Last night we suffered our first loss of the season. We played a team that was pretty much a one man show - literally. They had one boy on their team, the coach's son. This kid had the whole range of skills. Good passer, setter, hitter and server. He is considerably better than most of the girls his age. The rest of the team was a pretty normal mix of early teenage girls who pretty well matched up with my players.

My team stayed together and played really well the first game. They avoided many of the mistakes that are common to younger volleyball teams. Our serving was pretty good and they were moving and covering the court better than usual. We won the game 25-20. When we changed sides of the court everyone on the team was talking about how hard the boy on the other side of the net hit the ball. I tried to tell them to ignore him. They had been practicing receiving my overhand serves that were harder than his and they were learning to handle them. I told them to just keep playing the game the way I told them to. Control the ball, control the pace of the game, control how and where you hit the ball over the net. If they could, try to avoid serving the ball at the boy. But that is just because he is the best passer on their team.

Unfortunately the boy came up to serve early and he served five really good hard ace serves. Then on the next rotation he hit two really good spikes. Totally ignoring the fact that the first spike was returned by one of our players, it was just a little low and the front row mishandled the second hit. The second spike was dug and returned perfectly by another one of our backrow players. But those serves and two spikes got into my players heads and they started playing scared. I called a time out and tried to calm them down and get them back into our game plan. It didn't work. We lost the game 16-25.

We lost the coin toss and had to receive serve for the third game. My team was still playing tenative and scared. Our opponenets ran out to a quick 10-4 lead. Then my players seemed to find themselves and start playing our game again. We collected a quick five points. After two rotations we got the serve back and were trailing 10-11. The other team called a time out to try and slow us down. I told my server that I wanted one good serve to start us off. She smiled, stepped up to the line and served a perfect underhand ace right into a big gap on our opponents court. With just that one shot I could see my team settle in and really start believing that they were going to win that match.

Then my worst fear happened. One of the most common errors that volleyball teams this age make is that they don't control the ball on offense. It is just too easy when the game gets exciting to just hit the ball over the net on the first hit. We spent over half of our last practice on learning not to that. I had them run several drills designed teach them to make good decisions with the ball on the first hit. However the two weakest players on our team were not at that practice. We lost the last four points in the game when both of those players started making poor decisions on what to do with the first hit. Our opponents were smart enough to play the ball at our weakest players and let them make the mistakes that would cost us the game.

Overall I was pleased that we were able to play with and maybe even exceed one of the more skilled teams in the league. But we beat ourselves. That puts the responsibility for the loss squarely on my shoulders. I need to keep finding ways to convince these kids that this game takes speed, strength and coordination. But more than that it takes brains. At any level, a team that plays like a team, will beat a more physically talented group of individuals almost everytime.

But first I have to figure out how to get them all to come to practice. The city required me to play everyone equally. So I don't have the obvious punishments or incentives of sitting on the bench to convince a player to come to practice. The only consequence I have been able to think of so far is to point out in front of the whole team that they just lost a match because players who were not at practice just made the four consecutive mistakes that the rest of them had been learning to avoid. But I'm not willing to do that. Part of what I have to teach these kids is confidence in themselves and each other. Tearing them down in front of their teammates will not accomplish that.

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