Tag Archive for volleyball conditioning

Are your players mentally or physically fatigued by training?

Orest Stanko at the Pak Men blog wrote a post mainly focused on the value or lack of value in physical consequences (punishment) for the failure to do certain things in training. An example is push-ups when one does not call the ball. It’s worth reading from that point of view. It follows along the lines of some things I’ve written before (see On the question of punishment in volleyball training).

Though only briefly mentioned early on, one idea Orest presents really grabbed my attention. It was that coaches should focus less on player fatigue as a training objective. Rather, your goal should be mental fatigue. Sports are generally viewed as mainly operating in the physical realm. It is therefore easy to see why coaches would think having physically tired athletes at the end of practice is the objective.

Obviously, there is a strong physical element to training. In particular, if you believe that the best form of conditioning work for your team is what you do in training, then it’s reasonable to think in those fatigue terms.

But as coaches we don’t just focus on developing physical abilities. A massive part of our role is to help our athletes the mental side of the game – reading, decision-making, etc. You may even be able to say it’s the bigger aspect of our job.

That’s where the idea of mental fatigue at the end of training comes in to consideration. How do you challenging players mentally as much as you do physically (or more)?

The answer is pretty simple. You put them in positions which force them to read and make decisions. Importantly, you also have a feedback mechanism with respect to that reading and decision-making so the players can judge their performance.

Think about the implications of those requirements,

A sample weight training program

Here is a sample weight training program currently being used by a men’s professional volleyball team. I present it for your information and maybe to provide some ideas for your own purposes. I’m not suggesting it should be used as-is for your own team.

Each sessions starts with a warm-up of 5 minutes or so on a stationary bike

After that is a series of core and shoulder stability exercises, which vary from session to session. In the case of shoulders, they do three sets of 12 repetitions of a couple exercises with either dumbbells or bands. For the core exercises, is three exercises for 40 seconds each, twice through. Obviously, this is adjustable.

The preparatory phase ends with a leg circuit of leg extensions, leg curls, and calf raises. These are meant as warm-up, so lighter weights – 3 sets of 8.

There are three rotating lifting routines.

A – Cleans, Squats, Bend Press, Low Row
B – 1-arm Rows, Lateral Raises, Chest Butterfly, Curls, Shoulder 8
C – Front Raises, Standing Rows, Triceps Extensions, Forearm Curls, Back Raise

The routines are alternated A-B-A-C-A. The team lifts 5 days per week. The sets and repetitions are adjusted over time.

Coaching Log – Sep 29, 2014

This is an entry in my volleyball coaching log for 2014-15.

Over the weekend all but one of the players took part in a beach volleyball focused trip. I did not attend, but they got a couple of sessions of coaching by the England Juniors beach coach. The main purpose was one of team bonding, and the reports suggest mixed results there. I won’t get the full story (or as much as I want/need to know, anyway) until probably Wednesday when the team captain returns from a conference. The suggestion, however, is that we may have some toughness issues and a lack of discipline. The captain suggested addressing the issue of fitness, which has been on my to-do list already.

From the beach coach I got a separate report in terms of stuff she went over with them on the court. Several elements were things I have either already started to address (footwork patterns) or had noted from last week’s work to bring up (playing with intention). She made similar observations about some of their serving as I did while creating a video for them from footage taken in Thursday’s session.

This session was 90 minutes in the small training gym. Top of my list of things to do in the session was to assess the setters and middles in terms of running quicks. I knew going it that the strongest MB could do it, but the rest was an open question. Last year the quick never developed for a number of reasons. This year I want to prioritize it if possible.

This was the plan going in:

Blocking footwork
Volley tennis
Serving warm-up and target serving
Backrow Hitting lines
Split group: Quick hitting / OH pass & hit
Player winners

I actually managed to get through all of those things as planned and more or less as anticipated. This was the first time they’ve done volley tennis and player winners. They went pretty well.

In the latter case I ran parallel games with 7 players on each half court. About halfway I had the top three players from one court swap with the bottom three from the other. This is something I’m going to keep tabs on over time to see what kind of evolution there is in who ends up on the “winners” court.

I did quite a bit of technical coaching in this session. First it was in the serving warm-up. I prepared a video of some of the serving done in the prior session to highlight the good mechanics, and posted that for them to watch. Most of them had before training, so I was able to key them on certain training points. There is starting to be progress already, though a couple players need sorting out.

The other major technical work was in the quick hitting drill. Both setters and hitters needed some direction. I was a bit disappointed in the setting side of things as one of the players I’ve been looking at as either a starter for the first team, or part of a 6-2 system was not one of the better performers. One of my projected second team setters actually did well.

I talked with the team afterwards about having intention when playing the ball, as there was a lot of “panic” type play in the 6 v 6 last session. I also talked about slowing the game down by taking the ball lower, which is something I know got discussed over the weekend. I finished up talking about fitness and getting the players to submit ideas for modifying the warm-up sequence.

I also warned the team that I will be making things harder – both mentally and physically – moving forward.

Sample pre-hab pre-training routine

Every day before they started training during my time at SC Potsdam, the German professional women’s team, I watched the squad go through a kind of pre-hab circuit. It’s fairly straightforward (especially compared to the one I saw at USC last year that included tight-rope walking!), so I figured I would share it here. It features 13 different stations.

1) Balance board: forward-backward
2) Balance board: side-to-side
3) Balance board: all-direction

These three basically involve the players maintaining their balance while doing slow squat movements. As you can imagine, the all-direction (basically, a platform with a half ball attached to the bottom of it) is the most challenging.

4) Bridges
5) One-leg bridges (right)
6) One-leg bridges (left)

Bridges are exercises where you lay on your back with your knees bent, then lift your butt up from the floor. The one leg version involves having one leg extended up in the air, so bridging using only the leg on the ground.

7) Front plank
8) Side plank: left
9) Side plank: right

On the left/right planks, you have have the players do a dip by letting their hip drop toward the floor, then returning back to the start position.

10) Crunches
11) V-Twist

The crunches I saw done were legs straight up in the air with the toes pulled back toward the torso, but you can mix it up. For the V-twist, from a semi-piked position (legs and torso off the ground), players twist from side-to-side. This is best done with an object such as a medicine ball which can be moved back and forth.

12) Opposite arm/leg raise: right
13) Opposite arm/leg raise: left

These raises are done either from a prone position or on hands and knees. The player simultaneously raises the right arm and left leg (or left arm and right leg).

As you’ll notice, there’s a heavy core focus, with the balance board stuff essentially working on lower body stability. Each of these exercises is done for 20-30 seconds, with a break of a couple minutes after each full circuit. The team usually did 3 circuits. I don’t share this routine to say this is what you should do with your team, but simply to provide some ideas for a framework – and to reinforce the idea that core can/should be done every day (or nearly so). You can modify as desired.

Peaking at the right time

In any given season there is a time, or perhaps a couple of times, when you want your team playing at its absolute best. For many this is at the end of the year during post-season play. In other cases, though, there may be a desire to see a team peak for intermediate competitions. That could be a certain tournament, a big rivalry match, the start of conference play, etc.

Season structure plays a part

When I coached at Brown, the head coach talked about how different it was having gone from a situation where the Ivy League champion was determined in a season-end tournament. That system was replaced by one where the champ was determined strictly by league performance (no tournament). It changed the season dynamic. No longer could you just build things up to have the team playing its best volleyball at the end.

Taking the long view

This came to mind a while back when the Exeter university teams I coached were in the stretch run now. In less than two weeks they would both play in Final 8s. The men’s second team also had a Cup semifinal, and potentially a final as well. With the women in particular, things progressed very well in terms of peaking them at the right time. All season long my focus was getting them there, prepared to face that level of competition, and it paid off.

You really could say that I trained that team for Final 8s. If you asked the players, they would tell you I constantly talked about where we needed to be to go toe-to-toe with the top teams in the country. Obviously, we played lots of matches along the way. It was 34 by my count. Some were against good teams. Some were against poor ones. Frequently along the way I made coaching points based on our performance in them to help the players see where we wanted to be in terms of all facets of the game.

Different aspects of it

Much of my work with the ladies was on the mental side of things. That was in terms of building their confidence and a good playing mentality. It was also about making good decisions on the court and staying focused and doing their job at any given time.

Of course there’s also the technical and tactical development side of things. It’s hard to do a lot of individual skill training when you only have 3.5 hours of court time per week. The multi-week holiday break mid-season didn’t help in that regard. I focused my efforts on more team oriented stuff as the bigger priority. It was a simple question of larger gains to be had from improvements there. That said, the areas of serving and hitting are both places where notable improvement was seen through the year. Both were points of focus for me from the start. Later,, blocking came along as well.

Then there was the physical aspect of peaking. That’s having your players in the best possible condition when it matters most. This is probably the trickiest part. After all, volleyball training is about developing team and individual abilities and tactics. Hopefully, that is a path of continuous improvement. Trying to peak a team physically – and mentally, for that matter – is about knowing when to push and when to give them a break. And this isn’t just about what happens in the gym, because quite often what’s happening outside it plays a part (like exams and heavy course-load periods for students).

So what did I do?

With that team I had the advantage of having a pretty good idea of where they would be in the league. I knew we were strong enough to at least earn a spot in Championships. I also knew the team’s priorities. I didn’t have to worry too much about results along the way (though the team was 25-9 overall across all competitions heading into Final 8s). That gave me some leeway in terms of working different line-ups. I could focus on certain aspects of play, etc.to keep the team moving in the direction I wanted. Things aren’t always quite so easy.

Basically, for this team it was a question of building progressively through the season. I’m talking about training intensity here – both mental and physical. Every week I expected a little more of them. Sometimes it was been subtle. Sometimes it was overt. Along the way I introduced physical and mental challenges intended to prepare them to take things up a notch and to be able to fight through in the face of adversity. It wasn’t a straight path, but then it never is!

In the final two weeks of training (4 sessions) I continued that process in terms of looking for a little more out of them each time on the court. My only shift was getting more specific with line-ups and tactics to prepare for Final 8s.

By the way, we reached the national semifinal that season. 🙂

Assessing player upper and lower body power

During the Volleyball England level 3 coaching course, one course subject was physical assessment. In particular, we looked at how to judge the sort of work players needed to do to improve their jump and upper body power. Here is a PDF with the specific tests.

The first test is for the upper body. A progression of medicine ball throws start with the shoulders. It then adds in upper core, then mid- and lower core. Full-body effort is the final stage. We expect longer throws at each stage in the progression. You can identify weak/strong areas based on that progression (or lack thereof).

The second test is for jump vertical testing. It uses a jump from a squat position (static) and a jump from a standing position (counter move) to assess plyometric efficiency. You’re looking for the latter being about 10% higher than the former. If so, then jump gains will mainly come from strength/power training. If not, then plyo training is required. Ideally, the arms are kept at the side, so testing requires some kind of jump mat or similar type of device. One could, however, use a standard jump reach testing device as an alternative.

The last test is of lateral jumping, but with the same basic idea. You compare a players single standing broad jump, multiplied by 3, to their triple broad jump (three jumps done in a row with no pause), again looking for that 10% differential. Just watching how well a player executes the triple broad jump, in fact, will tell you a lot about where they are in terms of plyometric development and coordination.

The last part of the document is a table giving distance ranges for UK female national team athletes.

Drill: Belly-to-Dig

Synopsis: This is a player-centric drill which can be used to work individual digging movement and handling technique, while also offering the potential for use as a conditioning exercise.

Age/Skill Level: This is a drill for all levels

Requirements: 3 players, 2 balls

Execution: Position the three players in a triangle about 6 meters apart. Two players have a ball and the third is laying on their stomach facing the others. One of the players slaps the ball. The one on the ground gets up, then shuffles over so they are even with the player who slapped the ball. That standing player attacks a ball to be dug. The receiving player then goes back to the start, and repeats the process with the other standing player. Repeat for four digs total.


  • You can increase the number of digs to raise the workload.
  • You may require only good digs, based on whatever criteria you feel suits your group
  • For lower level players the ball to be dug could be a toss rather than a spike.

Additional Comments:

  • As a player-centric drill, this could be something used in a stations set-up combined with other drills.
  • It could be used as a conditioning exercise.
  • As a coaching point, make sure to pay attention to both foot movement and the dig execution.

Sneaky volleyball conditioning through pepper

Want an easy way to work on player conditioning while also having players develop their ball-handling skills?

Have them pepper for a while.

Now I’m not just suggesting you just roll the balls out and tell them to pass-set-hit with each other for half an hour while you sit and have a coffee. No such luck. You’ll actually have to do some coaching.

There is a trick to getting the most out of however long you want to run things. That is mixing up exactly what you have the players doing. There are loads of pepper variations. There are also many ways to focus on certain elements while keeping the players working hard. You’ve got a hitting element, a digging element, and a setting element. You can work with each singularly or in combinations.

For example, you could start with one player hitting at their partner, who digs the ball back for the hitter to catch and then go again. That provides focused consecutive reps for both players. While they are doing that you would be going around working with individual players on technique (and perhaps reinforcing bigger ideas, like effort). You can then have the digger play the ball up to themselves rather than to the hitter. Then progress to digging the attack to themselves and setting the hitter as in the 1-way Pepper drill. This sort of progression can be used in all aspects of pepper to work on skills singularly or in small combinations. The idea is to build toward eventual full-on pepper.

Adding a jump requirement to the setting and/or hitting parts of pepper can go a long way too. From a skill development perspective, it forces the players to work on getting their feet to the ball. On the conditioning side you’ll definitely see the players get gassed more quickly. This isn’t something you’re likely to be able to do effectively with lower level players in standard pepper. You could do it with them in a partial pepper situation, though. As a simple example, have them jump set back and forth for a little while and see how tired their legs and shoulders get.

The two keys to making this pepper conditioning idea worthwhile, and to not let the players catch on to what you’re doing, is to mix things up periodically so they have different points of focus and to be sure you’re actively moving around the gym coaching them. You do that and they’ll never suspect you’re developing their conditioning along with their skills. 😉

And by the way, this is actual volleyball conditioning. Much better than running or anything like that.

Pepper note: Whenever possible you should have your players go over the net. I am not totally against standard partner pepper (no net). It can have its uses at times. For skill development, however, it is not the best choice.

Drill: 2-Player Set & Touch

Synopsis: You can use this drill to do both ball-handling and volleyball movement work, and it’s also very suitable for warm-ups.

Age/Skill Level: This is a drill for intermediate to advanced players

Requirements: Two players, one ball

Execution: As the video below shows (may take time to load), this is a setting based drill. Two players begin about 2 meters apart. The first partner sets the ball to the other player, runs up and touches them, then retreats back to their position. The second partner first sets the ball up to themselves to give their partner time to do the movement, then sets the ball back to them and runs up for the touch themselves. Run for a set number of reps.


  • You may be able to run this using forearm passes rather than sets, but it would be more challenging.
  • If you want more movement training or to incorporate this drill into a conditioning routine you can run it for a set amount of time rather than just repetitions.

Additional Comments:

  • This drill is part of the Long Beach State warm-up routine.
  • Make particular note of the footwork involved. It is two running steps forward followed by a turn, cross-over retreat. No backpedaling.