Written by John Kessel, USA Volleyball Director, Grassroots, Disabled, Education & Beach Volleyball. January 26, 2005 He has volumes of great information.
First off, you should stop working so hard on hitting the ball harder, and instead focus on swinging your arm faster. When players go for hitting harder, they tighten up the muscles in the shoulder girdle and cannot unleash as fast as an armswing as they might have. Swing fast, swing faster. The dilemma is, when you first start to swing faster, or as fast as you can, you are not as accurate.
Speed first, accuracy second. Trying to be successful for a helpful parent, or for the fans of the match, can not only make a player tight, but they know the unwritten law of parents – I must do this right, while they are watching me” The corollary are those coaches who have the same unwritten law. The coach and/or parents have been heard to say the famous spectator line “For gosh sake, just hit it in!” This statement alone has caused hundreds of volleyball players to not reach their full potential. Let them swing away when young, even if they lose, as they will stay fast and be more accurate as time goes on. Andre Aggassi said it best when he was young – “I hit the ball as hard as I could, I found the court later.” Tiger Woods said the same thing when he said “I hit the ball as hard as I could, and found the fairway later.” Be patient, let them miss.
See how fast you can really swing… Swing your arm at the ball against a wall where anything, from floor to ceiling, is “accurate enough” while seeing how fast you can swing your arm. The idea here is to get a feeling of how fast the player can really swing, if accuracy is not a worry. That is the swing wanted, when in the air spiking.
Open the door, slam the door. Much of the power in serving and hitting, comes from torque. That same twist baseball pitchers use to fall off the mound. Only we spikers have to do it in the air. Players need to develop powerful torque, by opening up, sometimes called much to Tom Tait’s chagrin “bow and arrow.” The key is, to open up after take off, and as you swing that fast arm, close off, slam the door, with as much power and speed as you can. Like the armswing, timing is vital and takes a long period to learn for most players.
Jump so the ball is in front of your hitting shoulder.
Hit 3 meter line first and every practice. Right now coaches spend their lives begging the hitters to stay off the net. That is due to the tradition of hitting on the net. Not only is this easier to block for any sized player, it also makes for more ankle sprains and injuries, when the set drifts too close to the net. The BEST way to learn to spike is to first hit 2 meter high balls, from the 3 meter line. You can set it higher if you want (see the impact of higher sets elsewhere in this article), but it should start at the 3 meter line, then move closer as the practice and season develops.
Always follow through. What kind of a tennis serve would a player have, if they stopped at full reach after striking the ball? How many home runs will you hit if you stop your bat after you swing for the seats? Too many kids slow or stop their arms after hitting the ball. Let your arm whip through the ball, and slow naturally down by your waist area. Which side if any, of your body, is determined by the shot you hit.
Remember how hard this is. The Volleyball spike is the ONLY sport where maximum effort, is done unsupported every time. Basketball players do not take jump shots from 3/4 court every time, baseball batters do not have to jump and swing to hit homeruns. This is also the only sport where the maximum effort, jumping, is followed immediately by another max effort, spiking the ball. It takes a LOT of repetitions and good timing to hit that sweet spot in time.
Timing is core to the success of hitting hard. The best way to learn timing, is to hit real set balls, so you can time them. They can be random in pattern after learning the basics from a same set ball. Random training is better for superior learning/remembering. Since we learn best from gamelike things, the ideal hitting drill is a pass-set-hit drill, or a dig-set-hit drill. Not off of tosses or a machine. Off of live sets. If you don’t have a teammate, sure, set yourself and hit it over the net.
High sets are the hardest to time and learn from. Yet that is the ball most kids start with, supposedly to get more time to figure out where the ball is falling and give time to get there. The lower the set, the less speed the ball is falling through the sweet spot hitting zone. The high sets come down ripping through this sweet strike zone, and players most often hit them into the net.
Use the wall right. Most players love to bang the ball repetitively against the wall. What coaches have told me is that it develops “wrist snap.” Nope, it is developing the negative error, the bad miss, of hitting into the net or block. Just like our friend pepper does. What they need to get, are reps hitting OVER the net, with wrist snap of course, not into the net. So get them to set themselves and hit above a 7’4″ mark, and grab the rebound to redo that motion, as that is a swing worth knowing, how to hit over the net, or even over the block and in.
Why is it so hard to hit at full extension? Please don’t be a coach who then says, “Reach!,” “Get on top of the ball!,” “Don’t drop your elbow!” and variations on those technique comments. First, check for understanding, by having the player show you their armswing, without the ball. If the player swings with a bent elbow, or down by their ear, they do not understand the technique. If they show you full extension, they understand the technique and what they SHOULD do. The challenge is to do it, up in the air, ball moving one way, player another, as the third hit of the team most the time. They often make errors of anticipation, and judgment, and by the time they are ready to rip on the ball, it has fallen, for the ball cannot hover like a golden snitch…it keeps falling. The end result, players drop their elbow or swing low. The solution? Swing sooner, or swing faster. It comes back to timing.
Jump serve. This lets you set yourself, develop an over the net armswing, and unleash a lot of power. It is a closed motor program, so you will time things better than when someone is “surprising you” with their set variations. You control the set, the height, distance, etc. You likely will get better faster with the jump serve, than your spike. Even if young, jump serving lets you crank on the ball, so never give up, just keep swinging.
Stop always hitting the way you are facing. While this is not just about hitting hard, it is about being a great hitter, and great hitters can hit all directions, not just where they face. Practice hitting cut and line, from warm up to finish.
Learn how to hit roll shots and control with your non-dominant hand. Misjudging the ball is more common than timing it right. When that error in ball/jump/hit it means the ball is over their non-dominant shoulder most players lean over, to put the ball as much in front of their dominant shoulder as they can. The end result, they land on their opposite leg (left leg for a right handed spiker in this predicament), and they too often injure that knee on landing. You need to have an ace up your sleeve, and be able to roll shot or control a ball with your non-dominant hand. Practice this in short court warm up games, and hit some sets as well, so you can do it. This is NOT at full power, unless you get a lot of practice, it is with control.
Play doubles. Let them love the game and get lots of reps in the fun of playing the Olympic game of doubles, on or off the sand. In doubles, if you are the weaker hitter, you should get every ball, so you will get lots of training on your passing, and hitting if you can pass. Over and over again.
Play monarch/queen/king of the court. Let them love the game. They know it is the best way to learn to spike hard, by playing this game. Just make one rule – if you give the other team a free ball, they can set it on the net. If you make it hard on them with a deep court spike or a good standing spike, they have to stay at the 3 meter line hit.
I hope this helps you see the many parts and ways to become a more powerful spiker. Good luck and have fun as a better terminator.