I had this question come in via LinkedIn.

I’m a volleyball coach in England coaching junior players. I have boys and girls at U14s, u15s, U16s and u18s. I’m very conscious of injury prevention for our juniors and looking at warming up and cooling down before training and matches. Do you have any routines that maybe of use? Also taking into account the level of our players, any basic activities would be useful so we can assess mobility and develop over time. Hope you can help.

Warming up

In the post Are your warm-ups wasting valuable time? I speak to my feelings on what it makes sense to do to in warm-ups. The bottom line is that I want to spend as little time on things that don’t involve volleyball-specific activities as I can. This is especially true when there is limited practice time. I prefer to go right into some kind of light ball-handling (e.g. a pepper variation) and build the intensity. This is especially true for younger players who need to work on basic skills.

The above said, there is also what you sometimes hear referred to as pre-hab or activation. Essentially, that’s doing a set of exercises before practice which is meant to help both develop elements of stability (core, lower leg, shoulders) and to prepare the body for activity. These tend to be included for more physically mature athletes, and where one has more time available. This is not something for those who only train once a week for 90 minutes.

Now, pre-match warm-ups are a slightly different situation. There you not only have the physical element, but also the mental. [Not that you don’t have a mental aspect to practice prep. It’s just different.] I talked about some ideas in that regard in this post.

Cooling down

As for after practices or matches, this is the time players can work on flexibility via stretching. Stretching before activity, according to the research, has no impact on injury prevention. Using it to increase flexibility and mobility, though, helps both with prevention and improved performance.

Here too you run into the issue of time and frequency. If you only practice once or twice a week, then stretching after your sessions isn’t enough. It needs to be more of an every day sort of thing for your athletes. That means they have to do it on their own. I wish you luck getting them to do that!

Strength training, etc.

There’s no doubt that athletes who are more physically capable are less likely to pick up injuries. Training and playing volleyball at a sufficiently high intensity is generally enough to build playing fitness through development of the appropriate energy systems. As such, adding “conditioning” to your practice isn’t generally necessary.

Developing functional strength and movement, of course, can be quite beneficial. How you do this, though, depends a lot on your athletes. For some, body-weight exercises are more than enough. For others, time in the weight room is the way to go. I would recommend speaking with someone in that profession in regards to your specific situation.

Additional thoughts on injury prevention

Mark Lebedew wrote a post on prevention of ankle injuries, which are the most common in volleyball. In it he basically says they mostly happen when two players attempt to occupy the same space – meaning one lands on the other. This happens because of two main reasons. One is the players aren’t properly trained to avoid those kinds of situations (poor body control, lack of understanding of positional responsibilities, etc.). The other is lack of concentration, which is often the result of fatigue.

Fatigue is always a risk factor for injuries. That means it’s something we as coaches always need to have in mind – both in the immediate term and cumulatively. This relates to acute injuries (i.e. ankle sprains) as well as overuse injuries. To that end, we have to be aware of not just how many repetitions our players are getting of things like jumps, but also their distribution over the course of a session.

I’d recommend listening to what David Gil from VERT has to say in this regard with respect to high impact jump landings here, here, and here.

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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.

Please share your own ideas and opinions.