The other day I wrote about my eighth grade volleyball team who got on a roll in a game when one player served 15 service aces in a row. When my players were a little concerned about how upset their opponents were I told them that what happened to that team wasn't their fault but the opposing coach's.
So what should a coach do when his team is getting pounded by a tough server?
Anything, everything except sitting there and watching his players get pounded.
Most games a coach has two time outs he can use. Calling a time out to try and stop a service run is called icing a server. The idea is to make the server wait in order to throw them off their rhythm. At the middle school level this is a very effective strategy. However most players at the high school level are used to this strategy and it isn't as effective. But you never know until you try. I always stress to my players during practice that the most important thing they have to do after our opponents take a timeout is to get their next serve in. It doesn't have to be an ace or a power serve. It just has to be a good serve. My players seem to like the idea that when the opposing coach calls a time out to ice them that they are now playing one on one with that coach, and if they get that next serve in, they just made that coach waste his timeout.
If he has substitutes available the coach should use them. Sometimes you just have to get a player off the court or out of a bad situation. If the player you replace them with is not as good a player, you can always sub them back around again later. Maybe your replacements aren't quite as good passers as the players on the court. But if the players on the court are getting toasted you need to make some kind of change. You may be surprised how many rocket serves a weaker player, who wants nothing more than to get off that bench, will step in front of until they manage to pull off that one pass you need to stop that hot server. If you find a player like that, immediately start training her to be your libero. I was watching a 14 and under club match earlier this year when a coach was in the situation where their opponents were on a 5 point service ace streak. He pulled two of his back row players and put in two smaller, obviously younger, players to replace them. For the next four serves one of those little girls jumped in front of serves that hit her in the hands, chest, face and shoulder. She failed to get any of those serves passed into the air. But each time she brushed a few loose strands of hair out of her face, wiped away a tear or two away and got ready to do it again. The coach pulled her and put one of the original players back in. When this little player got to the sidelines she paused in front of the coach with her head hanging and all he did was point to the end of the bench and ignored her. I had to leave then and didn't see how the game played out. But I really hope it eventually occurred to that coach that the little girl he so casually dismissed displayed more heart and guts on the court than any of the other players on his team.
A coach can try to find a new or different way to encourage his players or to distract his opponents. There are a lot of different ways to ice a server. Some of them I disagree with and will never use. But there are many options.
In the exceptable category (in my opinion): You can talk to your team. Correct their alignment on the court. Verbally encourage them. Bribe them, I once heard a coach yell to his team "Whoever makes this next pass doesn't have to run laps tomorrow." - it worked. Distract the opponents server. This one is kind of tricky because you need to distract the server without singling her out, without being a bad sport and without looking like you are trying to distract your opponents.
In a game on Thursday, my seventh grade team got caught by a good server who was getting into a hard overhand service streak. After three straight aces, my team managed to finally get a serve up into the air. Our setter passed the ball high towards her outside hitter who proceeded to pound the ball so hard that it flew out of bounds through the open doors and into the foyer behind our opponents. I sat calmly until our opponents finished cheering their latest point and had quieted down a bit. When the server had the ball back in her hands and the referee reached for her whistle to signal the server to serve I called out loud enough for the whole gym to hear "Ashley, you have to keep your spikes inside the building."
Immediately most of the parents in the gym chuckled. Many of the kids on the court laughed out loud. I don't know if they were laughing at my comment or how embarrassed my hitter looked about what I said. Either way, when the referee blew the whistle our opponent's server was still laughing and had a big grin on her face as she started her serve. That smile disappeared the moment the ball flew into the net.
I was able to distract that server by getting her to think about something other than what she was supposed to be thinking about, which was serving the volleyball. Best of all I didn't even need to take a time out to do so.
As my team rotated I did have to step up to the sidelines and share a few quick words with my hitter so that she knew my intent was not to embarrass her but to distract the server.
In the unacceptable category are things you can do that are outside the rules, or the spirit of the rules of volleyball and good sportsmanship.
Last year we were playing in a tournament in Bakersfield. The division that my team was in had a local team from the host school in it. I hadn't been watching her games but I heard other coaches complaining about her unofficial timeouts. This coach would suddenly take an unofficial timeout in order to handle some sort of tournament management. Things like directing people away from the courts, picking up water bottles that may get in the way, etc. But she only had to do these things when her opponents were in the middle of a hot service streak.
When we met this team in the division finals she stopped play once after one of my players had three aces to have the director wipe up a red spot on the floor that might have been blood. I had seen that spot on the floor several times during that day. But it only became an issue when she needed an extra timeout. Then one of the other host school teams from a different division all moved into the gym to watch our match from behind our service area. These players started verbally cheering their teams on. Then progressed into verbally harassing my players while they were serving. I used a timeout to talk to my players about ignoring them and to ask the viewing players to move aside and make room for my players to serve. A couple rotations later we got into another hot service ace streak. Suddenly after 4 aces in a row the opposing coach needed a stoppage of play while she came over to our side of the net and shooed those other players away so that they would not distract my players. I asked the ref if she was using her timeout for this since those players were not disturbing my players. The ref said no, she is just doing her job as one of the tournament hosts.
Fortunately this type of server distraction usually requires the assistance of a willing referee. And you usually don't find that type of cooperation between a ref and a coach.
But I use this as an example of improper gamesmanship. In all sports and at all levels there is some gamesmanship that goes on. In volleyball icing a server is one of the most obvious gamesmanship situations. But if you are thinking of starting to break the spirit of the rules, or starting to invent situations you can use to give you an advantage over the other team perhaps you are crossing a line you shouldn't. The rules of the game allow you two timeouts. If you chose to use them to ice a server, then more power to you. Good sportsmanship says you should not directly yell something at your opponents that is going to distract them. I took a big chance yelling what I did at my hitter. What if instead of the opposing team's server laughing my hitter got really self conscious and stopped swinging at sets? I used a ploy that very easily could have backfired on me. Fortunately for me, my hitter is a pretty smart kid who immediately saw the effect my comment had on our opponents and didn't take it personally.
So when you are trying to deal with a hot server, stick to timeouts and substitutions there is usually no penalty in them other than sometimes they don't work. But then what you were doing before wasn't working either so you really aren't out anything. But most of all do something. Don't just sit and watch your team go down in flames under an assult by a good server.