I came across this question in a Facebook group looking for advice on games to run in volleyball open gyms:

I need all of your games that challenge players in some way or another, I am a new varsity coach this coming season. With the way rules are in Michigan I can give them activities to choose from but it cannot be drills or lineups so more 2v2, 3v3, control, ball placement, or hitting/serving games where all of the players are participating at once and I am pretty much not needed other than to explain setup and rules.

There are SOOOO many ways to go with this!

This coach is basically talking about creating a pool of games that are pretty easy for the kids to run themselves. That being the case, I would think in terms of two things – structure and focus.


Let me start with the second first. As I harp on in The Perfect Drill, every activity needs a specific focus. I would normally advise the narrower the better. When it’s the kids running things, however, going slightly broader is probably better. For example, for a narrow focus drill you might work on “serve receive against deep serves” whereas with the kids running it you can probably just leave it at “serve receive”.

With that perspective in mind, it probably makes sense to come up with a list of focus points. Depending on your level of play, they might as simple as general themes around the major skills. Or they could be centered around different game situations and/or offensive plays you they can work on. Craft the list to match your goals.


I’m defining structure here to be the number of players involved in your volleyball open gym and any required configuration. The first part is quite simple: 2v2, 3v3, etc. The second part has more variability. On the one hand it covers size/shape of the court. For example, short-court or narrow court (like when you run two games side-by-side on the same court). You could also factor in something like Zone 6 is out-of-bounds if there’s a place you won’t want the ball to go.

On the other hand you have all kinds of options based on player positions and actions. For example, you might say narrow court 3v3, but require 2 blockers at all times. Similarly, you could play 5v5 either with 3 front row players and 2 back row, or the other way around. You could use a Winners type of approach to rotate teams, or a Neville Pepper. There are also options like 6 v 6s and Player Winners. And depending on numbers, there are ways to adapt things like Winners relative to positions, if you want.

Putting the two together

The thing I personally would probably do in a situation like this is come up with a base set of games (structures) with variations to handle each of my focus points. For example, if serve receive is the focus, you can have bonus points for good passes. If attacking deep is what you want, teams can only score if the ball lands (or would have landed) in the last meter of the court. Want to introduce some pressure? Set up a wash game where on the second ball requires a specific player to do something (e.g. serve the other team out of system, receive serve, get a kill, etc.).

So the bottom line is to come up with a set of adaptable game structures. Then develop a variety of rules and/or scoring systems based on your different focus points for each of those structures. Do that and you have ton of possible games for your volleyball open gyms. And ultimately for use in-season as well!

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