Be Creative With Training Activities

There are an array of methods to foster player development. The most obvious is to play the game a lot. However, as the saying goes, “there are a lot of roads leading to Chicago.” A creative coach, or player, can create activities that will allow a transfer of physical, technical, or tactical components to the game of volleyball, along with a break from a training routine. The video below of Grand Slam Tennis Champion Novak Djokovic demonstrates an alternative activity for training.

I am still determining the rules of this activity. The ball must hit the court on both sides before a player can contact it. I assume there are boundaries, but who cares? Even though the game is outside the typical training demands, the players compete very hard and are determined to win.

Some volleyball coaches will opine that activities such as Djokovic’s creative game are irrelevant to improving skills. I am one of those coaches, seemingly a shrinking number, who believe that motor skills, strength, strategies, and endurance can transfer between sports or activities. 

I watch this innovative method of training, and I see the following aspects of the game that are potentially brought into play:

  • Cardiovascular Endurance- who knows the heart rate during this sixty-eight-shot rally? However, I’m confident there were cardiovascular benefits.
  • Competitiveness on the part of both athletes
  • Tracking the ball- players must watch the incoming attack to anticipate the bounce and put the racket on the ball.
  • Creativity/Strategy- a variety of shots are displayed with the intent of putting the opponent into a challenging position.
  • Racquet Control- various trajectories are put into play to facilitate a variety of ball bounces.
  • Finesse- not every shot is hit hard with the entire court brought into play.
  • Strategy- players use multiple shots to put the opponent into challenging postures
  • Footwork- players run, shuffle, lunge, and, most importantly, develop stopping and change of direction skills.
  • Strength/Balance- the body is placed into challenging postures that require strength and balance to execute the shot.
  • Reading the attack- similar to volleyball, the players must anticipate the upcoming shot and move to defend.

All of the above are essential ingredients of a top tennis player. Is this activity not a wise use of time relative to skill, tactical, or physical development?

I grew up playing multiple sports but focused chiefly on baseball, tennis, and basketball. I developed tracking skills with baseball and tennis to catch or hit moving balls. I also developed correct throwing mechanics, as the tennis serve is a throwing motion. Throwing a baseball replicates a serve or spike in volleyball. In basketball, I learned to move my feet (running forward and backward, shuffle-step when defending, etc.). If you are a club coach, you know that foot movement is a challenge for many young players. I also learned to jump and land with good balance. 

Because of the foundation of motor skills I developed playing other activities, volleyball skills were easy to acquire. The throwing skills allowed for an easy transition for serve and spiking. My tracking and movement skills allowed me to transition easily to good serve-receive skills in volleyball. Jumping in basketball prepared me to operate with my feet off the ground when spiking or blocking.

I am always dismayed by the number of younger volleyball athletes that have not played other sports. However, it does offer a partial explanation for poor throwing mechanics, inefficient movement skills, and the inability to track the ball coming to their passing platform.

Of course, the best way to improve is to train inside the parameters of the sport. There is little doubt that Djokovic plays a lot of tennis when he trains. However, mixing in various activities that offer both physical and tactical challenges will offer the player a break from the repetitive training required to excel. I encourage volleyball coaches to be creative in their training methods and incorporate alternative activities as a part of their development program.