Get Rid of “Time Sucks” in Practice

“Never mistake activity with achievement”. ~John Wooden

The most valuable commodity for volleyball coaches at all levels is time. For collegiate coaches, practice is worked into a day that includes recruiting duties, administrative paperwork, public relations, marketing, budgeting, etc. Club teams must juggle the facility schedule, player and parent schedules, and the academic obligations of the athlete. As a result, many club teams will only have two hours with their team. Using the allotted time efficiently is essential to both player and team improvement.

I have listed below common “time sucks” in practice sessions. I define a time suck as an activity that wastes time and only marginally correlates to player improvement. These activities are not necessarily devoid of value, but other activities are more important given the limited court time.

Time Suck #1

Using Practice Time to Stretch– without getting into the weeds of the relative merits of stretching, if a player feels the need to stretch, have them complete this process in advance of practice. Practice time should focus on developing volleyball movements and touching the volleyball.

Time Suck #2

Using Practice Time for Butterfly or Circle Drills– This type of activity is a pet peeve. I’ve diagramed one below for those unsure of the nature of a butterfly or circle drill.

Are butterfly or circle drills (synonymous terms) devoid of value? Perhaps not, but here is why I rarely use this type of activity. Most learning specialists place a high value on quality feedback for skill improvement. An essential aspect of productive feedback is the feedback correctness, coupled with the immediate opportunity for the student to use the feedback in another repetition. For example, suppose I tell a passer to angle their passing platform to the target. I then want them to receive an immediate opportunity to repeat the skill using the feedback (ideally, several opportunities to repeat). The problem with butterfly or circle drills is that the player is off to do something else after a single repetition. The organization of the drill does not allow immediate repetition that uses the feedback a coach might provide. Generally, by the time the player rotates around to repeat the skill, they have forgotten the suggested feedback. I do not consider activities of this nature to be optimal for learning.

The same concept applies to “hit and chase” drills. How many times do you see a drill where players will attack, then duck under the net to chase the ball to some distant point in the gym. Immediate feedback and repetition are impossible. Coaches should avoid this type of activity.

Time Suck #3

Stopping a team activity to speak with one player– We are all guilty of this at some point in our careers. While eleven players stand around, the coach pontificates to one player about an obscure aspect of the game. If what needs to be said is important, pull that player out of the drill and make your point while the other players continue.

Time Suck #4

Activities that have no relevance to the game- I have seen some crazy stuff in practices that have nothing to do with the game. Volleyball is a game that boils down to pass-set-hit or dig-set-hit. Have your activities replicate this sequence as much as possible. There are situations where you will work with a player(s) in a single skill, blocked teaching environment. However, those activities should be the exception, not the rule.

Time Suck #5

Untimed water breaks– Players staying hydrated during practice is essential. However, these well-intentioned breaks in practice turn into social sessions allowing players to lose focus on the task at hand. I suggest a different format. Players have water bottles near the court, and while chasing balls, wiping the floor, or if their group is out of an activity, they drink water “on the fly” while a drill proceeds. Former National Team Coach Toshi Yoshida would have players take their water break in two groups. While one group was hydrating, the other would be working on some aspect of their game. After sixty seconds, the groups would switch. Consequently, there was always activity on the court.

Practice is the time for meaningful repetition. The best coaches meticulously plan how the time is spent. Activities should be centered on maximizing repetitions while providing feedback “on the fly.” The stoppages in your practices should be minimal, along with players standing in a long line waiting a chance to execute a skill.

The time spent in practice is arguably the most critical aspect of one’s program. Too often, coaches value the actual competition over the practices. A team will play matches in a fashion that reflects how they practice. The time invested by a coach in planning efficient, high-quality practices will have a huge benefit to how a team will play in a competition.