January 11, 2008

Off-Season College Volleyball Training Suggestion

With the Spring Semester beginning in college, it also begins the off-season or Non-Traditional Season (fancy NCAA term for those sports that are not in their NCAA Championship segment). More and more the off-season is not 'off' - this is a trend that I disagree with completely. College volleyball players and coaches need OFF time during the Spring Semester.

College Volleyball is fortunate in a sense that the competitive season is in the Fall Semester, which allows us to have the Christmas and New Year's Holiday off. The Basketballs span both semesters and if successful in their season, they will actually be training during each school holiday. A sport such as Softball is a spring sport, but they really use the Fall Semester as their pre-season training and are very intense in an effort to jump start their season; it can't really be called the off-season.

Traditionally, Basketball and Football have been manic about using each possible moment to train their teams in some capacity and thus, the NCAA has developed specific rules with regards to training hours during the Traditional and Non-Traditional seasons. College Football has some of the most stringent rules and because of this, their players actually have some 'down-time' during the Spring Semester and Summer. Basketball, on the other hand, has no down time - unfortunately for their Student-Athletes, they are expected to play volunteer "pick-up games" everyday that they are in their off-season ("volunteer" workouts do not count in the rules), in addition to lifting, conditioning and coach led group training. That begins the 1st day of school, re-starts the first day after the end of the season and continues through the summer. One of the greatest hypocrisies of the NCAA is the lamentation over the dismal graduation rates of men's (and now women's) basketball, while they allow the sport to dominate the player's collegiate existence.

Specifically the NCAA says that during the Traditional Season, a sport is allowed 20 hours of Countable Activity (not including travel and a pre-determined hour amount is used for all contests), with a minimum of one Off-Day per week. During the Non-Traditional Season, the NCAA states that a sport may engage in 8 hours of Countable Activity per week, with no more than 2 hours per week being spent on small group training (up to 4 SA's per group). Each of the above hourly limits are applicable to individual players of the team. In addition, some sports allow for an approximate 6 week Spring Season that is similar to the Traditional Season - 20 hour practice week and competitions.

A disturbing trend that I am seeing in Volleyball and other Olympic Sports is the gravitation towards the Basketball model of managing the Non-Traditional season. It is common to see Fall Sports back in the weight room, on the courts doing abilities, into groups of four for volleyball training, being told to go play pick-up games at a certain hour beginning the first week of the new semester. I disagree with this philosophy because it allows for no true off-time in college for the player or the coach.

There is only so much gas in the tank of a team. A mistake that I made early in my coaching career was making the pre-season workouts and early season matches very challenging - this resulted in having a very good team in September and a very tired team in November; November is much more important than September. I learned through experience to train less in the early part of the season, to allow my teams to peak later in the schedule. The same argument is made for the Non-Traditional season.

What makes me uncomfortable with a demanding off-season is the length of it and asking everyone in the program to focus for over 15 weeks. During the fall, you have the stimulus of upcoming competitions. The Spring competition opportunities are limited and usually not until late-March or April. While I believe lifting is an intelligent choice for a team, moving into intense conditioning or skill work is not - there is still too much time left in the semester.

Touching a volleyball and being together with other players and staff, should be the highlight of the day. By going to fast too soon, an atmosphere is created where the highlight quickly becomes a burden and everyone gets a bit edgy.

From an academic or philosophical point of view, I feel athletics must be balanced by non-athletics. Even though the SA just went home for Christmas, home is not campus. Being in college means being a college kid - not so much a college athlete, just some kid enjoying what college is all about. I disagree with the argument that since the player is on a scholarship they should be doing something for their sport every day - is the same argument made about the drama or chemistry student who is on a supported scholarship? In a real sense, the volleyball player is doing something for their sport, something that too many basketball and football players are not doing - going to class, making good grades and graduating.

I always stress the importance of being a college kid - make smart choices, don't be a knucklehead, but enjoy what it means to be 18 to 22 years old and in college. Pull an all nighter, eat to much pizza, take a road trip with friends - live like a college kid.

Too many times, in too many sports, I see Seniors that are counting the days until they leave and are so burnt out on sports that they don't even want to touch a ball for a long, long time.

Every now and then, coaches get word of NCAA proposals that may limit the number of Countable Hours, add another mandatory off day or restrict 'volunteer' activities, but it never comes to fruition - Because of the NCAA television contract for the NCAA Men's Basketball Championship Tournament, nothing is done without the tacit approval of Men's Basketball and they don't want any more limitations placed on their sport; they already feel as if they can't do much of use right now (I am not kidding).

If you are college coach or a potential college coach, I would strongly encourage you to go slow during the off-season - make as much of it OFF as possible. I believe you will be surprised how much better your workouts will be, how much more focused the players are and how much more enjoyable the whole Non-Traditional season is for everyone.