October 25, 2009

Volleyball Strength Training Question

My daughter is currently in the 7th grade and has taken an obsession with volleyball. She started playing with an organized team less than a year ago (coached by the local varsity coach) and just finished her 7th grade season. She is currently 5'10" and is expected to grow further. (I am 6'7''; her mother 5'10")
What can I do to help her with 'off' season strength training? She has committed herself to the sport of volleyball, and her work ethic an leadership abilities should take her quite far in the sport. Any advice you could give would be most appreciated.

Excited in Missouri...........

One of the major differences in American volleyball versus international volleyball is the emphasis we place upon strength training. I know when I played internationally, our strength routines were a joke compared to what we were doing in college. I routinely augmented the team's workouts with my own strength training sessions to just stay at a certain physical level which I was accustomed to.

When international players have come into my program, they are noticeably weaker than their USA counterparts - many of them have never lifted before and if they have been exposed to the concept of strength training, it was at a basic level. Yet, these same international players tended to hit harder, be just as quick and jump just as high.

My feeling is that American football in the high schools and colleges has placed the concept of strength training for all USA athletics in the forefront of too many parent's minds at the high school level. While there are any number of high schools which enjoy first class lifting facilities, and any number of membership lifting gyms, the college athletic programs will tend to be superior to anything else. Division I volleyball programs (I know I am being a bit too selective/specific here) enjoy strength training facilities which are cavernous, filled to the rim with any type of weight lifting device/machine imaginable and then staffed with multiple strength coaches who tailor lifting routines to the sport and individual.

I provide this illustration about college lifting, because I don't agree with lifting in high school/club, especially for growing athletes. Developing general core strength through body weight lifts/exercises is good, but to start throwing plates on the rack for heavy routines is not my choice. Let the college programs build bigger strength gains after the player arrives on campus. Let the player finish growing, let her body have a recovery time from the never ending club season, let the bones and ligaments rest, let her just be a 14 year old kid without having to go lift. Believe me, when she is in college getting up at 6 a.m. to lift in the off-season, she will look back fondly at high school.

OK - Now that I have finished my rant against any type of heavy or intense lifting program until your daughter rolls through the rosy door of college athletics, let's move on to your question.

Instead of focusing on strength training for your rapidly growing 7th grader, I suggest you focus on coordination. Very seldom do college coaches look at a young player and say, "she is weak and I don't know if we should recruit her...", but we routinely say, "she is not coordinated and I don't know if we should recruit her..." Why? Again, in college athletics we have the facilities to make Governor Arnold proud, but we can't 'train' coordination when you are 18. If you are concerned about your daughter's physical strength, encourage a routine of push-ups, sit-ups, wall squats, pull ups, etc.

I must stress the importance of keeping your daughter's coordination in line with her height - she may top out at 6 foot and many inches, but if she trips over herself on slide footwork, this is wasted height. Encourage a variety of activities to help her muscles, reflexes, hand eye coordination, etc. always to be challenged.

Just playing volleyball 24/7 will help, but will also lend itself towards burnout, no matter how much volleyball Kool Aid she has consumed. There are any number of activities she can do which will help with coordination; jumping rope, cone or ladder footwork drills, playing soccer, dance class, tennis, golf, swimming, ping pong, surfing, racquet ball, etc. Just about anything you can think of which is non-contact (that is why i did not list basketball; don't want impact injuries) and physical or mental will help her. Dancing is good for the footwork patterns of playing volleyball, golf will help with mental focus and performing a key play at a key time, ping pong is all rapid hand eye coordination, swimming is good for shoulder strength, etc.

At the 7th grade level, the last thing I would suggest is to flood her world with volleyball and lifting. Keep volleyball fresh by encouraging a myriad (first time ever using this word!) of activities and over all core fitness; volleyball burnout is not a fun thing to go through as a player.

Hope my opinion helps.


If you are a strength training professional and completely and utterly disagree with what I have written, please do not e-mail me. I am not saying lifting is wrong or there are not age specific routines which can and will help any number of athletes improve their performance, I am just saying I am not comfortable with strength training at the pre-college age. Just like I am not comfortable with Habanero peppers - does not mean I don't see the value of Habanero peppers for other folks, I just am not comfortable with them!

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