As summer sports camp season comes to a close, it's time to sit back and reflect on the camps we've run. How did the players benefit from the camp? Did they learn all the necessary skills for your sport? Did they have fun? Were they challenged? And most importantly, will they be returning next year?
All these questions and more are essential during this reflection period because, for sports camps to grow in numbers and in popularity, players and coaches alike need a balance of work, rest, and activities.
When planning each sports camp, breaking down each day, each session, and each hour, as a coach, our primary focus is, of course, the skill set. Learning and implementing our sport and creating competitive players is our ultimate goal. We like to start with the basics of a passing platform, arm swing, and footwork in volleyball. We'll then move into the difference between defense, offense, and serve to receive before eventually shifting into the 6-on-6 competition environment.
The trickiest thing about a summer volleyball camp is condensing a season-worth of skill sets into one short week. For this reason, we keep a camper-to-coach ratio of 8-1 and break up each day into three sessions with laser-focused skill work. This format ensures each camper has ample time to master the skill and form within that set before moving onto the next.
No matter their age or skill level, after a day full of multiple practice sessions that have coaches hammering them on their form, arm swing, footwork, and competitive play, even the best player in the camp will burn out before they hit the halfway point. So how then do we keep them engaged, keep them moving between drills while having fun? We play volley games! Over the years and after dozens of fall seasons and camps, I've come up with a few key volley games that I like to use to keep my players moving, engaged, and communicating with their teammates while keeping their heart rate up and their reflexes on point. But the secret is, they have no idea about any of that because all they know is how much fun they're having!
Below are a few of the most popular volley games that are sure to please even the toughest players.
1. Serving Amoeba - This game is a fun way of teaching spot serving and a team cheering and quick movement.
Start by splitting your group in half to create two teams. Put each team at opposite end lines with a ball cart. Choose one team member to sit (cross-legged) on the court on which their team will be serving. I like to start by sitting them in the one spot on the court. This is often where the setter lives and can help put a team out of the system when chosen as a serving spot them. Once their teammate is sitting cross-legged, and everyone on each team has a ball in hand, the whistle is blown to commence serving. *Note, all players on each end line are allowed to serve at once.
The object is to serve at your teammate over the net and for her/him to catch the ball without getting up or moving. If a player serves and their teammate catches the ball, the server then sprints under the net, sits next to, and links arms with that player. As more players hit the girls/guys sitting, the "amoeba" grows on the court, making it easier to hit someone sitting down.
The team is the first to have all their players sitting and linked wins. At this point, the losing team will run for punishment while the other team shags the balls. Punishments vary for each age level from 10 sit-ups to 6 full-court sprints.
I'll usually play 2-3 rounds of this game, changing the spot the first sitter begins on the court with each game. I would advise always to include the one spot and a short spot like 2, 3, or 4.
Another variation depending on age is to allow the younger players to serve from on the court. The idea is to create a competitive yet fair game that includes all ages and levels.
2. Volleyball Relay - This game is a sprinting game that incorporates teamwork.
Begin by splitting your group into teams of 8 or 10. You can adjust this to play with as little as 6 or 7 players on each team, but it's more fun with 8 or 10.
For this example, we'll assume we have two teams of 10. Put both teams at one end line in single file lines. Teams must be even, so if you have an uneven number, the team with less will need one player to go twice.
Place ten balls at the opposite end line from each team. Once the players are lined up, and the first runner is chosen, the whistle is blown. The first player from each team must sprint down to the other end of the court, pick up one ball and run it back to the next player waiting in line. That second player takes that one ball, sprints down and picks up a second ball, then turns around and runs back to the third player in line. Handing off both balls, the third player must sprint and pick up the third ball and so on.
The object is to somehow get all ten balls back across the original end line without dropping any.
*Note, players are allowed to help stuff balls under jerseys, shorts, etc., from the team end line. But the player whose turn it is cannot be helped down at the end line where the balls are.
Players must remain behind the end line, do not let them cheat by inching up to get closer to the player running back with balls.
All ball transfers must take place behind the end line. If a player drops the ball in transit, they cannot kick the ball towards their team. The ball must be picked up and carried across the line.
A helpful tip is to have the players sit down behind the end line after their turn. This way, the coach/ref can see how many players there are left to run. The first team to get all 10 of their balls back across the team end line wins!
3. Shipwreck - A personal favorite, this game will sharpen their listening skills, reflexes, and teamwork
This game works best with larger groups, so obviously, it's a great game for summer camp and best when combining multiple teams.
Start by spreading the entire group out on a single boundary line so everyone can see the coaches, and you can see them.
Start by teaching them the commands. This game is played by the coach calling out specific commands (similar to Simon Says), and the players need to complete an action to each command. Like Simon Says, there are tricks and ways that players will be eliminated.
We use the volleyball court's boundaries for this game, which the players cannot go out of. We call this the "ship". For extra-large groups, it's best to use a bigger "ship" as a basketball court.
A: Captain's coming - All players must stop in their tracks and solute and yell, "Aye-Aye Captain!" They must remain in this form until the coach yells, "At ease". *Trick players by giving a command before giving the "at ease" command. This will always cause some players to break their solute, thus getting eliminated.
B: Port or Starboard - Define a left and right side of a court and tell the port and which is starboard. When you call this command out, the players must run to that line. Whoever is last to the line is eliminated. *Trick them by pointing in the opposite direction of the command. Some players will pay attention only to hand signals rather than words.
C: 3-men in a boat - 3 players must sit front-to-back in a row in a single file line and pretend to be rowing a boat.
D: 4-men in a boat - same as above but with four players. Any players seen scrambling without being in a boat are eliminated, as are any boats with more or less than the number called.
E: Starfish - 5 players must sit on the ground with all their feet touching in a circle. The shape this creates with the space inside the legs is a star.
F: Lighthouse - 2 players join and create a roof with their hands, while a third player goes underneath and turns around and around like the bulb inside a lighthouse.
G: Man overboard - 1 player must get on the back of another player as they pretend to scan the seas for the missing crew.
H: Beached whale - each player must get down on the ground, on their belly, all legs and feet up off the ground as they make weird squealing sounds.
I: Jellyfish - 3 players sit on the ground with their backs together; legs and arms out in front of them wiggling like a jellyfish.
J: Swab the deck - All players must pretend their sweeping or mopping the deck.
K: Bomb's Away - Players crouch down on the ground in a ball, protecting their heads. Coaches then toss balls in the air, or bounce a ball against the floor in the direction of a group of players. If a ball touches a player, they're out.
Coaches must be quick to catch late players rushing to find a group or partner or players who are late to get into a motion, form, or direction. Any outliers must be quickly eliminated.
Because elimination happens so quickly, I usually have a coach or two workings for the eliminated group off to the side doing core exercises. Coaches will stop players in exercises like planks, sit-ups, leg lifts, Russian twists, and scissor kicks outside of the central game court. Players who are eliminated must join the core exercise group. Just be sure to tell the group ahead of time where to go once eliminated from the game.
These three and many other games like them are a fantastic way to break up a monotonous drill or a session heavy in repetition. These games tend to revive my players while bringing fun, laughter, and smiles to the court.