Training Insights, Applications, and Innovations
Skill Acquisition Versus Physical Preparedness
Our Performance Lab Director, David Gil, had the honor of presenting on a panel at AVCA 2022 convention with James Madison University Head Coach, Lauren Steinbrecher, Xavier University Associate Head Coach Ed Tolentino, and Jake Lerman who heads strength and conditioning for Xavier. Their panel went into great detail on how they have worked together to find the balance between the reps needed to develop a player’s skill and optimizing physical capacity over the past 3-4 years.
A brief synopsis of what was discussed:
Coaches are juggling a lot, most of you reading this know this all too well, but creating a training/practice plan that allows for skill development without pushing your players to the point of diminishing returns is of critical importance. Success in this venture requires constant vigilance, an open mind, adaptability, and most importantly, a plan.
First, let’s define “diminishing returns.” According to Websters, “a rate of yield that beyond a certain point fails to increase in proportion to additional investments of labor or capital.” In the context of training, diminishing returns refer to the risk of injury growing disproportionately to the rate of skill improvement. Digging deeper, it also refers to the point where athlete fatigue is going to impact their ability to both improve and learn.
To begin creating a plan we require set goals. To do so it is important to understand the average and max match demands, especially for our attackers.
Jump Volume Range:
OH: 55 - 120
MB: 70 - 160
Jump Volume Averages:
Next, when during the season is it time to peak? Athletes cannot be at the height of their physical and mental abilities week in and week out. How programs begin the season can make or break how your team performs come tournament time. Athletes come into season well below their physical peak. They’ve had some time to build and get stronger with the strength program, but developing physical capacity (especially tendon capacity) takes time.
In an ideal world, coaches would have players on the court 5-8 weeks before matches begin. This would dramatically decrease injuries later in the season as coaches would have the time to start light and build their athlete’s training loads week over week. Typical recommendations are a 5%-10% increase in training load week to week, with 15% being acceptable and 20% getting you into more dangerous waters.
Seeing as programs have 10-14 days before their first match, the conversations I have with our clients sound something like this: “If your team doesn’t look ready for the first couple of weekends, that’s ok, most likely means we’ve done our jobs.”
Not an easy concept for competitive coaches to come to terms with, but what’s the goal….typically conference play. By bringing athletes in at a slower, lower-volume pace we set the team up for a stronger middle and late season. If we ramp up too quickly the risk of injury rises and those injuries tend to rear their ugly heads later in the season, when you should be peaking.
Undulation throughout the week is also critical. If every practice is high there will be minimal adaptation/improvement as recovery is a critical component of both physical and skill development.
So create a plan (we can provide a sample plan upon request designed by Coach Steinbrecher), have a means of measuring your training load (obviously we recommend VERT, but even RPE’s can be effective) and be willing to adapt.
As always, you’re welcome to schedule a call with David Gil, Performance Lab to discuss these concepts in more specific detail.
Determining which block technique works best for each player.
There are differing views on block technique, and for the most part, coaches tend to become fairly dogmatic with one approach over another. It may make sense to one coach to keep the hands up, stay fairly loaded, and just burst to block the one ball, whereas another coach focuses on getting a deeper counter-movement jump for a higher block touch.
The two differences, pertaining to results, between these techniques are time and height. For most athletes, getting that quick downward load (eccentric phase) leads to higher jumps. The stretch-shortening cycle of the muscle tissue, the tendons, and everything along the kinetic chain is able to store and then release more energy, resulting in higher touches. The question is, does the increase in jump height outweigh the added time taken to gain those extra inches over a quick, static jump?
The answer is fairly simple; it depends on the athlete. Fortunately VERT will be releasing JUMP SPEED Beta in the coming months for our VTS programs (see innovations below for details on Jump Speed). This allows coaches to compare both players and between jumping techniques. For example, if two players both jumped 20”, or touched 9 '2”, but one of them was faster in their load and launch, then that player would have a higher jump speed.
To that point, if you have a middle who jumps 20” on a quick static block, touching 9’2”, and it takes her more than double the load time to jump 21.5” to touch a 9’3.5”, is that worth it? It’s a loaded question of course, as much of determining the answer also depends on how quick the player is to make the correct read.
This is the point of innovation, answering questions with more specificity. Perhaps three of your four middles need that added load, while one of them will benefit from adding more speed. These small, individual changes can mean the difference between getting to a block on time or not, scoring or losing the point, and we can’t wait to see what we, as a sport, learn from diving that much deeper into the science of jumping on-court.
Oftentimes coaches reach out to our team asking for analysis of a particular player in a particular set. “Can you check on Jen, she looked like she wasn’t jumping as high in the 4th set last night,” Coach X.
Upon review of the set, the player’s jump height may match well with previous sets, and while “data doesn’t lie,” the coach is noticing something looks different. The athlete is not jumping lower, but slower. This is most likely the case based on how fatigue tends to manifest itself more with load depth and duration than with jump height itself.
To answer this question, VERT has developed Jump Speed, the first on-court live-play measure of how quickly an athlete is loading for his/her jump. While force plates are a great tool for assessments, Jump Speed will grab the duration of the player's concentric load (from the bottom of their load phase until they leave the ground) and the height they jump during practices and matches. This measurement is live and will be an added metric on our trend and coach reports.
While it was initially designed to be a better measure of neuro-muscular fatigue for our front-row players, there are various applications (as discussed above) to help not only keep players healthy but maximize coaching strategies to have them playing at their best.