Matt at The College Volleyball Coach has some advice about correcting incorrect spike approach footwork. It’s takes the form of an answer to a reader question. In this case it’s a young girl whose footwork is backwards (goofy-footed).

Have her take approach jump laps around the gym/court. Left, Right, Left, Jump (not a max jump), again and again and again. She literally needs to be taking 5, 8, 10 laps around the court with correct footwork.

After a number of days with approach jump laps, get her a bag of tennis balls (grab used ones from the school tennis coach, if possible). She stands like she is in hitting warm-up lines facing the net, but instead of hitting a volleyball, she goes Left, Right, Left, Jump and throws the tennis ball over the net with her attacking hand/arm. Then she walks back and does it again, and again and again.

The last step is for her to attack from a setter. The coach, or parent, or mailman, tosses the ball to the setter and your daughter approaches Left, Right, Left, Jumps and attacks. The instant she goes into backwards footwork, immediately put her back into tennis ball throws, and back into approach jump laps.

It is critical to fix now; and the way to do it is to continuously practice the correct footwork, with gym laps and tennis ball throw. When she plays, she will revert at times to incorrect footwork just because this was her first learning pattern, but she can make that the rarity instead of the standard with repetitions.

I would add that these techniques can be used to generally work on train proper attack approach footwork. Also, you want to make sure her hips are open toward the court. You don’t want them square to the net. This should show up in the tennis ball throw phase. If the hips aren’t open, it means no torso turn to generate power (see teach them how to throw). That could lead to back and/or shoulder issues down the line.

A better way for the long-term

Having said all of that, there’s a better way to do this from a motor learning perspective. That’s to have the player hit balls on a live setter with feedback after each one. The above approach involves what is called a “parts” training method rather than a “whole”. By that I mean it doesn’t train the whole skill of attacking. It only trains a piece of it. When you do that, you tend to have exactly the type of reversion to old habits Matt mentioned. That’s because they haven’t learned the whole skill. Can they get there eventually? Yes.

The preferred approach is to perhaps do a few of the basic approaches to establish the correct footwork, then move quickly on to the full skill. Video replay is a good way to give rep-by-rep feedback the player can easily process.

Admittedly, this way of training tends to be kind of ugly. It may take longer to see the effects in training reps. In terms of translating to playing, though, it has longer lasting results. Those reversions mentioned before will be less frequent.

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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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