Here’s a problem we volleyball coaches come across from time to time.

Any tips on fixing a goofy fitted kid? Other than just reps. 17u next year. Touches 9’11. She’s good but I know she could be better. I know some coaches just leave it, or say oh I’ll fix it for you but never do, but she wants to fix it and I figure I can dedicate my time to helping her make the change.

Definition

First, let me define “goofy-footed” for those who don’t know the term. That’s when the player’s last step in their attack approach is with the same foot as they hit with. For example, a goofy-footed right-handed hitter would go Left-Right for their final two steps rather than Right-Left.

Interestingly, sometimes players who use proper footwork when attacking front row go goofy-footed on back row attacks.

Why is this a problem?

There are two ways these goofy-footed approaches manifest in practice.

In one case the hitter finishes with right foot in front of the left (left in front of right for a lefty). Think of it like a person who throws a ball stepping with the same foot as their throwing arm. This basically rules out the possibility for any real torso rotation through the spike. It can be OK for a right-handed hitter on the right, or a lefty on the left, since the set comes from across their body. They can hit cross-court without much trouble, but having the ability for more torso rotation would increase the power they could generate and the variety of angles they could achieve without straining the shoulder. For a hitter taking the ball on the on-hand side (e.g. righty on the left), however, it creates problems with power generation, and back and shoulder strain. It also tends to lead to excessive broad jumping.

The other case is the hitter who finishes with their left foot in front of the right. Basically, what they do is take a big step with the left, then slide the right up next to it. People sometimes don’t spot this because the body angles are correct. A right-handed outside hitter who does this is still open to the set. The problem here, however, is that the transfer of forward momentum into upward thrust is blunted because the break step (the left) happens a step too early. The likely outcome is lower jump height, and probably less power in the attack as well. At the same time, this approach limits the potential for broad jumping in the case of back row attacks and jump serves.

Should you fix it?

There are some situations where being goofy-footed is fine. I think the feeling among at least some coaches is that middle hitters can probably get away with it. Karch Kiraly reportedly used a goofy-footed approach when attacking on the beach. I think you will find, though, that in both situations we’re talking about the second variation from above where the foot opposite the hitting shoulder (left for a righty) stays in front. If so, while the approach may not maximize potential in the ways we discussed above, it may not be worth spending a lot of time trying to fix.

If the approach is of the first type outlined above, though, it needs correcting. That one is much more prone to leading to shoulder and back problems if continued, never mind performance issues.

So how do we get it fixed?

Unfortunately, repetition is really the only way to fix a bad approach. Basically, the player has to create a whole new motor program. The way many coaches have gotten players to do the correct approach footwork is to make them simply repeat it over and over. For example, they tell the player to do 100 approaches around the gym.

This sort of thing is fine, and even necessary to a degree. Motor learning research suggests that the initial stage learning of a new skill benefits from this kind of blocked work.

As many of us can attest, however, the problem tends to be when we add a ball. As soon as the player has to approach for a set all the nice approaches they did before go out the window. This tells us it’s not enough to program the legs to follow a certain pattern. It has to be coordinated with the timing and spacing elements involved in actually approaching properly to the ball.

My suggestion is to quickly go from repetitions without the ball to repetitions with it. Do enough approaches without the ball to establish the desired pattern so they know what it feels like. How many that is will vary. The point is to get them so they can do the right approach at something like normal speed without having to think about each step. Once there, introduce the ball.

It’s going to be ugly at first. They’ll revert back to their old ways. You may need to have them do ball-less reps from time to time to remind them of proper technique. Keep the main focus on doing things off a toss or set, though. They can always do further reps without a ball on their own time. This way you maximize practice time. Each rep with the ball is worth many of them without, even the bad ones.

The important thing is to not let them worry about hitting errors at all in this process. Keep the focus 100% on the footwork.

Big focus on the last two steps

What you may find a useful way to do things is to focus first on the last two steps. Hitters use abbreviated approaches quite often when they play, so getting good at jumping and swinging off just those two steps is a useful thing to develop in any case. You can then work to add in the prior step (or steps) as they get comfortable.

Be aware, though, that the two variations of goofy-footed approaches present different challenges in this regard. In the first one the player wants to add in another step, while in the second one it is simply a matter of step order.

Other helpful bits

As we know with teaching any skill, cues are important. When fixing a goofy-footed approach you want to think about the cues that get the player into the right pattern. That could be something as simple as “left first” to make sure they begin the correct way.

My other recommendation is to use video. In particular, use some sort of delayed video process so the player can see what they’re doing after their repetitions. Show the player what the proper footwork looks like by way of modeling – either via a demonstrator or showing them a video clip – then let them compare that with what they themselves are doing. It’s a good way for them to connect what they feel with the objective.

Thoughts? Comments? Observations? Use the comment section below to share them.

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John Forman
John Forman

John is currently the Volleyball Technical Director for Charleston Academy. His previous experience includes the college and university level in the US and UK, professional coaching in Sweden, and both coaching and club management at the Juniors level. Learn more on his bio page.

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