Jen DeJarld is now in her ninth season as head coach of the Mother McAuley girls’ volleyball team in Chicago. A visit to one of her practices tells you a lot about why her team is consistently at the top of the rankings. Drills are competitive, creative and game-like, and each training session progresses from isolated sessions on individual skills to team drills that reinforce what has been worked on earlier in practice.
We asked Jen to share some of her wisdom on training a winning volleyball team. Here’s what she showed us:
- Run-throughs and over-the-shoulder passing
- Producing six-rotation players
- Details, details, details
- What makes a great drill?
- 5 on 5, no middle
- Cooperative 2-on-2 drill
- Transition blocking drill
- Corner serve drill
- 6 on 6: Weighted score
- Back-row attack drill
- Strategic serving
- What makes a great coach?
- Advice to young coaches
- Swing blocking?
- What makes a good practice?
- How to help high school players get recruited by colleges
Run-throughs and over-the-shoulder passing
Two ways Mother McAuley practices passing is by doing run-throughs and over-the-shoulder reps. The focus of the over-the-shoulder drill is to improve the players’ ability to take a ball outside their body and still send it directly to target. In this video, DeJarld explains the pre-pass progression: a backward shuffle, opening up the upper body, then dropping the shoulder and stopping.
Producing six-rotation players
DeJarld is firm in her belief that young players should be able to play in all six rotations. The key: Good ball control, good technique. To that end, her middle blockers work frequently on skills like being able to give the outsides a good, hittable set off a second ball. She elaborates here:
Details, details, details
Doing the little things often makes the difference between winning and losing. The example DeJarld gives here is splitting the court evenly on a free ball. As she points out, lots of teams don’t do that well, but it’s something that Mother McAuley prepares for and executes.
What makes a great drill?
DeJarld gives her thoughts here on how coaches can create drills that are effective, competitive and fun. Two things in particular that she stresses are making drills game-like and goal-oriented.
5 on 5, no middle
5 on 5 without a middle blocker encourages long rallies. The goal DeJarld sets for her team: 25 reps or more. She says this drills tells coaches a lot about which players are willing to take risks and which players just play it safe.
Cooperative 2-on-2 drill
In this drill, teams of two face off and are required to hit in a specific spot. The first part of this video shows players hitting cross-court out of the back row to Zone 5.
Transition blocking drill
To train middle blockers to be available as a hitting option, Mother McAuley does the drill you see in this video. It requires middles to take a step outside, block against a hitter who is standing on a box, then back off the net, approach, and hit a transition set.
Corner serve drill
Mother McAuley spends a lot of time doing this serving drill. Players serve from one corner of the court – sometimes line, sometimes cross court – and then rotate to another corner.
6 on 6: Weighted score
Weighting the score in a 6-on-6 drill is a great way to emphasize skills that have been worked on earlier in practice. In the example here, DeJarld’s players are receiving extra points for a kill down the line, a middle attack and a blocked kill.
Back-row attack drill
The back-row attack drill you’ll see here is fun and competitive. Three passers receive serve, and player who makes the pass gets the set. Two boxes are set up on the other side of the court as targets. The hitter can either swing away at the deep box or tip at the box that’s near the net. Points are counted, and the team that reaches a certain number first is the winner.
Mother McAuley isn’t the tallest team around, so they need to compensate with strategic serving. DeJarld talks here about how they use serving to their advantage.
What makes a great coach?
One of the key qualities of a great coach, according to Jen DeJarld, is patience. Building a winner doesn’t happen overnight. But as she explains here, being steady and persistent in pursuing long-term goals usually pays off.
Advice to young coaches
The message DeJarld emphasizes when talking to up-and-coming coaches is that you have to be able to motivate your players. Part of that is having energy and a positive attitude. “Don’t bring your bad day into the gym,” she says. Here’s more:
Most of the time, DeJarld prefers traditional blocking, but, as she explains here, there are situations where she has her outside hitters swing block.
What makes a good practice?
Like many successful coaches, DeJarld starts with a detailed plan that points toward a specific goal. But she also says you have to be flexible and deviate from what’s written down. She elaborates here:
How to help high school players get recruited by colleges
In today’s competitive college game, there’s a lot for high school players to deal with if they have aspirations to play at the next level. In this video, DeJarld offers a few tips on how a coach can help.