Coach, I love your site and read it constantly.
I have a 12 year old that has been playing for 3 years in club ball. She has been playing Middle but this year she was moved to OPP.
Her problem is that although she has excellent form when hitting it's not translating into good hits. She has the form on her jump of the Greek Javelin Thrower as you described, and gets on top of the ball when she hits.
The problem looks like she just isn't getting high enough yet at her age. She is 5' 8" tall and her vertical is not great at 17.5".
Everyone is preaching for her to get her arm higher when she jumps but this is only going to mess up her form when she gets older. She is taking jump training to increase her jump height. Having trouble with her hits is causing her to see less playing time on her elite National team, and she is afraid to make the change. What do you suggest?
Does she go with an inferior high arm swat in order to get the hits over or does she continue to work with her superior form and wait for the jump increase to come?
Need a bit of clarification on your Q, before I can provide some direction. Tell me about her contact point, because before she starts her swing, she should look like the Greek Javelin Thrower, but when she is attacking/contacting the volleyball, her hitting arm should be reaching up as high as possible and fully extended. A common swing mistake is caused by hitting/contacting the ball closer to the ear/head as opposed to at full arm extension.
Let me know and I will be able to help a bit more.
Her contact point is not fully extended but it is above her head. She is getting on top of the ball when she hits.
Coaches are saying that her Javelin starting point is causing her to be late to the ball. They want her to basically extend her right arm straight up immediately, and swat the ball as it comes down
How can she get her arm extended and still feel comfortable that she is not totally reconstructing her hit?
OK - From what I can gather, she has a lower contact point and while this allows for her to get on top of the ball, it does impact her ability to constantly attack with success.
1. She is only 12 years old, so don't dramatize the situation. As you are aware of the need for improvement, this is a great first step, but keep it mellow.
2. At 12, the vertical jump should not be a concern and please stop the jump training. Whatever time/money is being spent on jump training would be 100% better spent on passing, setting, ball control. I would rather have her play pepper with you/mom/grampa or her 4th cousin, as this will make her better at her age, than pounding the joints by jump training when she is still growing.
3. Get a Nerf football and start playing catch with her. The Nerf football size is easily gripped by younger players and it is softer, as to be comfortable to catch/throw. When throwing a football, releasing it near your head/ear is not correct and the ball will not spiral/fly as far, as when extending the arm to throw the ball. Plus, when you are playing catch with a football, it takes the pressure of Volleyball away from her and you can monitor her release point and encourage her to extend her arm to throw the ball. This simple, but consistent routine will encourage her to re-train her muscle memory in a relaxed but effective environment. We use this Nerf football method to help re-train/re-learn armswings after shoulder surgery with our college players.
4. Away from her team, get her on a court with some balls and have her stand at the 10' line and self toss ball up high with two hands (the key is high tosses), then hit the ball over the net. From 10' feet away, the low contact point will not go over the net consistently, while a higher contact point will. Again, do this away from her team or coaches and just encourage her to "reach" to hit. If you could pick one key word to use, I would say 'REACH'. This is a simple word which is easily imaged in the mind - I am reaching up to the ball. Not get the arm higher, lift the arm up sooner, but just reach for the ball to hit it - By simply 'reaching', the arm will start to extend and the contact point will elevate.
5. When she is warming up her shoulder with a partner, this is the prime time to 'practice' a better armswing by encouraging her to reach to hit the ball. There is no pressure, and thus many times no focus, when players are just warming up their armswings and poor hitting technique often just gets reinforced. I constantly remind my college players to have proper technique in warm-ups, instead of just being lazy.
6. Have her focus on hitting deep corners when she is attacking in hitting lines or practice situations, and not trying to hit the ball hard. At her age, because of her physical development, it is easier to hit the ball hard the closer the contact point is to the head. Initially, as she develops her armswing, she will need to give up some power to get a consistent high contact point, but once she does groove her improved swing and as she gets older, this power will return with much more force.
7. The Greek god form is just the starting point, which should allow the proper shoulder and footwork load mechanism; again, just the correct starting point. The next sequence is the pulling back of the non-hitting arm, while extending and reaching to attack with the hitting arm, and rotating the shoulders and torso.
Trust me - Don't let her stress about it, stop the jump training, play lots and lots of Nerf Football catch so you can look at her release point, have her stand and reach to hit the ball, and then be patient - She is 12 and has lots of time to grow her new swing. When she is a stud 18's player, she will just have a hazy memory of being a 12's player. Better to struggle to find the court while learning as a 12 year old, then struggling to find the court as an 18 year old!