Allow Your Athletes to be Athletic

One of the first questions that I pose to players, regardless of age, is, “are you a good dancer?” Occasionally you get a fearless player that proclaims her dance moves border on the exceptional. Generally, the response is more in line with “categorically no!” My reply is, “if you can’t dance, you’ll have trouble playing this sport.” Our game is one that demands dynamic movement and rhythm in every skill. So, we need to help players play in that fashion.

The most critical aspects of playing our sport are incumbent upon what a player sees and how they move on the court. Unfortunately, coaches tend to ignore both of these essential aspects. Some of the techniques taught by coaches almost discourage basic movements. How often do you hear, “be stopped on defense.” It is more important to be balanced than it is to be stopped.

Even though middle blockers need to move twenty feet to either antenna to block a majority of the time, their starting posture to block is with hands by their ears, standing upright and rigid. If there was ever a posture that diminishes the ability to move laterally quickly, this is it!! It’s always easier to move if you are already incorporating some form of movement. I want to make a case that allowing the athlete to be moving and relaxed while the ball is in play will facilitate a faster, more athletic response.

Should you require an example of a player with excellent movement skills, check out this brief video of Morgan Hentz, courtesy of The Art of Coaching. Focus on how her feet never stop moving, her posture remains calm and is always prepared for the next play.

How do you get your players to move their feet on the court? It starts by working with them on general movement skills. When it comes to teaching skills and movement, I am from the “dark side.” I believe that developing necessary movement skills will transfer to correct skill execution in whatever sport one chooses to play. The ability to move laterally using a shuffle step will allow one to play good defense in basketball, cover the net in tennis, or receive a serve in volleyball. It’s all the same move. In this post, we will explore some basic movements presented in a variety of ways. Then, we will get more volleyball specific.

My basic approach is I prefer players to warm up to play, not play to warm up. As they warm up to play, I try to incorporate a lot of activities that are core skills applicable to any sport. In the video below, you will see random developmental activities that expose the athlete to the core ingredients of the game.

Watching the activities in this video, I see:
– activities to improve hand/eye coordination and tracking skills
-activities to focus on running form
-drills that incorporate lateral movements via the shuffle step
-development of rotational skills of the core
-stopping and a change of direction based on visual cues and mandate the player control their posture
-drills to develop core strength and upper body strength
-drills that incorporate jumping
-rhymical moves that include relaxing the upper body as the lower body moves.

All of these items are fundamental to playing volleyball at a proficient level. There is a school of thought that there is no transfer of athletic movements in one activity to another activity. I couldn’t disagree more.

As I organize my training sessions, I do lots of movement training. Some are specific to the sport (blocking footwork or attack approaches); some activities are more general teaching posture, vision, rhythm, and movement fundamentals. These might incorporate a ball, but not necessarily. At times, the athlete must focus on improving a specific aspect of the move. However, many times the activity is light-hearted with the intent of establishing a positive practice atmosphere.

Think of all the movements the game of volleyball entails. While the ball is in play, you need to:

  • run forward (spike approach or running down a tip)
  • backpedal (return to base defense after covering the hitter)
  • shuffle laterally (move to receive a serve or blocking)
  • once you are moving, you require stopping skills
  • jump (attack/block)
  • rotate in the air (hit line, crosscourt, reach into the seam when blocking)
  • landing skills (knees over toes, flexing the ankles and knees to lessen the impact)
  • variety of postures (low on defense, medium when setting, tall when serving
  • throwing with good mechanics (essential for serve and attack)

All of these skills require the coach to learn how the body moves most efficiently. The more efficient the athlete moves, the more relaxed they will be—the more comfortable the movement, the faster the movement.

Once the athlete learns to move efficiently and with a fluid motion, they need to learn how to move quickly. One of the keys to dynamic movement is to embrace the concept of “stretch-reflex.” The video below will provide an overview of this concept.

To put the stretch reflex into action on the volleyball court, you need to embrace the concept of allowing your athletes to use their athleticism. Volleyball is a fast, dynamic game that mandates powerful movements. In literally every skill, the stretch reflex action is essential to success. The video below will show examples:

I would encourage coaches to incorporate vision, movement, and stretch reflex concepts into their training routine. None of these items are in the genetic make-up of players. They just need to be exposed to the importance of movement skills and then, be provided the opportunity for improvement. The payoff is a faster, dynamic way to play the game.

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