Drills to Ele­vate Your Vol­ley­ball Team’s Ball Control

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.

Drills to Ele­vate Your Vol­ley­ball Team’s Ball Control

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.