In the first of two blogs, Millard North High School (Neb.) head coach Lindsay Peterson dives into why she runs a ball control drill in every practice, and how to add them to your team’s training.

Ball control. It’s the single most important skill in volleyball. The truth is, without it, your team’s chances of success take a serious hit.

Your players need ball control in all aspects of their game, whether they’re going to attack, set, defend, or pass out of serve receive.

Like most high schools, the amount of ball control my team has changes every year. There have been years where my players were on point and we just had to do the occasional maintenance work during practice. Then there are other years—ones where it feels like all we do is work on ball control.

It’s not just being able to pass the ball to a target. This skill is so much more than that. Your players need ball control in all aspects of their game, whether they’re going to attack, set, defend, or pass out of serve receive. It doesn’t matter how great your team is, including ball control in your daily practice routine is a must.  

Drills, drills, drills

Not sure where to start? I have a few ideas. We always begin practice with a ball control drill for 15–20 minutes. One of my favorites is an attacking carousel. (Check out my second blog for a digging carousel.) Here’s how it works.

  1. Divide your team in half.
  2. Assign side A (attacking side). Each player has a ball and should be single file on the 10-foot line, getting ready to toss to themselves and then attack to the other side.
  3. Direct the other half to be side B (defending side). In this group, players start in left front, getting ready to transition and dig the attack from side A.
  4. After you attack, you run to side B to defend; once you defend, you become the target; and once you target, you run to side A to toss and attack.
  5. Once the whole group gets 12 digs to target, side B moves to left back to get ready to defend. Again go for 12 digs to target, then move to middle back, then to right back.

The first few times I’m very involved, but as they start to understand my expectations for the drill, I back off and let them run it. It’s important for players to build accountability among each other, and this drill helps instill that lesson. It also gets in a ton of reps and warms up your players.

Change it up

If they finish the initial drill with energy to spare, try some of these additional modifications.

  • Switch it so the hitters come out of right front instead of left front. Repeat the process. Diggers start digging out of right front, then right back, then middle back, and finally left back.
  • Add to the amount of digs they need to get to reach their goal out of each defensive position.
  • If this drill is too advanced for your players, have them tip instead of attack.
  • A coach can also toss the ball instead of having them toss it to themselves.

What to watch

During this drill, you’ll want to watch three key areas: footwork, eye work and communication. 

Keep an eye on their feet. Are they transitioning quickly? Are they moving their feet to the ball? Is their platform angled correctly? Is it presented quickly?

When I say eye work, I mean are they tracking the ball with their eyes off the hitter’s hand? Are they reading where the ball is going based on how the hitter is attacking, and where she’s attacking from? 

Finally, are they communicating with one another? Are they counting as a group when a ball is a good pass? Are they giving good feedback and positively reinforcing each other? Inevitably they’ll make a mistake—that’s a great time to measure how they react to that mistake and what they do to remedy it.

This drill, along with others, have helped all of my players develop better ball control. Volleyball is a game of errors. Even if you focus on minimizing only ball control errors, your success rate will improve.

Lindsay Peterson has been a varsity head coach for eight years. She played for the University of North Alabama, helping them win the DII National Championship in 2003. Peterson has led her Millard North High School team to the state championship tournament seven times, winning in 2016 and 2018. She was named one of the top 40 coaches in the country by the AVCA, and Coach of the Year by the Omaha World-Herald.