February 24, 2010

College Volleyball Conditioning Question


What is you opinion of in-season conditioning. My daughters 15 Open team does virtually no conditioning (as well as most other teams at the club) during the season. The coach says he doesn't have time for conditioning during practice and needs the time to work on skills. He gives the team a workout that he expects them to do on their own, but when we run out of gas in the 8th match in a two day tournament he gripes about them being out of shape. Most of the kids start out doing the workout but, with time, it goes by the wayside. I played D1 football and we did conditioning every day at practice. It seems to me that 10 minutes of sprints or line touches would go a long way. How much is done in college?

Thanks, Greg

Us coaches can be full of contradictory statements - The club coach may well be correct that with limited practice minutes, it is tough to allocate time to conditioning and sacrifice touches. Yet, it should not be a surprise when the tank runs dry late in a tournament; I don't know if too many 15 year old volleyball players (or for that matter 21 year olds) who are going to stay focused on a take home conditioning plan.

College volleyball coaches all have their own philosophy with regards to conditioning and much of this relates to our past experiences and current climate in the college game. The switch to rally score lessened the importance of conditioning (in the college game) because games are much shorter in duration and each team still has the opportunity to call two time outs. Back in the day, teams would train for three hours because the match could last for three hours - Now, if a match lasts for three hours, somebody lost the volleyball somewhere in the gym!

Some coaches will include significant conditioning in practice in an effort to fill time (i.e. we need to practice two hours today, but it is easier to make them run for 45 minutes) or to mask frustration in not being able to improve important skill sets/team ability areas (our sideout percentage is terrible, so I will just make them do sprints to compensate). I routinely see many teams which are in great shape, never look winded, but consistently get whacked (technical term for not scoring a lot of points) in matches.

My feeling is that core strength has become a bit more important than cardio for college teams. Again, the matches are not that long and there is plenty of opportunity to rest during games, but the need to jump high and hit hard is still there. There may be plenty of college teams which now do more squats than wind sprints.

Of course, there is some type of conditioning segment in each training session, but college coaches approach this cardio work differently. Some like to get the heart beat consistently up during the first part of practice or warm-up segment; others like to accomplish this during competition drills which are structured to not allow rest and mandate constant high level physical effort; while other coaches like to end practice with sprints.

I don't like to use practice time for cardio, in a perfect world, because I would rather spend less time in the gym, but be very volleyball focused when we are on the floor. Part of this rationale is that I want my team to be fresh and part of it is that I don't like to 'pound' the legs of college players. By the time they get to me, the players have been through 3 to 4 years of intense club seasons that many times are played on nothing more than concrete (don't get fooled by the 1/2 inch of plastic court the tournaments are played upon).

I constantly try to reduce any occurrence of injury and in our sport, repetitive stress injuries are all too common (tendinitis, shin splints, stress fractures) - The less pounding, the less probability of a stress injury. The downside is my players could be a bit out of perfect condition, but my gamble is that I don't lose a key player or two. Dropping a key player is the formula for an average year - Consider Penn State, how well do they do if Hodge gets pulled by the trainers because of stress fractures?

We still do our cardio work, but have luxury of being able to use machines (stationary bike, elliptical trainers, recumbent cycles, stair machines, tread mills, etc) - I am trying to elevate the heart beats without pounding the legs. Yet, just as I reference above, I have to send my assistant in with the team to make sure they are just not cruising along in their work out.

My college volleyball conditioning answer is not very specific, but all over board (just like college coaches). I do think that 5 to 10 minutes of wind sprints would not take too many touches away from volleyball practice, would build a bit endurance and might create a placebo effect for the players later in these two day tournaments. On average, coaches (no matter our classification) tend to reply matches/practices in our minds and even though we can be stubborn/illogical/irrational/emotional/passionate/smell great, we are constantly trying to figure out a way to get our team better.


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