Here’s something I came across in a coaching group.

Anybody have some good drills to work on getting players reaction times quicker?? My girls have good vball skills and are quick but our reaction time is sllllooooowwwww! Any help would be appreciative!

The way this coach addresses the problem she identified is a quite interesting one. Notice how she said they are quick, but that their reaction times are slow. In doing so she divides the physical aspect (quick) from the recognition element. To quote the highly respected Vern Gambetta:

Agility is not an isolated physical ability, nor is it a as general a quality as it is often presented. It is closely tied to specific sports skill & tactical situations. Agility is highly dependent of functional strength, dynamic balance, proprioception, body awareness & vision.

This is important because we’re talking about different things that often get conflated. The result is basically ineffective effort and no real results. Each element needs to be addressed.

The physical

Part of being quick to make a play on the ball is the physical capability of the player – functional strength, etc. We’re talking here about basic question of how much time it takes to go from Point A to Point B. Some of it is genetic. There’s not much we as coaches can do about that. Some of it, though, is a function of training. Obviously, we can influence that part.

Training quickness in this regard is about increasing the neuromuscular ability of the athlete to move quickly. That comes from stuff like weight training, plyometrics, etc.


While training the physical side of things is valuable, the real gains generally come at the level of recognition. This is about reading the play, anticipating what’s coming, and making the right call on how to deal with it (see RPE).

It’s really simple. The earlier the player identifies what they have to do, the sooner they can start moving. This is why you see younger players not making plays when more experienced ones with similar physical abilities don’t just make them, but make them easily.

Training recognition

Here’s where coaches waste time. Among the recommendations I saw offered to the coach who posted the above question were the following.

  • Have a player pass balls thrown by a partner behind them to bounce off a wall (and other blind drills).
  • Work with an agility ball
  • Juggling
  • Stuff with tennis balls

And, of course, there were a few answers that didn’t seem to have anything to do with the question – as you often see in online discussions. But I digress.

Do any of the exercises above actually teach a player how to read the play and anticipate? Nope. Not even a little. They involve none of the cues a player needs to evaluate and interpret. Essentially, they are useless for training volleyball (though they have value in terms of developing physical literacy in young athletes).

Fortunately, at least a couple of commenters suggested teaching the players what to look at and how to read the play. Importantly, this means making all skill training as game-like as you can. If you’re training players in non-game-like situations then you are leaving out that critical read element that allows them to learn how to anticipate. This necessarily means your players won’t react as quickly on the court as they could.

See also Develop better player reactions from the start, not the finish.

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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.

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