December 1, 2008

Volleyball Vertical Jump Question

A good question about jumping high:

I realize this question has probably been asked a million times, and, there probably isn't anyway to give a perfect or definitive answer to it, but, I'm still very curious…The "APPROACH VERTICAL TOUCH" is one of those statistics/measurements in our sport that has somewhat of a magical feel to it. It seems to have almost as much emphasis in our sport for attackers as how far a QB can throw a football or how fast a running back can sprint 40 yards does in football. We have all heard that the "big" number for front court players is 10 feet. Of course, we also know of the amazing feats of today's premier collegiate players like Megan Hodge at Penn State and Destinee Hooker at Texas who are touching at levels close to 11 feet!!!!!!! Despite the fact the sport will continue to evolve and get more physical, it doesn't seem too realistic for most colleges to find too many Hodge's and Hooker's at the high school level. After all, Hooker is an NCAA high jump champion.

So…what height actually is the magical "approach touch" height for coaches in college volleyball? Plus, I would imagine there are some differences in expectations between D1 level attackers and D2, D3 attackers. Can you please give me some indication on how these approach touch heights break down for the collegiate coach at all levels?Thank you very much for your answer in advance…I really do appreciate your website!!! Mark

You are correct in your assessment that the vertical jump measurement is one of those statistical bedrocks that recruiters (every college volleyball coach in America) find important. In terms of the minimum or necessary approach jump, it varies by conference (in addition to NCAA category).

The Volleyball power conferences (Pac 10, Big 10, Big 12 and to a lesser degree, SEC) have the ability to garner the biggest, best athletes that routinely touch 10'. A mistake that too many power schools made in the past, was to obtain height over ability and hope to raise the student-athlete's ability via training. I say the past, because the athleticism of tall players has now caught up to their height. It is no big deal to see 6'4'+ volleyball players that are athletic as any floor hugging Libero.

With each level of volleyball conference ranking that you descend; from power, through mid-major to secondary to " that really a Division I conference?", you will find a descending approach touch. Also, the non power conferences tend to be more concerned with ability than height - this is not to say that Illinois or Washington are not concerned with a player's skills, but they are faced with the reality that a 6'4" talented outside hitter will be more successful than a 5'10" talented outside hitter.

The mid-majors and below, spend a lot of time and effort to 'sift' through many, many 5'10" outside hitters, 6'1" middle blockers and setters that range the size from an Oompa-Loompa to a giraffe - Talent, consistency, attitude, athleticism all rank much higher in the evaluations than a consideration of height.

A critique that I would have of the lower ranked conferences or teams, is that they took height over talent, even if this height was a 5'10" very average outside hitter, when they could have taken a 5'7" outside hitter who was good. Why? Because there is so much residual pressure on height acquirement from current players, parents, fellow coaches and administrators, that too many coaches want to say they committed a good 5'10' outside and feel good, than having the courage to take a short outside who has ability, but may not 'look good' on paper.

Division III is generally thought of as an academic category - made up of players that put academics first and look at college volleyball as a means to enhance their experience and resume. Experience has taught me that many players choose Division III because of proximity to home or a region of the country they wish to live. Approach touch is not a top consideration, beyond normal evaluations for coaches.

Division II is all over the board, depending so much upon how a school is supported. Many DII schools can actually have more players on full scholarships than Division I because of certain scholarship quirks and many DII schools may only give a pair of shoes and a sandwich to their team because of support. This tends to really skew any type of averages on approach jump - of course it is good to have someone that jumps high, but at DII this high jumping player may not be able to hit the ball into the 900 available square feet to win the lottery!

If you were to look at the NCAA Division II Elite Eight (which play the championship this weekend up in Minneapolis and you can watch on one of the ESPN channels), you will find that many of these teams could pass for a mid to lower level Division I team. The players all have skill, athletic ability and passion. If I had to guess, I would put the approach touches anywhere in the 9'0" to 9'10" range. Yes this is a huge range, but this level may have a great outside that can hit line-angle, change speeds, tool the block, tip short and deep, pass nails and play crazy defense, but can only approach 9' on a great day with rest of the planets lined up exactly over her head for maximum lift from the constellations.

Back to Division I - My best guess on vertical jumps would be 10' or near for the power conference teams, 9'8" +/- for the mid-majors (but you will find a few on the low/high end based on ability) and 9'5"ish for the lower level conferences (with much more variation from this number).

The longer I am in coaching, the less concerned I am with pure approach touch. Yes, I do look for that number when I get a letter from a recruit, but this number is just a number of a piece of paper. When I go to tournaments, I don't watch a player attack and think, "She must be touching 9'+....", but rather what does her arm swing look like, how much does she broad jump, can she pass if she is an outside-can she block if she is a middle, is she positive or a pill?

One of the reason California teams are so scary to play, and I not talking about the members of the Pac 10, is because their player's abilities far exceed their approach touches. Don't get me wrong, Cal Poly or St. Mary's or U. of San Diego or San Jose State, etc. will have tall athletic players, but they seem to have so many players that don't look like anything special when they walk in the gym or start warming up, but they can play ball. I promise you that when the NCAA brackets came out, every 'at large' bid team from outside the west coast was praying not to draw some California team.

Final thought - I get letters from recruits/parents talking about some new physical training regimen/company/system they signed up for and how they will increase their vertical to some huge number and I cringe. At the high school age, I would much rather see players playing volleyball or doing basic core strengthening lifts than tweaking their bodies to jump a few inches higher. I don't suggest going through such a challenging physical regimen, when this time could be used to get better playing skills, build core strength to protect against injuries or just simply take time off so when a player comes to my school, she is not burnt out!

Thanks for the question and hope you had a good Thanksgiving!