I have never done a poll asking coaches whether ‘clutch time’ is important. I am going to assume that a majority of them do. If you do not agree, then there is no point for you to read on from here. Sorry to have wasted your time… For those still here, I have however done a poll asking for a definition of clutch time. And the people have spoken. 32% of those people defined clutch time as being a score of 20 or over with a score differential of two or less. That seems about right to me. Although the phrase ‘clutch time’ doesn’t, so from here on in, I will refer to it as ‘crunch time’.
The question then is how to prepare for crunch time. One reasonably common drill is to play sets starting at 20-20. I have done this in the past. My personal experience is that this kind of drill doesn’t work at all. When I did it, I was hoping to replicate the stress and pressure of these crunch time situations. What actually happened seemed to very closely resemble a three minute set to five points. No pressure, no stress, and certainly none of the emotional consequences in the sense that I had planned. So I did a review** of what it might have been that I was actually training.
In a normal set, when the score reaches 20-20 the players and teams have a certain physical and psychological fatigue as well as the normal stress that comes with a close set. To win a set from 20-20, a team must overcome this fatigue and stress and maximise its technical and tactical performance in those decisive moments.
In practice, if you begin a set at 20-20, there may be some fatigue depending on the point of the training, but it is the same for both teams. Much more important however, is that there is no psychological fatigue or stress. So what I thought I was observing, a set to five points, is indeed what I was observing.
So if I want to practice crunch time, how do I do it? Perhaps one possibility is to do some intense physical activity (sprints perhaps) to create fatigue, and then immediately play that set from 20-20. Or have only one team perform the physical activity. Or only half of each team. I have never done that, but have often wondered about it. But even then, would it really be replicating a real life clutch situation? I suspect not. In my practices, I have on occasions used ‘confirmation’ points, where a team that wins a mini point in a wash drill must either win a sideout or break point to ‘confirm’ that point otherwise it reverts to a wash. I love how they increase the intensity of practice, but I can’t tell you if they are really practicing crunch time.
In reality I don’t really know the answer. I guess I just trust that the rest of our work means the team will be ready when the moment arises.
** By the way, I call this review process ‘The Volleyball Test’. I should write about that one day.
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