I came across the following question on a Facebook group:

Any tips to help stop my hitters from dropping their elbow when hitting? I try and try and try, reminding them to reach high, and try to get them acknowledge what they’re doing but they still keep dropping it.

In the replies, probably not surprisingly, there was a lot of talk about different mechanical cues and exercises to help remedy the problem. I only saw two replies which sought to address the cause of the dropping elbows. In other words, it was a classic case of offering treatments for the symptoms rather than the disease.

So why DO attackers drop their elbows? As was brought up in the comments of this particular discussion, there are two usual causes. Though it’s worth noting that while each of them was presented, they were both presented as being the only cause.


Cause #1: Error avoidance mentality

In some cases, players drop their elbows because they believe hitting up from under the ball provides them a better chance of success. In this case, success to them is getting the attack over the net and into the other team’s court. This results in a kind of shot put type of attack. We probably see this most often with smaller players who can’t yet contact the ball above the net. Most likely your biggest job in this situation is shifting the player away from the “just get it in” mentality.

Cause #2: Late

Once you reach the point of players having the general concept of what an attack should look like (i.e. not a shot put), the dropped elbow is largely the result of poor timing. The arm swing happens too late, so in order to make proper contact the player has to hit the ball below their full extension. Telling the player to “reach” or putting them in drills that you think forces them to reach won’t fix this. That’s not addressing the timing issue. The player either needs to start their approach sooner, initiate the arm swing earlier, or simply swing faster. This is something you need to help the player recognize.

These are the two most likely culprits for dropping the elbow. There are others. For example, a player with a shoulder issue may do it to avoid pain. Regardless, it’s your job as the coach to properly recognize the underlying issue and address that. If you can’t, you’re probably never really going to fully fix the problem.

I should probably note that I’m not suggesting in here a “high elbow” position is preferable. It probably isn’t.

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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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