When you’re coaching it’s easy to fall into habits and become fixed in your perspective. By that, I mean it’s easy to see the things we’re accustomed to seeing or want to see. As a sports coach or athlete, the difficulty can be knowing what to look for from other perspectives. I built a recent workshop I delivered on this topic. Seeing our game from a slightly atypical perspective. Across the 3-hours we had, we explored how on-court volleyball training could be viewed from a physical perspective. We looked at technique and tactics as the arena to unpick the physical requirements that underpin play. This is a review, in brief, of the journey we took. The destination, a rational perspective about how physical training for volleyball can be viewed to achieve specific on-court improvement. You decide whether it’s a view you can take on-board and apply to improve play.

In this article, I’ve picked out the strategic hints & tips from the video recording of the workshop. The elements I hope will make a real meaningful difference to your training. Things that might lend a different perspective that help to enhance your view and approach. You can watch the full 40-minutes of footage or jump to the areas that interest you most! They’re signposted below to make it simple. If things lose meaning, backtrack a little. Retrace your steps, or walk a slightly earlier path. None of the content is unique, new or groundbreaking. Simple concepts applied simply. I hope you find the perspective I offer intuitive and easy to use. And finally, please excuse what looks like a move from Saturday Night Fever in the screenshot! I like to have fun in workshops! Time to party! Enjoy!

Discussion about injury (Duration 3:38-mins)

Injuries are a part of all sports. For me, the starting point for any coach, physical or technical, is to understand and reduce the injury risk of the athletes under their care (and here’s why…). If done effectively, this should mean that the athletes can train volleyball more often over their playing career. Training volleyball is the most effective way to get better at volleyball. Training physically, like a well-fitted bra, should be supportive to this in all the right places. And help to look good too!

To support you on this, I’ve referred to a great resource the FIVB produced for all coaches, trainers, and athletes in volleyball; The Injury Surveillance SurveyThis shares detailed information about injury rates when competing at an elite level in our sport. The results aren’t unexpected, but they are precise. They offer a detailed insight into position-specific risks and frequency of injury. A goldmine of information for any coach or athlete playing the sport that wants to prepare against injury.

Mental, Physical, Technical, Tactical model  (Duration 2:07-mins)

There are so many theories around designed to help understand sporting performance. I like simple. The TTMP (Technical, Tactical, Mental, Physical) model achieves that for me. It also makes intuitive sense when viewing the outcomes of a training session holistically. Although we may focus our attention on one area whilst coaching, every task we prescribe or do has an impact on all areas.

This model drives one of my core coaching beliefs; The way we move is dictated by the physical state our body is in. Sounds simple and obvious, but sometimes it’s important to identify the obvious. Based on this, the way we perform technical skills, which contribute to achieving tactical outcomes, is fundamentally dependent on our basic physical competence.

Viewing technique through a physical lens (Duration 2:22-mins)

The holy grail of physical training is to directly create a change to the body that impacts on-court performance positively. That beacon of light leads to a physical training program focussed on two things.

  • Progressing that specific athlete based on their needs.
  • Progressing that specific athlete towards the specific requirements of the sport.

To do that it’s important to start with a specific understanding of what tasks need to be done on-court. This will centre around what the important technical skills are and how that athlete does them. I’m sure you can all list volleyball technical skills easily enough; dig, volley, block, spike, jump, move, dive, and on, and on… But I wonder how many of you know specifically how YOU do those skills? Or what physical attributes you have that guide you to do them in that way? Or what physical restrictions you have that might be limiting your ability to do those skills…?

**Please don’t judge my demonstration of a volley**

There is a huge place for strength training in our sport. The weight room can bring massive performance growth. I encourage every athlete playing our sport to begin strength training as soon as possible. But not everyone is able or ready to take the time to strength train. Not every physical limitation requires access to strength training to solve. You can still train physically without access to the weight room. Understand the options you have. Viewing training from this standpoint gives us a way to incorporate targetted physical training into the volleyball setting, without the need for expensive equipment or additional time.

Analysis of the Pass from a Physical Perspective (Duration 5:30-mins)

Conceptual Model

If I understand the passing movement, there’s only one non-negotiable element that determines success. The management of the forearm platform during ball contact. Anything else happening before or after that is there to increase the chances that the platform is in the right place at the right time. If the platform is in the right place at the right time, there will be a successful outcome.

You can go into and out of a successful platform position in an infinite number of ways. Couple that with the infinite range of situations where a ball is passed and it’s mind-boggling that anyone ever does it successfully! However, through experience over time, we’ve learned ways to increase our chances! Coaching points focussed towards a general technical model to increase the chance that the outcome of a pass will be successful.

My point is – we’re playing a game of probabilities.

By offering knowledge through coaching we’re trying to guide the athlete to more successful outcomes. The way the athlete acts on the advice given is determined by the unique way their body works.

  • The range they have access to around each joint.
  • The internal loading between agonist-antagonist muscle pairs across different joints in different body positions.
  • The pattern of neural signals from the brain sequencing which muscle group fires when.
  • And many, many other things.

Based on that, the body sets the criteria which determine the way the athlete can perform a skill.

If anything in the athlete’s body restricts their ability to position the platform, they will need to find a different way to move to allow them to perform the task. But this may be consistently less successful for them, limiting their performance level.

Every athlete does it, and it’s unlikely they’ll even know they’re doing it!

Impact on Performance

Movement restriction is common and can lead to less successful technical play (or innovative new approaches to play…). The example I used in the video was the impact that reduced range around the ankle has on body position in the pass. When you reach the end of dorsiflexion range (bringing toes closer to shin), it limits the knee from moving forwards. This either;

  • Forces the heel to raise off of the floor to allow “extra” range.
    • Impact – Reduced balance and stability when playing the ball.
  • Forces the hip to go through more range to allow the shoulders to get lower to the floor.
    • Impact – Makes it difficult to change position or move quickly.

Both of these situations can reduce the chances of achieving a successful outcome in the pass. This can reduce the chances of successful play of the team. Reducing the chances of winning games!

Assessing movement around the key joints in volleyball (Duration 1:58-mins)

Fortunately, simple movement assessments are common nowadays! They’re so simple that, when fully trained, an athlete can run themselves through a battery of tests, interpret the results and act on them. With some support, this can build to making sensible decisions about preparing physically in an appropriate way in very little time before, during or after volleyball training.

A tool I refer to in the video is the PBJumps Movement Self-assessment – You can get free access immediately by registering here. This is a tool I developed to make the assessment process simpler and share specific training advice with athletes on a large scale in a short time-frame. It targets 5 movement tests across 4 essential joints for volleyball; the ankles, hips, spine & shoulders. Please feel free to use it, or not. Its here to make your life easier and support the training you do!

Understanding your assessment results (Duration 5:44-mins)

Being able to make decisions based on the facts we get from testing is fundamental! But, that’s quite often forgotten…

The results you receive after you register with PBJumps are presented relative to the optimal range of motion required for volleyball. Deficiencies are clear to see, and then easy to train with a very simple approach. Testing is training, training is testing! The assessment exercises can also be used in training to improve! Do less repetitions of the ones you have good results in, and more repetitions of the ones you need to improve in.

Fundamentally important training advice (Duration 2:07-mins)

The human body adapts towards the stimuli it’s subjected to regularly. It’s almost a given in our understanding; “When we train regularly we’ll adapt towards the training we do”.

However, that idea is so simple it’s easy to overlook.

The benefit that repeating simple actions in a progressive way can have is huge! Like the action of water dripping on a rock, eroding away vast canyons across the course of time, our body can make huge advances in physical performance with small activities done consistently. Targetted and specific physical flossing, keeps everything in the condition it needs to be.

When you do the maths on it, it’s incredible how much time you can find when nobody has any spare!

Let’s take the 5-minutes every athlete has goofing around before a training session. If we add up every one of those 5-minutes across a year, there’s often a vast amount of time we could use to improve. The example in the video was 5-minutes for 3 -sessions per week across a 30-week year providing 7.5-hours of extra training time! And that’s not a lot of training! In the UK, that would cost upwards of £225.00 (nearly $320!) if you were to spend it with a Personal Trainer! If you’re playing or training 6 times per week for 50 weeks of the year, that’s 25-hours of training and £750.00 (over $1,050!!!). All for free, ready for you to use and improve.

Simplifying Specificity with Planes of Motion (Duration 5:12-mins)

Simple is good.

When you understand it, the concept of planes of motion is simple. It took me a long time to understand it… However, now I see it as a hidden gem which makes specific training simple to understand and apply quickly. In my opinion, this clip is most the relevant for developing on-court physical training for volleyball.

All understanding planes of motion took was a few hours and Enter the Dragon. We have access to 3-dimensions, we can create movement by rotating in any of them and, in my mind, they appear Bruce Lee-style! Movements we use are;

  • The front flip.
  • The cart-wheel.
  • The spin.

We combine work across these 3 movements to generate or limit action, allowing us to exploit and explore the vast array of movement possibilities open to us. Having a clear understanding of the movement needed to perform technical skills, like the pass or spike hit, across these 3 planes is a great tool to make physical training specific. Paying special attention to whether the output we need requires movement to be created or stabilized offers an excellent tool. This allows us to progress and overload those characteristics to develop specific on-court physical training for volleyball.

Training Advice for Specific Transfer (Duration 5:54-mins)

The aim of the On-court Physical Training for Volleyball workshop and this article has been to offer you the tools to design your own specific exercise plan. The video below is the paint-by-numbers piece that ties everything else in the article together, guiding you to how you can select exercise based on the theory we’ve discussed.

In the On-court Physical Training for Volleyball workshop, the athletes at Nottingham Trent University and I got very physical exploring this in more detail. You have no limit to the options of exercises you have to use. As long as they stick to the specific planes of motion you need to improve and the action you require across that plane. On-court, we worked on upper-body push and pull exercises. We also explored lower-body single- and double-leg, hip- and knee-dominant exercises. As well as this we had some fun with full body exercises like crawling. For all of these, we discussed how it applies directly to each athlete and their volleyball needs.

I’m keen to support the volleyball community to stay injury-free and improve performance through physical development. Comment below if you have any questions about the content of this article. I will reply to every single question I get to make sure you can improve.

If you enjoyed the article, please share with others who you think could benefit from the information too!

Thanks and keep jumping!

Gary