Reviewing a rough season in volleyball – Season 1

Motivations

Competitive volleyball season 1 – April to August 2017.

What a wonderful and challenging experience to play competitive volleyball again this season. I am a very passion driven person and most activities I engage in at my highest abilities involve myself being completely passion fuelled. As evidenced with my inactivity in posting throughout the season, it was a season that was not filled with passion. Instead, this season was incredibly educational and informative in how volleyball is conducted in Western Australia and what the players / people are like in the community.

It was like yesterday when I decided to play competitive volleyball again, and throughout this entire season, I have not regretted it. There were times when my faith and passion for the sport wavered for various reasons, but as it ends I find myself incredibly excited and hungry for the next season. When I began the season I was highly focused on my individual abilities and simply played the game based on that. The progress I achieved leading up to the season was immense, I felt and knew that my skill level exponentially increased from when I started playing social volleyball. During trials I consistently put forth my best effort to showcase the skills that I had developed and honed in the preseason. As my position was yet undefined, I was focused on demonstrating all of my skills in hopes of securing a minimum Super League Division 3 placement. This was also the period of time when I had yet fully injured my thumb, and as a result, I was flexible to become a setter because I did not have any difficulties in controlling the ball then. Everything was new, everyone was new and the entire experience fuelled me to continuously do better for myself in the sport I cherished. Even my mentality was still hopeful and optimistic for the performance and team camaraderie that I had envisioned for the season.

Unfortunately, this wave of progression only carried me up until the 5th game of the season as each of the teams began to exhibit signs of complacency and loss of motivation. As each player’s position was likely defined at this point, we then focused on team dynamics. We never left this phase of training. The ongoing excuse throughout the season was that we were a new team representing a new club, so it was expected of us to behave and perform poorly. I still do not accept this as a reason for our poor performance. As captain for the SL3 team and as the main setter I had 2 roles that were opposing each other throughout the middle and end of the season. As the captain I attempted and tried to maintain a sense of “team” within the team and set guiding principles and attitudes that each player should have for a game. Unfortunately, this did not last and my role as captain eventually became the player who handled complaints and raised it up to the coaches. In short, I did not function nor feel like a captain of a team, at least not in comparison to any other leadership role I had in the past. It was as if the team itself did not see the need for a captain, nor did I feel like I could be a competent one due to my role as a player. As a player, I was desperate to improve my individual skill, to be given more personal coaching away from the “helpful” criticism of the team. This only materialised twice. It was as if my coach solely relied on team dynamics and team practice to improve my individual skill as a setter, as if that would have worked out. As a result, I was not confident in my role as a captain because I was not confident in my role as a main setter for the team. I could not fake the confidence needed for the team because my genuine confidence in my own ability was non existent. This severe lack in confidence permeated to other parts of my volleyball life, as evidenced by the complete lack of content in the middle of the season. I had almost lost all of my motivation to improve as no matter what I did, it was never enough.

By the end of the season, my mind was already focused on the offseason and next season. I had effectively given up on the current team as it was incredibly negative and toxic to be a part of. It was not ever exhibited during trainings because there was no pressure to perform, but when it came to game time everyone was incredibly tense and negative. In retrospect I suppose it was due to each individuals inability to handle stress in that highly stressful situation. Each player also exhibited different manners of intensity for the game, some were extremely vocal while others were the silent seething types who would only explode through sheer aura and small comments. This cacophony of mentalities eventually lead to our extreme underperformance and regrettably non existent team atmosphere. Even as I write this now, I do not wish to play in the same team with the same players next season. I may handpick a few, but overall I wish never to competitively play with most of the players. It was an overwhelmingly negative atmosphere that no one knew how to address, even the coaches were confused. In their view, our performance was equal or better than most teams during trainings, but we were never able to translate that to game time. As previously stated, it was the hidden inability of handling pressure as well as adapting in a very negative and judgemental atmosphere. As the setter, this was an absolute nightmare. There were moments where I executed absolutely perfect sets, but these moments were few and far between as I was continuously pressured by the entire team. Even if the ball was a perfect set, if the hitter was unable to execute, it was my fault. Warming up to hit, if I was unable to deliver absolute perfect sets every time, it was my fault. If the feeder to my set gave me a bad feed, it was my fault. Ultimately, it felt as if I was blamed for every loss in the season. Mentally, this destroyed my enjoyment with this team. At least I still relished and enjoyed the game when I was not playing competitively. In retrospect, the only reason why I wanted to play competitively again was to improve upon my skill and to play at a higher level, this was not the case. I did overall improve my setting and I performed a few sets which I would have never been able to practice in a social environment, but ultimately it was not enough to justify this as a successful season based on performance. However, it was a successful season in all other aspects that did not involve my competitive performance. This will be described in further detail in another post.

Skills development – Setting

This section will begin with an examination in my primary role this season, as the main setter for SL3. I would like to consider my experience slightly positive but largely negative, but honestly it was entirely educational, neither positive nor negative. When I began as the main setter, my initial motivations for this position was to ensure that I received the most play time of any player on the court. Essentially I wanted a position that was invaluable to the team, one where I would not be easily substituted off in the middle of the game. I was also highly inspired by Kageyama, one of the two main protagonists in Haikyuu!!. He described the position as the main control tower, guiding and directing the flow of the entire game.

I found this to be true, however I was largely unable to execute as necessary due to consistently failed 1st passes. Additionally, at the beginning of the new season and throughout the season I had sprained my thumb. At first I thought this was a minor injury that would resolve itself quickly, but instead it lasted the entire season and still affects me today. I am unable to play volleyball without spraining my thumb. I am currently seeking medical treatment for my condition and hopefully I can recover before next season. If not, I will probably opt to play Libero instead as I would not be needed to set as much.

In terms of my actual skill and technique, this largely improved throughout the season. The main improvement in my technique was after one of two setter specific coaching sessions, ONE OF TWO, where my coach said that I should visualise grabbing the ball instead of catching. This initially seemed counter intuitive, but it resulted in adjusting my form so that my sets became more consistent. This was the greatest improvement in my skill the entire season, this one coaching direction that changed my technique entirely. Additionally, I was able to consistently set quick hits for my middle positioned players, as well as do other higher level sets with Kai. The greatest difficulty I had, and still have, is in my back setting. This is because of my injured thumb and how it is integrally involved in performing the movement. Instead of using the new technique I learned, I had to return to “catching” the ball and using my thumbs and fingers to push it up and backwards. As a result, my success rate for back sets was abysmal. In regards to my front setting, even in the end I still found that I was unable to fully push the ball out consistently. I was always slightly shorter than required. At times this was fine because the hitters had already adjusted to my inabilities, but other times they aggressively denied it and vocally tried to “help” me. Also, I began to develop a greater awareness of the entire court as a setter. My positioning when setting up for the ball was always dictated by the position of the other players. Largely, when I was unable to set a ball that was passed adequately, it was because I responded to a small shift in the position of the other players. It was never evident but, in retrospect, I did that to avoid collision and injury. This awareness also began, unfortunately only at the very end, to extend to the oppositions court as I started to focus on the match ups between my front row, as well their entire positioning when I went to set. With this developing awareness and the hope of my healing thumb, I am motivated to further develop my skills as a setter.

Overall, my experience as a setter was incredibly educational and if I am able to heal and rehabilitate my thumb condition I may want to do it again, but at this point in time I do not entertain the idea of returning as a setter.

Spiker

As a spiker this season, which only occurred if I was playing in a 6-2 or 5-1 formation, I was adequate. Neither stellar nor under performing, just adequate. This is largely due to my shift in focus at the beginning of the season when I was chosen as the main setter. In the preseason I had begun to improve upon my different shots, as well as my landing mechanics. I was still able to partially maintain these skills, but I did notice that I focused less on my landing mechanics as the season progressed.

In terms of my arm swing, literally at the very end of the season did I view a video that explained what I was doing poorly, and it was never fully using my whole body and extending my arm. In the preseason I had been taught the theory and shown what it meant, but it was not as exaggerated nor emphasised as in the video I viewed at the end. As a result, in this off season I want to develop this technique so that, even if I am unable to jump higher at this point in time, I will at least be able to always hit within the court.

For my landing mechanics, this was exponentially developing in the preseason as I initially endeavoured to be an outside / wing spiker. In this upcoming offseason I will definitely focus more on this as it was integral even as a setter in my block landings.

Passer

This was my least developed skill throughout the season, even though we primarily focused on this in training, literally every training session involved a drill for passing, I was only focused on the setting portion. As a passer, my abilities somewhat developed in the season, more in the preseason, as I began to develop better positioning of my arms in the movement of receiving. I now know to keep my arms close to my body until I am able to set myself and balance before receiving the ball, this is instead of throwing my arms out before I am set in place. I have also learned to minimise my head movement by tracking the ball with my body, forcing me to get into position instead of simply looking at the ball travel to the position.

The greatest skill I developed as a passer in this season was diving and diving safely. In high school I had never dived safely, I always relied on the cushioning of the knee pads. Now, I have educated and practiced the necessary mechanics to execute a safe dive in multiple variations. This is also one of the reasons why I do not mind becoming a libero as I have gotten comfortable with the ground than I have been ever before.

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