Working with middle school aged volleyball players requires a combination of technical know-how and the ability to make things fun. Here are a few tips on how you can do that.
Focus on proper mechanics
You have a responsibility when working with young volleyballers to do your absolute best to teach and encourage proper mechanics. This will serve your players well in a couple of ways. First, it will help avoid injury – particularly from overuse – through a playing career. Second, developing proper mechanics from the outset will avoid having to correct bad mechanics later on, which is a major challenge. Of course, having proper mechanics is also beneficial in terms of maximizing playing performance.
Concentrate most on serving and passing
Until you get to the more advanced levels of play, serving and passing will drive how most points get scored. This isn’t specifically about aces, though they are certainly a factor. It is mainly about creating (if you’re serving) or avoiding (if you’re receiving) scramble plays – what we call out-of-system plays at the higher levels. Your players may not be to the point where they can run pass-set-hit plays very often, but generally speaking if they can do it more often than the other team they will probably have good success.
Worry more about proper play, less on winning & losing
When putting players in a competitive game situation you always risk them falling into taking shortcuts and not playing proper volleyball. The kids learn quickly that just hitting the ball back over the net means less opportunity to make a mistake that will cost the team a point. You want them working on good three contact play, though, so you need to make sure the focus is on that and not just on scoring.
Include lots of game play
Drills can be boring, especially serving and passing drills. You’ll lose the player’s concentration (which is tentative already) if all you do is run them through basic reps. Also, the kids are going to learn more about playing volleyball by actually playing volleyball. Even at the highest levels there is a major concentration on using game play in training. Obviously, you need to account for the abilities of your players to make for good game experiences, both in terms of having something enjoyable and for working on developmental needs.
Use small-sided games
The more ball contacts and plays your kids get, the faster they will develop. There has been a really good movement toward playing 4 vs. 4 rather than 6-on-6 for younger and beginner players. That alone should provide roughly 33% more contacts. This will help to keep the players engaged. When you then also have them play on a smaller court (half normal, badminton, etc.) you can get even more touches by creating longer rallies.
That’s just a few things to start with. If you use these five tips in your middle school volleyball program, though, you will go a long way. Your players will learn and enjoy themselves and their future coaches will thank you.