Drills From the Lewis University Men’s Volleyball Hanger

Steve Woltmann
The Vortex is a competitive warm-up drill in which players play small games to earn big points.

I’m excited to share some of our favorite drills that we use in the gym on a regular basis. I’ve chosen three different drills that cover three distinct areas: a competitive warm-up drill, a blocking drill, and a side out drill. I think like all coaches, I borrow drills and morph them as needed to best suit my team, so if you are reading this and discover a drill I borrowed from you, thank you. Hopefully these drills can improve your team like they have mine.

– Dan Friend, head men’s volleyball coach at Lewis University


This is one of our guys’ favorite drills. The Vortex was at Lewis when I got here and has stood the test of time.

This is a competitive warm-up drill where players square off in small teams. The small teams will play short games to earn big points and wave through. All skills are used within the drill. Personally, I like to keep as many drills as possible competitive.

Set Up
The drill works best when you have a group divisible by three, not counting your setters or liberos, to make small teams. The three positions that make up a small team are one outside, one middle, and one opposite. We first line the players up in those positions and make teams of three.

Then we make teams with the setters and liberos. If you are even with the number of setters and liberos, you can pair them up so that each pair makes a team. If you have an odd number, they can play individually against one another, but in order to do this drill, you need at least two setters and two liberos. In this explanation we will run this drill as if we have four teams of three and two groups of setter/libero combos.

Two teams of three will take the court, one group on each side. The outside is in middle back, the opposite is in right back, and middle is left/middle front. The setter/libero teams pick a side as well, libero in left back and setter in middle to right front. This is now set up for a competition of 5 vs. 5. Each of the other two teams of three will pick a side to serve from; they will be the ones who initiate ball entry.

The drill can be played to three or four big points for a team. In order to score a big point, the team must win the small game on the court against another team. The two teams on the court play a game to three. The team that wins the game to three earns a big point. The setters and liberos are either competing as a team or individually by scoring a point if their side wins the big point, tallying until one of the other teams have reached three or four big points. The setter/libero combo or individual that collects the most points is the winner of the setters and liberos.

The ball is served from the end line. If the serve is missed, that team gets what we call a tennis serve (second chance). If the second serve is missed, then the other team scores a point. Once the ball is served, the receiving team looks to pass, set, and attack to score, rallying with the other team until one of them has won. The outside and opposite must attack from the back row. The middle and setter can attack and block from the front row but cannot tip in front of the 10-foot line. Once a ball has been played out, the other team serves. Play ensues again until the rally is won. This continues with alternating sides serving until one of the teams has scored three small points, thus earning a big point. For the setter and liberos, whichever side won the small game is who scored a big point. Once you have a winner, you will wave through to rotate. The side that served first steps on the court, the team that played goes under the net to the other side to play. The team that just played goes to serving, the other serving team jogs to the other side to serve again. That team will serve first (always have the same side serve first). You continue this type of wave through until one team has scored three or four big points. The setter-libero combos can stay in the same spot or sub in and out if there are more than two players of one of the positions.

If you have three teams, the third team splits up so they can serve both sides.

Neville’s Block

This comes from a series of drills we developed at Lewis based on Neville’s Pepper, which, of course, was created by Bill Neville. Bill is one of the great volleyball minds in the country, so thank you, Bill.

You will work in small groups of four: three blockers and one defender. This is a timed drill, so you will work at a fast pace. The goal of the blockers and defender is to work on communication, blocking moves, blocking calls, reading, and hustling as a group against an in-system attack. There is a scramble element to this game because you have 4 vs. 6 during a rally and maybe no setter.

Set Up
Make groups of four: an outside, middle, opposite, and libero (or a player that you want working on defense). You can make as many groups as you want to work on blocking. We usually have four or five. The first group that goes will line up as three front row blockers. The libero (or defender) can line up in left back or middle back.

The other side has a line for outsides coming from a left back passing position, a middle line coming from in front of the setter, an opposite line ready to attack from the net on the right side, an outside line in middle back passing and hitting the bic, a libero line passing right back, and a setter can come from a stationary position in the setter’s box toward the net. The coach who is initiating the drill will be off to the sideline where the blockers are defending, ready to spin balls in.

This is a timed drill, and we usually go for two minutes. The defensive group is working to score as many points as possible before the time is up. The offensive side is working to get kills as fast and as efficiently as possible without a rally, not allowing the defense to score points. The defensive side scores as follows: a stuff block is worth three points, a dig-set-spike for a kill is three points, a dig-set-spike but the rally continues is two points, and a good touch by either the blocker or the defender is one point. If the offensive side makes a hitting error in the net or out of bounds, makes a passing error, or just mishandles the ball and it lands, it is a point for the defenders. Points can be scored continuously if the rally extends for the defending team.

The ball is entered by the coach on the sideline downballing it in to the side that is going to attack. The setter then sets to any of the front or back row attackers. The drill works at a fast pace to stay continuous and in control. The coach repeats the downball after each rally ends until the time has expired. After each rally, the player on the attacking side who hit the first ball rotates out, shagging the ball if needed. Liberos and setters switch out per coach’s preference.

The blocking/defending group is working to read, communicate, and make blocking moves to get great touches. If we can get great touches, we can create opportunities to score real points in a match. A stuff block is a bonus! Once the first group finishes their two minutes, the next group is up. This continues until all your groups have gone. The defending team with the best score overall wins the drill. Remember, you can pause the drill at any time and stop the clock if you want to point something out or just give great feedback, but we try to let the players go through the entire drill and give them feedback afterward.

You can isolate specific things in this drill that you want to work on. For example, just blocking the bic and front pin. Maybe working on a certain blocking call, line or angle, or maybe release moves or trap blocks. The coach can also toss or bounce to the setter and take the passer out of the initiation of play.


This is one of my favorites. It is a difficult drill to win because one side is working to get several earned side outs or first-ball side outs in a row.

This drill is mainly focused on the offensive side. You can make it an earned side out drill or a first-ball side out drill, which will depend on the level of your team. Our goal is to get where we can do it as an FBSO (first-ball side out) drill. However, when I explain it below, it will be referenced as an ESO (earned side out) drill. If your team can side out as a team 65 to 70 percent of the time, you put yourself in position to win each set.

Set Up
This is a 6 vs. 6 drill. Pick the players that you want to work on offense together, and they will make up a team on one side of the net. Then you make up a team for defense on the other side (trying to challenge your offense). The offensive side will rotate after they score a point. The defensive side can stay the same or you can rotate them. We usually stay the same for a while, changing servers and then substituting different players as the game progresses.

When playing this as an earned side out game, the offense will score each time they side out. If the defensive side stops them, defense score a point. If the offense scores seven points in a row, they win the drill. If the defense scores three points in a row, they win the drill. However, if the offense is at five points and defense scores, the offensive side goes back to zero. Same for defensive side; if they have two points and offense scores, they go back to zero. If we play this as a first-ball side out game, the offense can only score if they side out on the first swing. If the rally continues and the offense still wins, they keep their current points but do not earn one and do not rotate. The way we play is if we cover and get a kill, or if we swing and it comes right back over and then get a kill, it is still an FBSO.

The offense will receive serve from the defensive side to initiate each rally. You can have them start in any rotation you would like to work on first. We like to have some of our toughest servers behind the service line to challenge our offense. If the serve is missed, rather than just giving the offensive side a free point, we have a coach put in a downball so that the offensive side still has to earn it. Each time the offensive side wins, they rotate. If they lose the point, they do not rotate. The game is played like this until you have a winner, or you can put a time limit on it. Make substitutions as needed to change things up.

Offense can stay in one rotation for the duration. You can play five before three and work your way up. The game can be initiated by a coach’s downball. You can also have missed serves equal a point.

Originally published in January 2014

Add a Comment

You need to log in to comment on this article. No account? No problem!



Explore Volleyball