5 Tips to Getting Started with GMS

5 Tips to Getting Started with Gold Medal Squared


So, you’ve Attended a Gold Medal Squared Coaches Clinic. Now what?

Time to apply the principles you learned, the advice you received, and the data you’ve collected. As the saying goes, “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.” The best time to do these things was 20 years ago, but the second best time is NOW. Here are 5 tips to getting started with GMS in your gyms today!

1. Pass, Dig and Set Off the Net

We believe that these skills give you the “most bang for your buck” in terms of how quickly you team will improve. Move your passing target off the net. As a result, your team will not be passing into or over the net. This will immediately improve your team’s side out-efficiency. Don’t believe us? Take the stats, and compare them for yourself. Likewise, if you move your digging target to 10 feet off x 20 feet high, your team will have fewer errors and you will immediately score more points in transition; the probability of winning the rally will dramatically increase. Again, if you don’t believe us, compare the stats. Lastly, if your setter sets the ball 3-5 feet off the net, your hitters will be able to hit with more range, and score more points. We strongly recommend getting this in place ASAP.

2. Put Your Best Defenders Where Most of the Balls Go

It’s hard to argue with the facts. We know where nearly 50% of all volleyballs go, regardless of the “hole in the block” or the blocker’s positions. Put your best defenders where most of the balls go, and KEEP them there! We WON’T get into a long-winded discussion about the MYTH of the “hole in the block,” but you should get this point in place during your very first practice back in the gym. Put your BEST defenders where most of the balls go.

middle middle defense heat map

TIP: First, determine who your best defenders are. This may or may not be your libero, defensive specialist or outside hitter. If you have a middle blocker that can execute in the back row as well as the front, and is your team’s BEST defender, why wouldn’t you put her here? Secondly, track where hits go. With either the iPad app, VolleyMaps, or a pen and paper; track where all attacks go in your gym. You’ll quickly see obvious concentrations in middle-middle and cross-court. 



“If you don’t like my chart, make your own damn chart.”  – Carl McGown

3. Teach Hitting in Transition

It’s important that both you and your athletes understand the significance of transition. A large percentage of women’s volleyball is spent in the transition game – significantly more that in the serve/receive phase of the game. The odds are that in your league, your athletes will return the ball more than 60% of the time. Teach your athletes to be patient. Teach them to know when it’s OK to take a big swing (on a good set), and teach them that it’s OK to hit the ball in the court with control and wait for another chance to take the big swing. You can’t allow your athletes to make mindless hitting errors. 

4. Master Fundamental Skills

If you are new to Gold Medal Squared, your first practice back in the gym should involve the passing keys. We spend 3 hours on passing keys during our first day of our summer camps. Teach at the pace of the learners, and work through the skills in this order:

  • Passing
  • Serving
  • Hitting
  • Individual Defense
  • Blocking

Your goal is to teach your athletes all the keys and ensure they have any understanding of the movement patterns associated with each key. This must be accompanied by the end of the first month of practice (assuming you practice two days per week in club season.) If you are currently in a high school season, you should get the keys in place in a week or two.

5. Coach for Confidence

“Competence breeds confidence.”

Coach your athletes in a way that is going to build confidence. As an example, how would you communicate with an outside hitter who keeps making hitting errors?

One common option is to say “stop making hitting errors” or “we aren’t going to win if you continue to make hitting errors.” this doesn’t do anything to solve the problem. Consider that maybe your outside doesn’t have the skills to deal with that particular situation. A good alternative would be to give that athlete correction reps. Rather than saying “stop making errors” you can say, “here’s a ball, try again” and replicate the play. This not only gives the athlete another opportunity to learn a specific skill, but it also leaves them feeling OK about things because they were successful during the correction.

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Swing Blocking, by Carl McGown

Swing Blocking, by Carl McGown

It was in 1985 that what is now Gold Medal Squared was founded. We called ourselves Canyon Volleyball then (we lived in Provo Canyon), and we sent out brochures to all the schools in Utah, and most of the schools that border Utah in Idaho, Colorado, Wyoming, and Nevada.

Our very first customers were Dubois, Idaho; Cortez Colorado; and Mountain Crest, Rich County, and Spanish Fork, Utah. Two of those five won State Championships the following season (Dubois and Spanish Fork). Mountain Crest won in 1986, and soon (1988) Rich County (and Cindy Stuart) dominated their division and they have won 16 titles (and counting).

When I look back on the curriculum that was in place in 1985 I am delighted to see that the way we wanted to teach volleyball then is not so far away from the way we want to teach volleyball now (I take this as good news, because it means that we actually knew what we were doing even back then).

Of course there have been refinements, modifications, and changes. Probably the greatest change is in the way we now teach individual blocking.

BYU Men’s Volleyball – The Blocking Factory

In 1999 I decided that the BYU men’s team I was coaching should learn how to swing block. We did our best to put it in place and it helped us to a 30-1 season and the NCAA championship. Because it was such an effective technique for the BYU boys we started teaching swing blocking in our camps in the summer of 1999 and we have been doing it ever since.

Swing blocking raises some issues. One issue is that blocking is not the most important skill in high school volleyball, and swing blocking takes time to learn and is not easy to teach. If you are working on blocking you are not working on serving and receiving, and if you are working on swing blocking (as opposed to regular blocking) it takes even more time to learn and there is even less time to work on serving and receiving. Nevertheless, swing blocking has been in our curriculum for over 10 years because we think the time spent pays off in the long run in making teams better at blocking (and probably defense).

Is Swing Blocking More Effective?

There is also a results issue. Are teams better at blocking if they use swing blocking? Check out the table from the 2005 NCAA season that lists the top blocking teams in Division 1. We know that at least four of these teams—St. Mary’s, Utah, Cal Poly, and NCAA champion Washington—are swing blocking because we helped train them. The results are impressive. Four of the top blocking teams in the country were swing blocking and Washington, while ranked only number 16, was the best defensive team in the PAC 10 (swing blocking is not only about blocking it is also about total team defense) and was able to win the national championship.

School Games Solo Blocks Block Assists Blocks Per Game

1. Nebraska 116 66 823 4.12
2. St. Mary’s (Cal.) 110 51 706 3.67
3. Utah 123 61 765 3.61
4. Louisville 122 97 679 3.58
5. Penn State 111 106 582 3.58
6. Notre Dame 124 174 534 3.56
7. Wisconsin 115 76 663 3.54
8. Washington State 113 94 604 3.5
9. Colorado State 108 79 575 3.39
10. Hawaii 117 59 676 3.39
11. UNI 117 55 662 3.3
12. Arkansas 127 55 724 3.28
13. Maryland 122 71 646 3.23
14. Pepperdine 108 98 492 3.19
15. Cal Poly 91 30 509 3.13
16. Washington 108 43 589 3.13

The Biomechanics of Swing Blocking

The results seem to be there. But why is swing blocking good? Perhaps the final issue is biomechanics. Consider the results of a recent thesis by Kevin Ulmer (you can read his thesis here: arm_swing_blocking_Div_1.pdf)

His thesis was designed to examine:

His major purpose was:
The purpose of this study was to compare the use of a swing vs. crossover blocking technique in blocking performances.

His major findings were:
Swing blocking is recommended as it produces a greater block height and longer block time, but does not take longer to perform than the traditional crossover technique.

There you have it.

More and more club, high school, and college teams are using it. If you watched the NCAA championship match both UCLA and Illinois were in a bunch read and were swing blocking. Our USA women (currently ranked number ONE in the world) are in a bunch read and are swing blocking.

You should be swing blocking (if you would like a handout on what we think you should teach, email us – and we will send one to you).

Swing blocking (since 1999) in our gym and since 2012 in your gym.

Carl McGown
Gold Medal Squared

Seeing is Everything

“Volleyball is a visual motor game, with an emphasis on the visual.”

For those of you who have attended a Gold Medal Squared Coaches Clinic, you have heard this before.  Seeing the game is perhaps THE most important skill in volleyball, and one that often times gets overlooked.

Back in 1998 I was a red-shirt freshman at BYU.  It was my first week in practice as a college volleyball player.  As I walked in to practice one afternoon, I noticed a list of names on the whiteboard.  It was a breakdown of who had good eye-work, and who did not have good eye-work.  At that time this was a new concept to me.  I thought to myself “what the heck is eye-work?”  As it turns out, there was one player (a senior) on the “good eye-work” list, and everyone else was on the “bad eye-work” list.  Carl went on to tell us the importance of eye-work, which again didn’t make any sense to me.  I thought this game was about jumping high and hitting hard??

Three years later (2001) I finally started to get it.  At the time Troy Tanner was an assistant coach at BYU.  Troy would tell me “seeing well slows down the game.” As my eye-work improved, the game did in fact start to slow down.  Rather than guessing, I was seeing, anticipating, then reacting.  It was a skill that took me over 3 years to get good at.

Eye-work is needed for most skills

Coaches spend a significant amount of time getting their blockers to have good eye-work. While this is important, virtually all skills in volleyball require good eye-work.

– As a passer you need to see the server, and see the action of the ball.
– To be a great hitter you must have good vision.  Hitters have to see the set, make adjustments, see the block, and hit with range.
– Defenders must see the pass, the setter, the set, and the hitter (Ball, Setter, Ball, Hitter).   Good blockers will start to see different types of passes (bad, medium, good), and make decisions based on tendencies.

Blocking and Individual Defense Eye-Work

Ball, Setter, Ball, Hitter is the eye-work sequence that we like to use for our blockers and back row defenders.

The “ball” is referring to the pass.  There’s a huge correlation between the type of pass and the set location. Poorly passed balls almost always get set outside.  As it turns out, medium passed balls almost always get set outside.  It only takes your blockers/defenders a split second to recognize/see the pass.  Teach your athletes to quickly see the pass, then move their eyes to the setter.

Seeing the “setter” is the next step in the eye sequence.  Once your defenders see the pass, get their eyes on the setter. I like to tell my athletes this… “If you’re late seeing the setter, you’re late blocking.”  You can get a lot of information from the setter based on his/her movements and tendencies.  Do they like to run forward and “jack” the ball back? Do they like to set quicks on a medium pass?  Do they set virtually ALL medium passes outside?  Do they like to dump?  These are the types of tendencies that you are looking for when scouting a setter.

Next is seeing the set.  Because hitters tend to hit where the set takes them, this is an extremely important step.  Blockers and back row defenders must see the set and position themselves accordingly.  Inside sets result in a cross-court hit. Sets tight and to the line will end up being hit down the line (these are strong tendencies). Blockers should see the set and position themselves based on these tendencies.

Last is seeing the hitter.  Are they coming in full speed?  What is their angle of approach?  Do they look like they are going to tip?  Seeing the hitter is vital for both blockers and back row defenders.

Eyework is scouting

Having great eye-work can help any club team dramatically during a tournament.  Most of the time you are competing against teams you have never seen play.  However, if you follow these general rules below, and have good eye-work, you can be effective without having a specific game plan…

1.    In women’s high school/club volleyball, hitters (almost always) hit where the set takes them.  If your blockers know where the set is, your initial defensive game plan is in place.

2.    In women’s high school/club volleyball, hitters will hit in their line of approach. In other words, they will hit the same direction that they are running.  This can be helpful when blocking middle blockers, who will approach from different areas on the court depending on rotations.  Your players can get this information during the “hitter” phase of their eye-work.


For those of you who are coaching older, more advanced players, you can consider adding a step to the blocking sequence.  We call this ball, hitter, setter, ball, hitter.  The defenders will take a quick look at the hitter before seeing the setter. This is an extra step that can help your blockers/defenders recognize where the quick hitter is coming from/going.  For example, you may be able to detect a slide hitter earlier by adding this step.

Lastly, don’t over-look your back row players.  Their eye sequence is just as important as the blockers.

Seeing in Serve Receive

Our fifth passing key is “see the server, see the spin.”  I like to say “see the server, see the spin EARLY.”  We see a lot of high school passers who are reacting to a serve far too late.  Teach your passers to see early, get the ball as close to their mid-line as possible, then make adjustments with their arms/hands.  Remember, it’s faster to make subtle adjustments with our arms than it is with our bodies.

Covering Tips

Covering tips is a common problem among high school coaches.  The first thing you need to do is determine where most balls go in your league.  It may be that you need to move your two by two defenders up if the level of play is low. However, the single best way to combat tips is with good eye-work.  When athletes begin to see and anticipate, tip coverage becomes easier.  Again, good eye-work will slow down the game.


“Volleyball is a visual motor game, with an emphasis on the visual.”

If you’re gearing up for a post-season run, consider fine-tuning your athletes’ eye-work. It may get you that 2% that you’ve been searching for.

Lastly, you can watch a great video clip of Jim McLaughlin at UW talking about eye-work here..  UW – Seeing The Game

Mike Wall
Gold Medal Squared