• Dave Neeley

10 Things '21 #9 - BYU's Defensive Positioning

10 BYU - Middle Middle Defense

In sport, often we hear the phrase “Defense wins Championships,” and BYU's defense has helped them win several conference championships in a row and has led them to multiple sweet-16 births throughout the past decade, including another top-10 finish in 2021.

So just how does head coach Heather Olmstead structure her defense, what system do they run, and the big question…. what is BYU's “box?”

Gold Medal Squared is taking a look back at some of the standout systems and styles of play that helped teams be successful in 2021. In this video, we take a look at the use of the middle-middle defensive system at BYU and how they teach athletes to buy into this system effectively. We discuss how to teach athletes, how to allow for reading the hitters, and why this system is so effective in volleyball - hint: the system is structured to place defenders where most of the balls are hit in volleyball! Olmstead is also joined by other GMS affiliated Collegiate Coaches who have achieved great success with this system, including Luka Slabe (NC State/ USA Women's NT), Ryan McGuyer (Baylor) and Jaylen Reyes (Nebraska). It is safe to say that they each have their own ideas on the best way to train the system and what contributes to a successful defense and transition offense system!

The breakdown:

Our coaching panel discusses why BYU uses the Middle Middle Defensive System; How teams should start off by placing their defenders where most of the spikers will attack towards. However, these positions are not then set in stone as Olmstead explains, allowing for adaptation to individual hitters and Defenders being able to make reads during the play. They also discuss the reasons for putting your best defender where most of the balls are hit vs making sure that your outside hitter always plays in zone 6 for a backcourt attack. There is also a discussion as to how to adapt the system based on scouting of the opponents and how often teams need to make changes to the system to cover an attacker's high percentage attacks. Another point of note is how their defensive system might change depending on whether the opponent is in-system or out-of-system.

As always, a system is only useful if athletes have learned how to play the system in practice. Olmstead discusses the use of a Box to help incoming players adapt, explaining what the box looks like and how it might be adapted in different situations. She also touches on the challenge of overcoming the obsession with a potential setter dump.

Bonus content:

  • Should defenders make early reads from the system if the block isn’t formed?

  • Is there a difference in positioning depending on the opposition or in comparison with the Men’s and women's games?

  • Why is it important for defenders to be stopped and ready and how does the system encourage this idea?

  • What is the best way to teach your defenders to cross?

If you are a coach wanting to learn more about structuring a defensive system and teaching your athletes effectively, then watch video above and listen to some of the NCAA Women’s Volleyball top coaches discuss their views. As Olmstead explains, it’s not just about the defensive system… it’s all about the mentality of pursuing every ball in your gym!