I saw a video posted by Art of Coaching claiming to show an activity to help players work on reaction times. You may have seen it, or something like it before. Here’s how it goes.

A player stands with their back to the coach. The coach says “Go” to them. That’s the player’s signal to turn around, during which time the coach is throwing a ball at them. The objective is for the player to catch the ball. Later, the coaches changes the throws to hit balls, and the catch to a dig.

How much value do you think I give to this kind of exercise?

If you guessed little to none, you’d be right.

First, two immediate issues. One is that catching is not part of volleyball at all, so why would we ever work on that? The other is that the coach has only one player at a time working, which is far from ideal in terms of using time wisely.

This exercise has a lot in common with the shower curtain and facing away ones I talk about here – other types of blind drills. By that I mean it removes the visual cues the players need to learn to pick up on to read and anticipate (unfortunately, even top levels players seem to think they are useful).

At the same time it doesn’t feature anything to develop the physical capacity to move more explosively. As I mentioned in this post, those are the two main ways you improve reactions.

Basically, these are “find the ball” exercises. Volleyball doesn’t feature this kind of activity. The closest thing is blockers having to pick up the dig as they come down from their jump and transition to attack or set. If you want to train players to find the ball then put them in those block-transition situations. That way they’ll be working on picking up the ball in the right context. They’ll also be working on good (hopefully) transitions, so you’ll be multi-tasking. Moreover, you’ll have multiple players working at the same time, which means more efficient training.

Now, if you’re working with young kids this might be a worthwhile kind of exercise as part of a general physical literacy program. If not, though, it’s very likely a waste of time. Better to work on developing the players’ reading skills.

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John Forman
John Forman

John is currently the Talent Strategy Manager (oversees the national teams) and Indoor Performance Director for Volleyball England, as well as Global Director for Volleyball for Nation Academy. His volleyball coaching experience includes all three NCAA divisions, plus Junior College, in the US; university and club teams in the UK; professional coaching in Sweden; and both coaching and club management at the Juniors level. He's also been a visiting coach at national team, professional club, and juniors programs in several countries. Learn more on his bio page.

    3 replies to "Blind drills don’t help reaction time"

    • Jorge Rodriguez

      Respectfully disagree with you saying blind drills have little to none value for reaction time improvement.

      My point: those drills help with the “physical capacity to move faster” as you call it.
      Blind drills are simply an adaptation of a speed/plyometric training being applied to a game like situation.

      I agree reading the cues is the main factor in improving reaction time, but I won’t diminish the value of blind drills.

    • Jorge Rodriguez

      Also, I have the feeling you haven’t work with little ones, have you?

      Catching the ball even isn’t part of the volleyball game structure, is a great tool for teaching beginners IMO.

      There is also a lot of countries around the world where they have “Catchball” tournaments for really young ages

      • John Forman

        Jorge – Please read the first sentence of the last paragraph.

Please share your own ideas and opinions.