To finish up our series of how training certain volleyball skills has evolved over the years, we will review passing. Along with serving, passing is up there in one of the most important aspects of the game. If you can’t pass well, then you won’t be in system offensively, making it very difficult to side out efficiently and score points.
As Coach John Cook would say, since we always quote him here in the Lo-Down, “a key for the Huskers going into every match is to win the serve and pass battle.” That means Nebraska needs to be better than their opponent from not only behind the end line, but also side to side while passing those serves coming over the net from behind the end line.
I want to focus on one single change, instead of multiple adjustments, to how the Nebraska coaching staff has trained passers over the years and how they currently train them. In the past, the Huskers focused on getting your midline behind the ball. So, whether the ball was served to the right side, left side, behind or in front, they had players focus on moving their feet and body to get all the way behind the ball so the ball was in the middle of their body when they made contact. With that, they worked on cushioning the ball, so bringing arms in when contact is made, hoping to have more control over the ball and not send it over the net.
These days, the coaches primarily teach the opposite, which is keeping a player’s body where it is at and having them move their arms depending on where the ball goes. For example, if the serve goes to the left or to the right, then they simply stick out their platform and angle it in the direction they want the ball to go, which is usually towards the middle of the court about three feet off the net. Then, instead of cushioning the ball, the passer will actually break their arms meaning they will bend at the elbows after they have contacted the ball. If you watch some of the best passers in the world (US National team players), you will see they do this technique perfectly.
Even with this major change, the coaching staff still has some consistency while continuing to preach to the passers to have a wide base and start with their arms out early so they aren’t having to worry about bringing them out as the serve is coming at them. They also talk a lot about deciding early how they will handle the pass and commit to doing that no matter what. A lot of the time, when there is a ball that is shanked, it is usually because the passer is hesitating on how they are going to contact the ball or if the person next to them is going to step in and pass so they don’t have to. Once again, the importance of communication is relevant no matter what skill you are utilizing.
Now, whether you are serving, setting or passing, the way the game is taught has evolved over the years and will only continue to change. It is the coaches who are willing to adapt with these changes and expand their knowledge by learning these new techniques who continue to remain successful. I strongly believe one of the reasons why Coach Cook is one of the best coaches in the country is because of his never-ending desire to learn more about the game.
He has told me before that once he figured out he doesn’t know it all when it comes to volleyball and when he started striving to learn something new about the game every single day, that is when he became effective as a coach.
I say if that’s the case, let’s hope he never loses that desire to learn!
Want more of the Lo-Down? Check out Lauren’s quick breakdown of the NCAA Tournament for Nebraska below.