Triple Ball…Three times the Fun!

Bruce Dunning is a teacher at Rideau High School. Bruce is one of most respected and knowledgeable club coaches in the province. He is fully certified Level 2 and 3 Technical. Bruce was part of the Maverick 18U HP Boys coaching staff and his now coaching 14U girls. Prior to this he was Head Coach for Algonquin College and for several Regional Teams and Assistant Coach for the Provincial Team. Bruce’s coaching philosophy is: Hard Work, Discipline and Respect!

By Bruce Dunning

When my daughter approached me two years ago about the possibility of starting club volleyball the next fall and asked if I would stop working with the 18U boys teams and switch to 13U girls, I was both happy and apprehensive.  Happy that she was interested enough in the sport I love to want to play club ball, but nervous at the thought of moving out of my comfort zone and working with a different age group and gender.   

To complicate matters further for me, the OVA had decided to implement a new competition format for this age group—Triple Ball.   In this format the following modifications are applied.

The game follows a sequence of three rallies (service, free ball 1 and free ball 2).

  • 1st rally – introduced by the server
  • 2nd rally – free ball given to the receiving team
  • 3rd rally – free ball given to the serving team.
  1. Every ball introduced is worth one point.
  2. The service rotates between teams after each three ball sequence.
  3. There is no specialization and each team must state prior to the game if position 2 or 3 will be the designated setter. 
  4. The lineup for the match includes the entire team and each time they rotate the person in position 1 goes to the bench and a new player enters in position 6.   At the start of each of the subsequent games, the rotational order must be maintained with the same girls who finished the last game on the floor to begin. 

When I first looked at the information the OVA provided regarding Triple Ball I was happy to see that they were trying to lessen the importance of Serve/Serve Receive and increase the number of rallies that made it to 3rd contact.  How it would play out at the 13U girls level was still to be seen, but the general philosophy of the game fit well with how I wanted to teach Volleyball to our group. I went into the season with a few simple priorities.  

First and foremost, I wanted the girls to love Volleyball.  Practices should be fun and challenging. 

Second, they needed to see the game as movement based and athletic.  Skills were to be performed in the context of the flow of the game.  

Third, I was determined to teach them to be aggressive and to strive to make plays to win rallies.   We would not simply wait for our opponents errors, but instead would reward and encourage the attempt to terminate rallies via attack.   

Jason Trepanier, the technical director of the OVA, does an excellent job in looking how Triple Ball changes the 14U boys game in his article “Triple Ball in Action”.    I found the fact that introducing free balls in Triple Ball to this group produced similar number of 2nd and 3rd contact as international Men’s from service during World League to be very revealing.   The results were less pronounced in the 13U girls division, with too many teams adopting a “just get the ball over the net” tactic and no attempt to teach the attack phase.   Still, the top teams were able to generate significant numbers of (and progressively more dynamic) attacks, as the season wore on.   In turn, this placed an increasing importance on block/defence and created a far higher level of play than could have been achieved with traditional volleyball.

From a coaching point of view Triple Ball presents some new challenges.  

  1. There is no traditional substitutions period.   If a player is having a meltdown, you can use a time out (if you still have one) to try and address the situation, but you cannot just give them an individual refocusing period on the bench.  For 11 and 12 year old girls, the meltdowns come fairly often and many times with little or no warning.   They also tend to have poorly developed coping mechanisms for this stressful situation.  I chose to try and save a time out, just in case, but it was strange coaching with one of the standard tools removed from my toolbox. 
  2. After years of working with 6 on the floor and specialization, we tend to think in opposite pairs.  With the “Rotating Substitution” system, you end up with unusual front row and back row combinations.  One of our coaches developed a spread sheet to display all rotations based on the initial lineup, but I never felt like I found a great system for spreading out similar players equally in our 10 player lineup.
  3. With the lack of specialization, training and warm up have to be modified to ensure each athlete gets time at all spots.   It takes some creativity to get 10-12 girls ready to set in a 4 minute warm-up.

In my opinion, Triple Ball was a resounding success.  It was easier to teach the transitional movement skills of the game in a format that promotes longer rallies.  It was also far easier to convince the team to play aggressively and swing on attack opportunities when they knew that they’d be getting numerous chances to attack.  The level of play was much higher and our team had to face a far greater variety of playing situations than if only 20% of the balls had gotten to attack phase, as is typical for traditional volleyball at this level.  

At our first 14U tournament this year, the parents from last year’s team commented how boring it was to see so many rallies end at the first contact.  They had gotten used to seeing plays terminated by attack or block and didn’t like watching the same girl serve multiple points in a row while everyone else is standing around.  To my way of thinking, their comments speak volumes about the more exciting atmosphere Triple Ball helps create and gives us ample reason to use this tool to hook young athletes on the game of Volleyball. 

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3 Responses to Triple Ball…Three times the Fun!

  1. Sally Harker says:

    To be totally honest I had never heard of triple ball. It seems like an interesting version of Volleyball. Which do you prefer?

    • Bruce Dunning says:

      I prefer to teach Volleyball (especially for young athletes) using triple ball. I view triple ball as a tool to help athletes learn the skills needed to excell at traditional volleyball, not as a replacement. It accelerates the learning curve for many of the skills and takes the emphasis off of serve/serve recieve. Of course, when the players do transition to traditional volley they will need to master the 1st contact phase or they won’t get to use their other skills.

      In the high school setting, I have begun to use triple ball with my Phys. Ed. classes and they really enjoy learning the game in this form. Instead of standing around watching the ball hit the ground or one dominant server run multiple points, longer rallies with more attacks/blocks/digs show them that Volleyball is a fun, dynamic and athletically demanding sport.

      Coaches use a modified version of triple ball to train teams at virtually all levels of elite volleyball. This version, called wash, features a serve followed by each team getting a freeball/downball. Coaches manipulate the difficulty of the freeball/downball to simulate the type of balls the athletes will face during competition. So the basic idea of “triple ball” is useful at all levels in training, but is most suited for a competitive enviroment only during the early learning stages of skill acquisition.

      Hope this helps. If you’d like further information or clarification, please don’t hesitate to ask.

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