A while back a coaching friend made the comment while we were watching a volleyball match together along the lines of, “Any coach who starts his setter in Position 1 should be fired.” He was joking, of course. After all, I’ve recently seen him start his own setter in Position 1. I used the absoluteness of that statement to shoot something back at him recently, though.

An example of bad mechanics

I watched a German men’s professional match and was stunned at something I saw. One team had a middle who served a jump float – a pretty good one, in fact. That wasn’t the stunning thing. What got my attention was the fact that he did his serve from a standing start. He did no approach at all, not even a single step. He stood square to the end line and executed a jump float serve by just jumping straight up.

To have some fun with my friend, I messaged him later, “Any coach with a player at this point of the season doing a no-step jump serve should be sacked.” Said friend coached in Germany at the time and knew exactly the player I spoke of.

I was, of course, intentionally harsh with my comment as my friend was before. It wasn’t without agreeing with the statement to a degree, however. I try to avoid criticizing other coaches, but every time that player served I flinched a bit internally at the strain it put on his shoulder. I’ve long had shoulder issues of my own, and I’ve seen lots of overuse issues in my years coaching collegiate-aged players. Perhaps that makes me a bit sensitive to this sort of thing.

My friend told me he actually never thought about the shoulder strain issue. In part that’s because it’s not something you think about in the men’s game with respect to float serves. Rightly so. Of course, normally players have forward momentum and at least a bit of torso action to generate serving power. That means there’s very little shoulder strain, for the most part. Not true with this player. Because he had neither forward momentum nor torso action, he had to generate all the power from the shoulder. How many serves did he do over the course of a professional season? Thousands? Not good.

On top of that, he certainly did not maximize his reach with a no-step approach. Extra reach creates a tougher serve angle. The lack of any kind of approach actually made him a less effective server than he could have been.

Coaching failure

So what I tried to express in my somewhat tongue-in-cheek comment was that it’s one thing for a player to come to you with a blatant mechanical issue at the start of the season. No coach blame there. If you do your job, though – and especially if you have the long-term health of the player in mind – then by the end of the season that sort of thing should be ironed out. I can understand the “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” perspective, but if a player uses mechanics likely to be harmful to them in the long run, then they will eventually be broke and it will probably be too late to fix things then.

At the professional level, though, is long-term player health a concern? Same at the international level. They can just go get someone else. That doesn’t mean it’s right, but you can see the though process.

By the way, the club replaced that coach after that season. I doubt that player’s mechanics had much to do with it. Maybe that reflected broader issues, though. Then again, maybe not.

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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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