Our third visit to a Bishop’s High volleyball practice came in late September. Some of the training session was devoted to skill improvement, but with the season at its midway point, Bishop’s coach Tod Mattox spent a lot of time on strategy.
Among the things he covered: how to get better hitting approaches on the outside, smarter hitting on quick attacks, defending the middle attack and overhead digs.
Here’s a visual look at the 2 ½ hour session:
Don’t forget about the overhead dig
Early in the practice, Bishop’s works on overhead digs. For Mattox, it’s a no-brainer for players to pop up hard-driven balls with their hands above their heads rather than the traditional way. He explains why in this video and also talks about the sound an overhead dig should make if it’s done properly.
Something like this: “SPLAT!”
Hands down for better passing
In matches the previous weekend, Mattox noticed many of his players holding their platforms up too high when they passed. That resulted in too many passes 10 or 12 feet off the net.
In this video, he works with the team on keeping their platforms lower so the ball gets closer to the target area and takes a lower trajectory. His best passer, libero Kate Swanson, demonstrates a good, low passing platform. Note the way she always yells “mine” before every pass. Part of great passing is communicating well with teammates.
Stay out of the "wicked forest"
The 5 v. 5 drill you’ll see here works on out-of-system hitting and emphasizes good bump sets to the outside and hitters getting farther off the net for a bigger approach.
Before the drill, Mattox explains to outside hitter Anna Sepkovic that she needs to start her approach from what he terms “the wicked forest” – in other words, too close to the net. He wants hitters to back up to the “magic kingdom” so they can get a strong approach.
The drill starts with the coach bouncing a ball to the setter on the same side of the court. The point plays out, and the second point is started with a bounced ball to the libero on the same side of the court. If that teams wins both points, they stay on and another team of four subs in on the other side. If the team that gets the balls bounced to them loses both points, a new team subs in for them. If the score is 1-1 after both points, the coach tosses a free ball to the team on the other side of the net, and if they win that point, they get to stay and the nearside team exits. If the nearside team wins, they stay and a new team replaces the team on the other side of the net.
Anna starts from the “magic kingdom” and makes a nice hit
After Mattox makes it clear that he wants her to get off the net farther and into the “magic kingdom” to start her approach, OH Anna Sepkovic nails it on this play.
And notice that on the following set, she gets back in the right spot again even though the setter sends the ball to the other pin.
“Hit the ball cross court”
After Bishop’s right-side hitter Sydney Yockey hits a ball down the line on a transition set from way off the net, Mattox pulls her aside and makes it clear he wants cross-court hits in these situations.
On her next set, as you’ll see in the video, she does go cross-court, and she records a nice kill.
A quick lesson in setting the block
In a teaching moment, Mattox talks to one of his middles and one of his right-side hitters about closing the block, walking them through the sequence of shuffling, closing and jumping in unison.
“I heard Lauren, so I set her"
During a break in the action, Mattox makes a point of having his setter, Kelly Forte, repeat what she has just told him.
And what she told him was this: “Lauren [Flaming] was the only [hitter] I heard, so I set her."
Mattox points out that Lauren is a DS who is filling in for another hitter, so she shouldn’t be the only one calling for the ball at high volume. Frequently in practices, Mattox tells his players that they have to be vocal and let the setter know if they are available. Here, he reminds the hitters how well they hit the previous weekend and urges them to “demand the ball.”
Working on defending the middle attack
Later in the practice, Bishop’s works on defending the middle attack against hits delivered by right-sider Jayda Howard. Mattox says stopping the middle is extremely important in high school volleyball.
“We think most high school teams like to set the quick attack when they get a decent pass,” he says.
In this video, you’ll see Mattox talking about giving opposing offenses different looks by having the outside blockers fake the bunch block and then move quickly to the pin. He also covers what the outside blocker should do if the other team sets the middle and how the backcourt defense should play around the block.
Next, he talks about the role of the outside blocker in bunch blocking and where the left back defender should be positioned.
Quick release by the setter on quick hits
Near the end of practice, Mattox tells setter Kelly Forte that he wants a faster release on the quick attack.
“Get it out of your hands,” he says. “Don’t try to be soft. You’re slowing it down. We want it to be fast.”
Next play, she delivers the tempo he’s looking for. After practice, Mattox explains that he thinks the majority of the reason setters and hitters have timing issues on quick attacks is because setters hang on to the ball too long.
“We don’t need fancy plays, just good plays!”
Mattox stops practice here and explains to the players that they don’t need to be fancy when hitting in the middle, just smart. Specifically, he's referring to hitter choices on what Bishop’s call a “push set,” which is halfway between a “1” and a “2.”
After practice, we asked Mattox to elaborate on his strategy for middle attacks, and he gave a rundown of the most desirable choices to the least desirable.
Quote of the day
On the whiteboard for this day's practice: “Relationships are key. They magnify the human experience. Building strong, trusting relationships with teammates is crucial. Relationships are the places to go to give, not to get.”
As Mattox explains in the video, relationships among teammates are a big part of a team’s success.