November 8, 2011

Where is your Elbow?

Hitter, where is your elbow?  Is it high or is it low?  Does it wobble to and fro?  Is it behind your shoulder, like a continental soldier?

Give me some love often can a coach blend Volleyball attacking advice with a nursery song?

Enough of my self loving blog brilliance.  Hitters need to make sure they have their elbows up, not down before they begin moving their attack arm forward to spike the ball. A couple of my athletes are struggling with this technique shortcoming, because it does affect a player's ability to successfully attack at the elite levels.  I figure if my collegiate players are struggling with this, maybe my feedback could help VolleyPSA's.

My experience is that hitters who get their elbows quickly up and above the height of their shoulders will have better power and the ability to adjust the angles of their attacks.  The visual is to imagine pulling a bow string (bow and arrow), or if you are about to take a punch at your annoying older brother.  Another visual is you want to create as much space or air between your upper arm and the side of your body, while keeping the hand high.

For some reason, the Brazilian players I have had on my team over the years have always had a very high elbow when they start their swing.  This has been a key attribute of their ability, because they have not been the tallest players, but since their arm swing was technically correct, they could manage to be successful against the taller collegiate blockers because of their power and ability to hit a variety of angles.  

When hitters load their arm swing (the motion of moving your arms up into a pre-attack position as you jump) with a low elbow, an elbow which is below the shoulder and tighter to the body, it tends to delay the attacking motion.  What happens with a low elbow load, is the hitter must take a split second to get the elbow up just before attacking, which many times will result in contacting the ball lower than optimum.  A lower contact point means more balls being blocked, more balls catching the top of the net (which I call the tape), and less ability to move the angle of the attack.

I believe the arm swing should be two separate strong movements, instead of one flowing and/or wiggling movement.  The load segment is distinct; as the hitter jumps, she quickly moves her arms into attack position with the attack arm elbow high and back, while the off arm is raised and extended.  There should be a split second of hesitation or stall in this position, then then hitter releases this posture and rotates quickly into the attack.

What I don't like to see is a continuous motion in the arm swing, where there is no break in the movement from loading back to moving forward to attack.  Also, I don't like to see a wiggle or waggle in the arm motion as it moves from load to attack.  Once again, it should almost look like you are about to punch somebody - The player loads her arm, then hesitates, then POW, annoying older brother is seeing stars.

For players to determine what their swing looks like, they need to see themselves on film.  In today's gadget driven world, this should be rather easy as every smart phone our little geniuses carry around could have filmed Star Wars! 

As to improving a low loading elbow, I suggest two means;

1) Have the player stand on an a block/attack box, pre-load her attack swing with the elbow high and hand back, then another player, parent, coach, Aunt Edna (anybody tell me the movie reference?) toss a ball up and the player attacks.  Once she has hit 2,461 balls with this technique, then move on the having the player on the box swing her arms up into the correct attack posture, and then after a hesitation, the tosser tosses up the ball to attack.

2)  Attack the ball against the wall - Yes, this old school arm swing training will never die!!  To continuously attack the ball against the wall, so in bounces off the floor, then off the wall, and back to the attacker high enough to immediately re-attack demands the hitter has their elbow back and hand high immediately and repetitiously.  Having the elbow low and being late to load the arms makes this drill almost impossible.  This is probably the best and easiest way to train arm swings for younger players because it is so frustratingly simple; no bad sets, no bad passes, no jumping ability or lack of demanded, just simply hit the ball down, against the wall and do it again without stopping.

Hitters, please check your elbows because where they are when you start your swing can easily determine where you are when you are of college age!

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