Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Hitting at Summer Volleyball Camps

The Arm Swing
When I do my summer volleyball camps, hitting is the most sought after skill players want to learn. Everybody love to hit!
Similar to setting, hitting can be a challenge to teach due to the physical nature of the skill. Hitting in volleyball is a misnomer, it is actually snapping a ball, not hitting. What is the difference? In sports, we hit out of our shoulder, but snap out of our elbow and wrist. This is an important difference to understand.
Learning how to snap a ball is all about strengthening a group of muscles in your shoulder called the rotator cuff. There are four exercises you should do on a daily basis to strengthen this vital group of muscles. If you want to visually see the exercises done, please visit my web site at for a video demonstration. I recommend a five foot piece of 3/16” latex surgical tubing for use as resistance. You can find tubing at a local surgical supply store, E-Bay or Google.
Personally, I do these exercises three times a day; before, during and after I play. For the younger players, your shoulder will get much stronger. For the more advanced player, it will ward off shoulder pain often associated with a high degree of hitting repetition. .
The hitting vs. Snapping Issue All players initially hit the ball from their shoulder when they start out. It is a very natural as this is a by-product of how they use their arms when they jump and the shoulder is a much stronger joint for young players. We have a natural tendency to gravitate towards strength when learning new skills. When you jump, you swing your arms up to help elevate your body. This means a natural jump with your hand in a higher position than your elbow (hand high + elbow down=bad!) It promotes a hitting motion from the shoulder instead of snapping motion from the elbow and wrist. But one of two things happens that necessitate an arm swing change: either you start getting dug, or you hit too many balls into the net and block.
Successful players start to change from “hitters” into “snappers” at about the age of 16-17. They change for a simple reason: they need to do it to move on to the next level.
Why do we snap a volleyball instead of hitting it? Good question. There are three reasons:
1. The first reason is, it is how we put top spin on the ball. Spin in sports equals control. So by snapping the ball, it is how we control where we are going to hit it. Many of the balls that we hit move in “curves.” We “bend” the ball to the floor exactly where we want it to go.
2. The second reason we snap balls is because it is how we gain the power to play at the next level. Bio-mechanic studies have shown that 75% of your power is derived from your elbow and wrist. Have you ever seen a player at the net crush an overpass? That is all snap from the elbow and wrist as the players do not use their shoulder to pull down and make contact with the net.
3. The third and most important reason we snap a ball is because it allows us to hit out of our approach. Think of it through a defensive player’s perspective: There are three things good defensive players watch when they play defense: The hitter, the hitter and the hitter. By snapping the ball from your elbow, it allows us to develop range. One of the true secrets to hitting is don’t ever let your shoulders face where you are going to hit unless you can over-power the defense. Learn how to hit out of your approach. It is the essence of hitting! By snapping the ball from our elbow and wrist, it allows us to effectively “turn” the ball to avoid the block and diggers.
At my camps, I have simple a three step process to teach the mechanics of the arm swing.
Step One—Throw the ball high Learn how to throw the ball about 8-10 feet over your head. Why is this step one? Because a few minutes after you start this process, 90% of all the players I work with throw the ball too low. They do not give themselves time to execute a proper arm wing. Personally, I throw it with the hand I am going to hit with.
Step Two—Load your arm swing This is the crucial step. What your arm swing eventually evolves into is having your elbow higher than your hand when you bring your arm up. (elbow high+ hand down or relaxed = good!). You eventually learn how to jump leading with your elbow coming up. Most coaches teach the bow and arrow arm swing which is better than hitting the ball, but it is still not technically pure. The bow and arrow implies that your elbow and hand are on the same plane when in fact your elbow should be much higher than your hand on a good arm swing. You can never get your elbow high enough when you hit. If you have enough flexibility, your elbow should be well over your head. By getting your elbow high and hand down you accomplish two very important things at the same time: Snap and Extension. It is a two for one move. Step two is to throw the ball high and get your elbow high and your hand down. Don’t hit the ball, but learn how to load your arm. Do this five minutes a day to download the correct mechanics into your motor memory.
Step three—Snap but don’t follow through When teaching players new skills, I find it very useful to “over-correct” players into correct positions. I do it at my camps for hitting, passing, serving and defense. I learned this valuable tool many years ago while taking a golf lesson. My golf pro had me hit the ball hard to the left (a snap hook) in order to “feel” what is was like to hit the ball to correctly instead of a weak slice. Same concept applies to teaching volleyball. In order to get you to feel the “snap” in an arm swing, I am going to take the hitting joint (shoulder) out of the equation—DO NOT FOLLOW THROUGH ON YOUR HIT. Leave your hand up in the air. This is your finishing position. It will look like you are waiving “Hello” to a friend. Most importantly, it will force you to snap the ball out of your elbow and wrist instead of your shoulder. This step is where advanced player tend to resist me. They all want to hit hard, so they end up following through on their arm swing. Practice this drill for ten minutes a day hitting against a wall: elbow high, hand down, snap and leave your hand up.
Learning how to snap a ball will take time. How much time? According to the e-mails I receive from my participants it can take 20 to 40 days depending on how diligent you practice. Be patient. Make sure you combine the rotator cuff exercises with the “over-correction” practice against a wall. Snapping balls against a wall (keeping your arm up after you hit) is the best way to change your arm swing into a more dynamic movement.