September 21, 2012

Volleyball Training Intensity Question


Due to an ankle injury my daughter was unable to tryout for her highschool team (she is a sophomore). Her doctor says she will be able to play again starting next week, and she has already planned out how she will "make up" for not playing this high school season.

My concern is that prior to her ankle injury she was very fatigued, had an elevated heart rate, and frequently getting sick. Over the summer she had been attending camps/practice/private lessons up to five days a week, in addition to doing a lot of practice by herself at home. I had talked to her about perhaps needing to rest more, however it wasn't until she was injured that she started to realize she might be pushing too hard.
My question is how much weekly practice do you recommend for an athlete wanting to attend a D1 school? My daughter started playing volleyball late and has always felt like she is trying to catch up; she is only 5'6" and has a 21" vertical,  so she always feels like she has to practice more than everyone else to keep up.

My daughter is planning to practice every day of the week (again) until club season. I'm afraid she will overtrain and get injured, but she showed me this article: describing that professional players spend " 8 to 10 hours in a day playing pickup volleyball". 

I am confused as to how much practice is "normal" and how much is too much. I realize that this will differ for every athlete, but could you please give a general description as to how much and what type of practice you recommend for high school athlete preparing for D1 college volleyball?

Thank you,

Thanks for the email and I am glad to hear that your VolleyPSA's ankle is getting better.  First of all, I have never heard of the author of the article in ehow and I read his bio which mentions nothing about him having experience in volleyball, much less beach volleyball.  I played on the pro beach tour for 5 years and no one practiced 8 hours a day (even Karch Karily); we did no more than 4, and that was with taking many breaks during the training.  So, completely ignore and delete that article from your mental database.

You have touched upon a significant point with volleyball training; down time.  The body and the mind needs the opportunity to rest, must have the chance to shut down for recovery.  With my collegiate teams, I not only made sure to give as many off days as I could, but I was continuously stressing the need to get quality blocks of sleep (college kids tend to equate "off" days with "let's go party since we don't have to practice").

My goals for these extra off days were, 1) Individual health for the athlete during the season, and for the length of their career; when I say health, I mean physical and mental.  I wanted my players as motivated as seniors, as they were as freshman - burn out is a common condition for too many collegiate seniors.  2)  Trying to manage my team so they were strong in later October and November, which are the important matches for conference finish and conference tournament performance.

With regards to amount of practice when a PSA's goal is to be a DI athlete, I believe it is better to look at Quality, not Quantity.  I have seen many players which could win a cross fit contest, but could not pass a serve.  Athletes who had great vertical jumps, but whose armswing technique was so poor they never hit above .300 in a match.

Because of your daughter's height and jump, she will not be an attacker in NCAA DI and honestly, not NCAA DII.  To reach the DI level, she needs to focus upon being a Libero or Defensive Specialist; not so much in high school, but definitely in club.  In high school, she can be an outside hitter, which will allow her to work on passing and defense, while she gets the opportunity to bang balls.  In club, as a sophomore, she needs to focus in on back row only to fine tune her ball control game.  The Libero/DS position is the most competitive position with DI recruiting because there are a significant number of quality players, but scholarships and roster spots are limited.

Coming back to your PSA; she should be focusing on what she is practicing, not how long she is practicing.  I would rather see her get a solid hour of quality ball control touches and technique, than a 3 hour session of random drills/play and jumping.

High school play/practice can be a bit of an unknown because of the varied talent levels of the coach; some schools have experience volleyball coaches with a playing background, while others have someone who was told a week before the season that they are now the volleyball coach, even though they have never had anything to do with the sport.  

By your email, it looks as if your PSA won't be involved with the high school season, even when she returns from her injury.  I would suggest setting up a simple routine which focuses on quality ball control touches, and you may need to do this via lessons.  I think lessons 2 days a week, would be plenty to get her ball control back up to where it needs to be pre-club.  I would only do 2 days of cardio work or body weight lifting (running, cycling, treadmill, swimming, push ups, sit ups, etc) to keep the body strong.  The other three days a week, I would just be a 16 year old kid hanging out with friends, doing chores around the house, reading books, etc.  Maybe some pick up volleyball during one of those 3 days, but only if she is feeling healthy and strong.  

What you absolutely don't want to happen is she goes so hard now, that she is running out of gas when club is just starting.  The sophomore year (16's) of club is an extremely important year in club; this is the year that college coaches will start making their 'serious' evaluations of talent.  For the Libero/DS position, they are marking those players for which they will track and evaluate for the next couple of seasons to see how they progress in the skills.  Arriving into club season worn out is illogical.  She cannot sprint into the club season because you can't hold up that sprint speed for 6 months; she needs to jog into the club season.

When she gets into club season, don't allow her (as best as you can with a teenager), to add her own workouts/training, on top of the club training.  Again, she needs to focus on the quality of her touches, not the quantity.  As a collegiate coach, I would rarely, if ever, let my players stay after practice to do extra work.  My reasoning was that with rally score, and every touch being critical, you don't have the luxury of 'staying after' a match to get extra touches; those touches in the match are the reason you win or lose.  Same philosophy with practice; those touches in the practice need to be focused and of quality because they count.  If a player only passes 15 balls the entire practice, she has to focus in and make sure that those 15 passes were 15 perfect passes.  The mentality of saying, "I only got to pass 15 balls in this practice", so I need to get more after practice does not dovetail into rally score.  In a match, you have to make sure you pass those 15 balls perfect because you don't get extra after the match.  

Hope my answers will help guide your PSA.  Your mantra should be Quality not Quantity.

Coach Matt Sonnichsen


  1. Quality vs Quantity

    Hi Coach, I am so glad you brought that up. My PSA is a freshmen setter on Her JV team and she is determined to make varsity next year. How should I prepare her? Should we spend the money on private lesson next summer or should we send her to a setter camp? Everyone is saying Sports Performance has the best setting camp. It is a week long setting camp , cost $700. Everyone from the top club goes there and claims that it will transform the setters. Have you heard about that camp?

  2. The Sports Performance Camp is very good, and she will receive a huge number of touches on the ball. I agree with most of the setting technique taught; there are some short comings but it may be the best opportunity for maximum reps. I think private lessons can be good, provided they are will someone who can actually teach setter. Remember that much of being a good setter is the calendar; it just takes time to develop the physical ability and experience to develop the mental ability. Lastly, Club Volleyball is probably her best avenue to develop skills, yet this can be the most expensive option.


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