Like most PE teachers I cover Volleyball as part of my Middle school curriculum. Volleyball is very hard for students to learn as they really do have to go to meet the ball rather than let the ball bounce, be passed or kicked to them, they have to learn to move like no other sport I know and the concept of the way this team works together also creates confusion.
I used to teach volleyball with some modified games where students could have a bounce, but it became clear that this caused many problems once we tried to play. Students were clearly moving away from the ball for a bounce, not running to the ball before it bounced. So after doing some reviewing of my students, doing some reading and watching some of our High school senior teams play and talking to their Coach, I made some drastic modifications to my Volleyball program.
After two years of changing my PE program and having volleyball run upto our MS inter-school competition, I have watched my students become more confident technical players with more knowledge (I like to think this is something to do with me, but I am not sure…) and I have seen more success and our school team has won both boys and girls champions this year. (again, not due to me as I didn’t coach, but I did give them a skills boost before the season began…:))
So what did we do differently? Firstly I wrote up some levels for the students to work on. I found some great Youtube videos (Jonathan Neely from Salt Lake City is particularly good) that showed the techniques required for the basic skills of bumping and setting and underhand and overhand service and broke these skills down into 4-6 parts, from the most basic skill through to the full skill and subsequent drills for practice. I asked the students to watch the videos for homework and then arrive to our lesson ready to go.
I began with footwork and body position levels which we did in pairs over 2 lessons. Then, I created 4 groups and they rotated through the next series of levels together in their group working as peer coaches and athletes. As they mastered a skill they went to the next level, they moved individually through the levels so in one group of 5 students, two students may be at level 2 while one other would be at level 3 and the next two at level 4 or 5, each being able to coach and work to master at their own pace. They had a set amount of time to work on a particular skill and levels and then they rotated to the next skill. This kept things moving, stopped hands or arms getting too sore and meant that they got to practice different skills. The Youtube videos were always accessible and I sat and watched and discussed levels with the groups as they progressed and answered technical questions or worked with stronger or weaker students as we progressed along.
As students found success in these 4 levels we added Spiking and Blocking to the list – again in stages with guidance and peer coaching. We could also have added Coach’s Eye or other video assessment but we didn’t have the ability to do this in this class environment.
At the end of some lessons we moved to a modified catching game – no bounce! Students had the option to catch at hip height or above their head to simulate bumping / setting and the students who had progressed beyond this went into proper volleyball movements. We had no limit on passes on your side, but minimum was 2 to begin with to make students pass on their side. We moved students on level 1-2 serves closer in to serve and gave them more chances and those who had mastered level 4-6 of serves had to serve from the baseline or if they had mastered underhand service skills they had to then use overhand serves again close for level 1-2 students and further back for level 4-6 students. This worked very well, we also had differentiated courts for students who were all about catching and close-in serving and a full game on the other court for those with higher skills. We didn’t always play this way, but this helped for some lessons.
Another modified game was 3 v 3 again with catching but the students had to really work on 3 passes – a bump/set/spike as we got into these levels. We worked on a Badminton net/court so that the net was lower down and the concept focused on movement and preparation not on height of the net or in/out of court. The students got points for moving to the ball and we had completed level work that had worked on bumping/setting and then partner work on both which required movement as a pair and accuracy within this movement. So again this game was a modification of the next level and concept around movement/preparing.
The Knowledge component was introduced very early in the unit. Students were required to choose 3 movies (out of 5). These clips are of the 2008 Girls’ Volleyball Junior Olympics, Set 2, National Championship Match. I had chosen parts of this game that were relevant to our learning about movement and the skill work we had learnt/practiced and I used a Movie making program to take parts of the game, slow them to 50% and then asked the students to create a screencast of 1 offsense, 1 defense and 1 body position clip and to talk over the top of the clips to tell me what was happening. I gave them vocab sheets to aid them, we played games and discussed components in lesson time but they had not seen this game before. As a teacher I could see if they understood the work or not, if they could put their lesson work into understanding this game. And it was great to have them commentate the game, to stop and annotate the video to show their understanding and knowledge (or not) of volleyball.
You can find the videos I made here.
So, think about how you teach volleyball (or other pretty core sports). Are the modifications in-line with the movements that the students need to learn? Are the skills you are teaching being supported by team work or coaching that you see in team sports? Is there room for differentiation and growth or repetition for students who struggle? is the game set up for success at every level for your students? Are they enjoying the game? And do they understand the concepts of the game as they move from skills and coaching to the game itself? I would love to have your feedback.