One-on-one with Torrey Pines High School Coach Brennan Dean
THE QUESTION: As your team enters Month 2 of the season, what does your practice look like, why do you do the drills you do and how does your training routine tie in with your overall coaching philosophy?
By Don Patterson
We got a lot of positive feedback on our first coach profile, which captured a day in the gym with Tod Mattox from Bishop’s High School in La Jolla, Calif. To give you a second serving of what a great teacher of the game does at volleyball practice, we recently tapped another successful juniors coach – Brennan Dean of Wave Volleyball Club and Torrey Pines High in San Diego.
In this Coaches Profile we Cover:
- What Brennan Loves About Volleyball
- Be Positive
- The Case for Pepper
- Lots of Touches
- Connecting Middles and Setters Drill
- Wheel Drill
- Serving Smart Means Targeting A Passer
- Use a White Board
- Passing and Hitting Drill
- “Get Beat on the Alleys”
- Stats that Matter at Torrey Pines
- Digging the Hard Hit
- Building a Family Atmosphere
What I Love About Volleyball
Brennan Dean played volleyball and water polo in high school at Torrey Pines, then went on to Chico State, where he was an outside hitter and a setter for four years, two as the team’s captain. He’s now back at Torrey as head coach of the girls’ varsity, the county’s No. 1 ranked team in mid-September and the defending San Diego CIF Division 1 champions. Dean is also a counselor at nearby La Costa Canyon High and owner and director of Wave Volleyball in Del Mar, Calif., a well-respected club that offers both indoor and beach programs. What does he love about volleyball? Two things he mentions right away are the fast pace and the strategy. Here’s what else:
One of the questions we asked Dean at practice was to share what he knows now that he wishes he knew when he first started coaching. His answer: Accentuate the positive. Here’s why:
THE CASE FOR PEPPER
Pepper is considered old school by some coaches, but Dean thinks it serves a purpose in a club or high school gym both as a skill-builder and to help teammates bond. His take:
LOTS OF TOUCHES, NO WASTED TIME
A Torrey Pines practice moves at a brisk pace. Water breaks are short, drills are efficient, down time is minimal. Dean explains his philosophy on efficiency here:
CONNECTING MIDDLES AND SETTERS DRILL
Another drill Dean ran in the first half of the practice was designed to warm up the middles and strengthen the connection between the middles and the setter for quick hits. They started with 1 sets, then switched to 3 sets, then went to back 1s. Here’s how it looked:
PASSING AND HITTING DRILL
The day we visited, the Torrey Pines varsity did a hitting-passing drill immediately after pepper. Players were divided in groups of three: a hitter, a passer and a catcher. The total drill was only about 6 minutes – 2 minutes for each skill. But a lot of touches occurred in that time. How the drills works: For two minutes, hitters toss to themselves and hit across the net while the passers pass to the catchers, who are positioned at the net. After 2 minutes, the players rotate. After 2 more minutes, they rotate again. Here’s how it looks and what Dean says about his points of emphasis:
After a standard serving/passing drill and then a serving /passing/hitting drill, Dean had his team play a 6 v. 6 drill called Wheel. Points started with him or an assistant coach serving the ball and the receiving team trying to side out. As you’ll see from the video below, it’s a lot like a regular scrimmage, but there are a couple of twists. 1. Every player plays every position; 2. Often, the coaches will give the team instructions on what they want players to focus on. Here’s how it looks and what Dean says about how it helps his Falcons prepare for matches:
SERVING SMART MEANS TARGETING A PASSER
The Falcons work on serving at every practice, and their three big focuses are location, location, location. Dean emphasizes the importance of keeping the ball away from the opponent’s best passer and targeting less experienced serve-receivers. Check out what he says about training players to serve specific zones.
USE A WHITE BOARD
As Dean notes, players learn in different ways, and the white board is a great tool for connecting with visual learners. He uses it for a number of things, from the day’s practice plan to motivational quotes. Here’s a look at a Torrey Pines white-board session and some thoughts from Dean on why they’re useful:
This is a well-known drill but a good one that Dean has his team do frequently. It’s 6 v. 6. Each side is given multiple opportunities to score four points in a row: receiving a serve, then a free ball, then a down ball and then serving. As Dean explains in the video below, he likes this drill because it requires a side to score different types of points to reach their goal of winning four straight.
“GET BEAT ON THE ALLEYS”
Midway through practice, Dean put a short halt to a 6 v. 6 drill toserve receive position. If they get beat for a point on a back-row hit, Dean wants it to be on the alleys, not in the heart of the court. He emphasized that blockers should pull on back-row hits unless the Torrey Pines coaches have identified a certain hitter on the opposing team who is particularly potent from the back row.
STATS THAT MATTER AT TORREY PINES
Like most programs, Torrey uses stats to determine who’s doing well. In this video, Dean talks about stats that are most important to him and his coaching staff.
DIGGING THE HARD HIT
What separates extraordinary defenders from good defenders? One of the big things, according to Dean, is being able to pop up an extremely hard-driven ball that’s not hit right at them. To make those kinds of plays, good technique is crucial. Here, Dean and Torrey Pines sophomore Savvy Simo demonstrate a two-person drill that refines digging technique for tough hits:
BUILDING A FAMILY ATMOSPHERE
Team chemistry at Torrey Pines is fostered off the court as well as on. Dean is big on giving his players opportunities to connect with each other in non-volleyball settings by scheduling activities such as retreats, movie nights and trips to see local college teams play. Here’s what he says about how creating a family atmosphere helps a team win matches: