Harnessing Momentum in Volleyball

Keep the Momentum On Your Side of the Net

Volleyball players
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When it comes down to it, volleyball is a game of momentum. The dictionary describes momentum as a force of movement. When momentum is present on your side of the net, you can feel it. Your team is in the flow. Energy is high, passing is effortless, transition is fluid and points come easily. Things just seem to be going your way and small bumps in the road here or there do not knock your team off course.

The problem with momentum is that it is fickle and has no loyalty. It switches sides countless times throughout the course of a match without looking back. Just when you think you've got it for good, it slips through your fingers.

Getting momentum, and keeping it is not always controllable. Sometimes outside forces, circumstance and luck play a role in its presence. But there are a few things you can do when you feel the momentum slipping away that will help it to find your side and stay there.

5 Biggest Momentum Killers

  1. Unforced Errors: Unforced errors come in the form of missed serves, attacks in the net, shanked passes or thrown sets. Unforced errors send the momentum to the opposition in a hurry because they allow them to score points they don't have to work for.
  2. Miscommunication: The signs are easy to spot. The middle blocker runs a slide, but the setter sets a back one. A serve hits the floor untouched because the two players on either side of it said nothing. Miscommunication can kill momentum in a snap because it brings down the energy level, erodes a player's confidence in themselves and in their teammates and can lead to bickering and finger-pointing. When good communication leaves you, so too does momentum.
  3. The Wrong Sub: Your team is humming along well, the flow is rolling and the chemistry on the court is working. Then the whistle blows and in comes a player off the bench who's not ready. Maybe their mind is elsewhere or they are not fired up. Maybe they are having an off night and become an easy target or their very presence somehow negatively effects the energy on the court. Momentum is fleeting and these things are more than enough to send it straight to the other side.
  4. Bad Calls: The referee is blind. He's calling phantom touches and overruling the linesman who just called that ball in. But somehow the other team is managing to get away with murder. Unfair? Yes. Controllable? Not so much. Momentum killer? Definitely. There is nothing like a lost sense of control to bring defeatism into the minds of your players. It seems that the world is out to get them and they can't win no matter what they do. The truth is, a few bad calls don't usually win or lose a game for a team, but the loss of momentum that follows bad calls can hurt your team in a major way.
  5. Bad Tempers: One of the aforementioned bad calls sends one of your players or the coach, over the edge. There is yelling, stomping, hand-waving and inappropriate conduct. The ref pulls a yellow card, or a red card. The other team may have been awarded a point or someone gets ejected. Now your team is unnerved, exasperated and discombobulated when the whistle blows to start the next play. The opponent knows they've got the upper hand and the momentum.

5 Biggest Momentum Builders

  1. Time Outs: When things are not going well and momentum is solidly on the other side of the net, the time out is your friend. Find any excuse you can to slow the game down and get the other team out of the flow. When your team wins the serve, have your players take their time getting back to the line and use the full allotted time before serving the ball. Just make sure that you are not breaking the rules or wearing on the referee's patience while doing so. Using your subs here can also buy some time.
  2. The Right Sub: You normally count on your starters to get you out of a bad rotation or to stop a momentum shift, but at the moment it is not working. Check out your bench and choose a player with some fire and some energy who might be able to shake things up on the court. Maybe they're not your best player, but if they can change the flow on the court, they are worth their weight in gold.
  3. Good Communication:  When the game is slipping away, the players tend to get quiet. Do not let this happen. The only way to get momentum back is to communicate early, often and loudly. Make sure that everyone knows who is taking the ball and where the hitters are going. Make sure your hitters are calling out to the setter that they want the ball. Sometimes you can bring momentum back by sheer force of will.
  4. Re-Focus: Your opponent has you on the ropes. You're out of system and scrambling the majority of the time. Take some time to get your players to re-focus on the basics. Start with a good pass and go from there.
  5. Analysis and Strategy: You may have come in with a good game plan, but the match is still getting away from you. Take a good look at how the other team is beating you. Are your players working the game plan or did it go out the window along with the momentum? If they are not implementing your strategy, get them back on track. If they are sticking to the plan but it isn't working, adjust to what is actually happening out on the court as soon as you recognize it. A change in strategy will keep the other team guessing and just may help you find that missing momentum.