Landing Strategies for Keeping Players Healthy Through Conference Play
While it is common knowledge that landing is the highest impact movement performed on the volleyball court, data collected over the past four years has provided more specifics about which jumps tend to cause the most stress (spoiler, it’s not what you think).
This data has been collected using VERT IMU’s (inertial measurement units) on over 200 collegiate, national and professional club programs. The most intriguing finding has been the impact that serve landings have on the majority of volleyball players.
Float serve jump heights range anywhere from around 7”-14”, averaging around 12” per serve. However, the landing impact on these serves, measured by isolating the peak acceleration recorded by the sensor sitting at the athlete’s center of mass, is proportionally much higher than the landing for block and attack jumps (not including the slide). For many athletes, the stress, or “jerk” associated with the landing on serves is higher than that of jumps, nearly twice as high.
Currently, there are two studies are being conducted to determine WHY this is the case, but the working theory pertains to the athlete’s visual focus on the jump. With their eyes higher up there’s less proprioceptive awareness as they come down, hence the chance for a more stiff landing. When they are blocking or attacking they have a clearer view of the ground since they are not typically following a ball’s upward trajectory.
How did we come across this critical insight?
Our performance lab was reviewing data for a number of programs, specifically “impact” data, when an odd pattern presented itself. On each team, there were groupings of short jumps, 11”-14” followed immediately by disproportionately high impacts (peak accelerations) when compared to the impacts following significantly higher jumps. By tagging these sections and speaking with the programs, we quickly found these to be serves.
Our next step was to create an algorithm to isolate the peak acceleration directly after a jump. From there, landing impact was born. After months of internal testing and working with collegiate programs we were able to create landing thresholds that have been paramount in helping programs flag higher injury risk athletes and make informed, individualized decisions on training.
So how can this information help keep players healthy?
This information does not call for any massive adjustment to how players serve, though it has been used to adjust how often. Hard landings after a serve as the player gets in position to defend may just be par for the course and while it has historically been considered “low-impact,” many programs now understand that serves can make up for a majority of their athlete’s high impact landings (VERT breaks the landings into low, medium, high and alert impacts based on landing stiffness and joint stress). Additionally, depending on an athlete’s skill as a server, or how often she may serve, programs have adjusted the number of serves taken and used those jumps to train other skills in order to minimize joint stresses.
Top Three Data Applications for VERT in Volleyball
Over 500 collegiate, national and professional club teams around the world use VERT to monitor training load for their teams. The top question we always hear is, “how are other programs using this information to keep their players healthy and win?”
1. Jump count: The original metric, programs not only utilize jump count to help dramatically reduce the risk of injury but over the last few years more programs are using it to help better practice plan from a performance optimization standpoint. For example, most programs will employ a typical periodization strategy for Friday and Saturday matches by having a low/medium day Monday, high load Tuesday, medium Wednesday and low Thursday to give their players time to recover for the Friday match. This general model has proven effective for helping build capacity and optimizing performance on game day.
2. Landing Impact: Used by over 250 programs with the VERT Team System (VTS), landing impact provides both real-time and historical views of how athletes are landing, specifically, how well they are attenuating ground forces up to their centers of mass (landing stiffness). After a few practices programs are able to flag higher injury risk players who need to work on their mechanics. As the season progresses, it is common for landing impacts of fatigued players to trend upwards, which can help programs intervene by providing more recovery before an injury occurs.
3. Practice and Game intensity Comparisons: VERT is allowed to be worn in-game, allowing programs to better understand the average load demands per match they need to have their athletes prepared to handle, as well as their average vertical performance (both jump and landing). This allows programs to compare practice to game performance when applicable, such as 6 v. 6 scenarios as well as gauge the success of the week’s training based on possible fatigue in-match.
There are numerous other applications of the VERT data, some even for specific positions just as middle blockers or back row defenders, but we’ll review that in our next report.
Jump Goal Countdown Makes Load Monitoring Easier than Ever
If you happen to be observing practice for any number of programs around the world you may hear the coach ask a staff member, “where are we at with our middles?” Or they would ask about a certain player. This is often in reference to how many jumps have been performed up to that point in practice. Having this information is critical to understanding training loads and making in-practice adjustments, especially with players in a return to play protocol.
To make this easier, the VERT Team System (VTS) is being updated to allow programs to input jump count goals, both by player and position, to make it easier to gauge progress throughout a practice. Upon request, with one tap of the application, the system will switch to a countdown mode, providing quick access to how many more jumps each player has before reaching the planned jump goal.
Additionally, the app will color code the jumps as players work towards their goals, starting with green, moving to yellow, and then red once they’ve reached the goal. If practice goes a little longer than anticipated and the athletes train above 10% of the set goal, their jump count icon will further alert the staff.
This latest innovation will help make the system more user-friendly while allowing programs to better make in-practice adjustments to maximize training efficiency, minimize injury risk, and optimize performance.
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