Written by Rob Browning, Head Volleyball Coach, Saint Mary’s College
When coaching younger kids we sometimes wonder what we should be doing for strength and conditioning and overall volleyball fitness. Here are some important points to remember.
Volleyball is a Skill Sport
The better-skilled team will win almost all of the time regardless of their strength or fitness level compared to the other team. With the youngest age groups this is even more the case.
10,000 Hours to Develop Skill, not Fitness
Talent and skill are learned and mastered over thousands of hours of mindful repetitions. So when we are coaching young kids we need to remember that every minute we spend on non-volleyball activities (like strength and conditioning or general fitness) we are delaying their mastery of the skills of the game. The human body can improve its overall fitness and conditioning level in a relatively short period of time. Mastering the skills of serving and passing, however, takes years.
Specificity of Training
A strength and conditioning program for a soccer player is dramatically different than that of a volleyball player. There is no more specific strength and conditioning program for a volleyball player than the game of volleyball itself. CONDITION THEM BY PLAYING VOLLEYBALL!
Volleyball is an Anaerobic Sport
Volleyball players rely on bursts of power and energy. Most rallies last around 10 to 15 seconds, with 30 or more seconds of rest between rallies. During a rally, an individual player’s activity is broken into 3-5 second bursts of power and energy. Conditioning programs must be designed with this in mind. Repeat sprinting up stairs for five seconds then jogging back down for rest is an appropriate conditioning activity for volleyball. Repeat jumping up to a platform is good jump training because it trains muscular anaerobic endurance and is lower impact than jumping and landing on the ground. Conversely, running a mile or 100-yard sprints ARE NOT appropriate conditioning activities for a volleyball player because the work-to-rest ratio is disproportionate–it does not simulate, and therefore does not directly benefit, playing volleyball.
When we gradually overload our muscles and cardiovascular system the body adapts and grows stronger. The way to overload in practice is to have them play games where they get more frequent reps at a pace that is faster than a standard game. When you play six-on-six in practice it should involve a serve (if they miss their serve, toss a ball to simulate the serve so there is still a serve-receive rally). When the rally is over immediately toss or bounce a ball to start another rally, followed by another ball, and so forth. We can condition them for volleyball by overloading them with more reps at a faster-than-match pace. CONDITION THEM BY PLAYING VOLLEYBALL!
Mix it Up
I don’t believe kids should dedicate themselves to only one sport or activity at an early age. Encourage them to play basketball or soccer or ride a bike or swim to give them a good, well-rounded conditioning foundation. Certainly do not make a fuss when your 12-year-old setter is late to practice occasionally because he is also playing basketball. When they decide to dedicate themselves exclusively to volleyball (during high school?) then they can begin a strength and conditioning program tailored to help them be better volleyball players.
The Take Away
If we want our kids to get good at volleyball then they must play volleyball whenever the opportunity presents itself. There is no strength and conditioning or fitness program that will get them to be better servers and passers or teach them the timing that is so critical in spiking the ball–and mastering those skills takes thousands of hours, so don’t waste a minute!
Remember to consult an expert when designing any strength and conditioning program. Remember also that it is our responsibility to communicate with strength and conditioning experts about the unique aspects of our sport so that the activities are specifically beneficial to our volleyball athletes.
VOLLEYBALL IS A SKILL SPORT! That statement is true all the way through the highest levels of the game. The USA men won the gold medal versus Brazil in 2008 not because they were stronger and fitter, but because they were the better volleyball team (specifically in serving and passing).
Our youth volleyball teams will rarely win or lose because they are more or less fit. Whenever you have the choice between practicing volleyball or strength and conditioning, choose to have your team get better at volleyball.