Ah yes, we are back with another "STOP" request – in this case to train gamelike and create hitters with volleyball IQ, and not create one dimensional players who are good at spiking into the net….I was fortunate in the 1970s to be coached by a Stanley, in this case, Clay Stanley’s dad, 1968 Olympian Jon Stanley. Jim Coleman, coach of that 1968 team, shared with me that the Russian scouting report on Jon read like this…and is an important quote about spiking

“Never hits where he looks….always hits where you aren’t….unstoppable” 

What you see in this are two core concepts that most players do not learn at a young enough age – to not just hit the cross court angle, but to learn early on to hit across body and away from their body.  This can be learned even in an over the net warm up, starting at the youngest level.  This skill should be started young, in warm up games playing the game 1 vs. 1 (one of the ways William G. Morgan created the game to be played, if you look back to his original rules of 1897 – CLICK HERE), and continued through ALL sessions players learn to spike.

Hitters normally hit cross court, on the same angle of their approach, and as that has the most distance for the ball to fly and still stay in, they get comfortable doing what they like to do, and need the teacher in the gym, aka coach, to remind them to do things they are not as good at, so they become spikers with a wide range, not one dimensional hitters.   Other sports have devices to hit the ball with – bats, racquets and clubs. What we need to help our players learn is how to make their armswing, including the striking area of the hand, into a multidimensional spiking device – made from bone and flesh.

When coaches teach spiking, they often train hitting against a wall, to “develop wrist snap” – players enjoy the repetitive swing, bounce ball on floor, ricochet up off the wall and repeat rhythm.  This is to develop “Wrist Snap” – which, given the .008-.01 contact time of a good spike, simply does NOT exist.  Since this is a very important contact moment, and many coaches believe in this myth, I am sharing an email exchange I started between Dr. Peter Vint, Sr. Sports Performance Director of the USOPC and Chuck Rey, college coach and author of the excellent blog “Teaching Life’s Lessons Through Volleyball http://coachrey.com

From: Chuck Rey
Sent: Friday, April 27, 2012 4:26 PM
To: Peter Vint, John Kessel
Subject: Re: Smash ball

Awesome. I do understand and that makes sense. I should have followed your ways years ago...Thanks again for the thought provoking Friday afternoon. We need to start Fridays with Vint and Kessel (kind of like a Mike and Mike in the morning ;)  Have a great weekend guys. 

USOPC/USAV Response:

Not quite… There are several ways to describe how the velocity (which includes both speed and direction) of a golf ball is created. The easiest to describe is by the impulse-momentum relationship. In this expression, the velocity of the ball is completely dictated by the force imparted to the ball by the club, the mass of the ball, and the time over which the force this contact force is applied. Specifically, the relationship is V(release) = Impulse/Mass (where Impulse is the sum of all forces applied by the club to the ball multiplied by the  duration the forces are applied).

There is a bit of a "fudge factor" in this equation which accounts for the imperfect elastic response of the ball. In the case of the golf ball, the deformation of the ball creates a loss of energy (which is much less than the loss of energy the deformed volleyball had). It's incorrect to state that deformation creates energy. It always loses it – but the elastic properties of the ball dictate just how much energy is lost.

The loft of a club head serves two purposes. First, when struck correctly (unlike most times I make contact), the loft will change the orientation of the action/reaction force to in turn changes the direction of the initial ball flight. Second, the loft of the club can influence the general point of contact of the club head on the ball (getting beneath the ball to induce back spin). The depth and geometry of the grooves can also influence "spin" by changing the extent to which reaction and friction forces are applied to/by the ball.   

To your question, the orientation of the hand or clubface will absolutely influence the flight direction. To what extent depends on the alignment of the hands velocity with the orientation of the hand (e.g., think of an armswing that is entirely directed down the line but with only a hand that is angled back into the court. This would be like a club head which is driving perfectly forward, but the club head does not close at impact – the result is that the ball still goes MOSTLY forward with some lateral deviation.). The SPIN, however, is always dictated by the size of the force, the duration of contact, and exactly where the force is applied, relative to the object's center of mass. Spin is not dictated by club loft per se but how the club is designed to accommodate contact below the ball center.  

From: Chuck Rey

Further thoughts... The head of a golf club does not flex like a wrist, yet a golfer is able to make the ball spin based on the principles discussed on hitting under the center of the ball. (Power is given to the ball by the initial contact of the club, the compression of the golf ball plus the angle of the club is the "second" contact that creates the spin). A golf club is the "myth buster" to wrist snap on a volleyball.
But, a golfer can put more spin on the ball, based on the loft of the club. Applying that principle to hitting a volleyball, a player should have their hand at an angle (like a golf club) above the ball upon contact?  I understand the science behind the creation of topspin based on a contact point above the center of the ball and not the hand "snapping" on top of the ball. But as you both viewed video on ball contact, there must be some compression on the ball. Logic tells me that the harder one hits the ball, the more the ball compresses and the absolute center of the ball is pushed forward, thus a player would have to hit more on top of the ball (higher above center), in order to force the ball down. In other words, the harder one hits the ball, the more on top of the ball they must hit.  Of course there is a point when hitting too high on the ball would be counterproductive.  I could also see the height the player is above the net and the angle of arm-swing on the ball would be a factor.  I assume there is a "sweet spot" for every contact that is different for each set, each jump, each arm-swing, each player, inflation of the ball, etc...the randomness that is volleyball. It's those that find the sweet spot most consistently are the ones that will execute best (theoretically).  Thanks for the Friday thoughts outside the box (or inside the ball).

USOPC Response

First – Hi Chuck! Great to hear from you!...Second, the REAL issue about the myth of the wrist snap is that, based on research using high speed video and film, the wrist does not actively flex (snap or bend forward) during ball contact.  The photo you shared is static and therefore doesn’t allow us to see the movement that is (or, more likely, NOT) taking place during the very brief time in which the hand is actually in contact with the ball. But, based on this perspective, I’d even speculate that the wrist is in a NEUTRAL position. It does NOT seem to be flexed (bent forward) and this is my primary point. The wrist is usually neutral and is NOT actively flexing forward…

Related to this myth of wrist snap are the spiking cousins of throwing tennis balls and pepper. Specificity in training simply means you are getting better at throwing tennis balls over the net, not hitting a volleyball.  This often then builds to hitting off of coach’s throws and then the setter sets off of a throw from the hitter, thus not learning the micro seconds of timing needed and reading cues to both start and adjust your spike approach at the fastest possible speed, and the best time and place to jump.  This time and place to jump at the “sweet spot in time” takes many thousands of spikes to acquire –and of course as we know from specificity, it is NOT learned by standing on a box above the net learning “to spike.” However, coaches choose to train this blocked/ungamelike way due to both tradition, and the desire to have practice look good, even if the science shows the best way to become a versatile spiker is to spike set volleyballs.

Another world wide tradition we must replace is “the circle of hitting…”   Around the world, when I shout “OK, Let’s Hit!” in their language, the hitters do the following:

  1. Stand about 1 meter outside the court sideline, in Zone Four.
  2. Toss the ball to the setter
  3. Approach and hit.
  4. Land and fly at supersonic speeds after the ball (if they did not hit it into the net) under the net.
  5. Get the ball, and wait in a line on the other side of the net to hit the ball from zone four again…and again, and again….

Hitters do that, failing to learn to transition outside – as they are standing outside the court throwing the ball to the setter – thus they are actually “contacting” the first ball out of bounds. I would prefer that my players read and let that ball go out. These hitters then are getting to be great at landing and moving fast under the net, a skill that looks somewhat like a chicken pecking for food, and one that is NEVER done in a match. Thanks to tradition, we have players who know how to fly under the net after hitting, but not back off the net to transition fast again, or land safely to then block or move down the net. Spikers on the other hand, like all beach doubles players, know they need to pass/dig a ball on the court for first contact (either from over the net or from their setter), then transition to hit. Once they hit, spikers then land and do a new skill. They land so they can block, or transition away from the net to ready to hit again or celebrate. They land and move down the net to block at a different zone tactically, and might even move along the net to complain at the referee about a touched ball. For the beginning part of spiking training, every player spikes the EVEN SET next the next ball, then go retrieve a ball. Everyone on the team needs to deliver a spikeable ball when called on in game play, so spikers will attack, then set, not just the setters ALL the time… It is a hard habit to break, and one of the funniest moments in clinics where the hitter, knowing they are supposed to then set, first hit, land, and fly to about the other 3 meter line, before realizing…oops, I am supposed to set. Talk about pavlovian responses…

Hitters hit zone four, and four and four…. This is a KEY place we need coaches to change their traditions.  Spikers on the other hand, first take swings at the back row, swinging on the three choices of “A”, “pipe/bic,” and “D” first and after a certain amount of time, then spike sets delivered to zones 4 AND 2 and even 3.  We must increase our spiking time from zone 2, which has the advantages of making the opposing team’s setter often handle the dig, and thus not able to run the offense. As most diggers send the spike back to the attacker, the ball, if not dug by the setter, returns back towards the other team’s zone 4, as you hear the opposition’s setter screaming “Help!”  The reason Clay Stanley is so great at spiking from zone 2 is simple, he has practiced at it.  Same goes for 12 year olds….

Hitters hit on good sets and tip on the bad ones. That is backwards from what great spikers do, who learn to spike on bad sets and tip at times on perfect sets. Hitters are developed by coaches who spend the majority of their time hitting against no blockers. That is fine for younger players, who in game play, are not blocked.  However, if you are coaching older athletes who might have a block against them 90 percent of the time or more, well, they need to be getting blocked about the same percentage of time in practice, so they become spikers.

I will close this blog with two quotes from our Olympic Gold Medal volleyball coach Marv Dunphy….First, “Since we learn best from things that are gamelike, the ideal spiking drill is a pass-set-spike drill; the ideal setting drill is a pass, set, spike drill, and the ideal passing drill is a pass, set, spike drill – while likewise the ideal digging drill is a dig-set-spike drill.” Finally – he simply and accurately says – “Train in reality….” I couldn’t agree more, it is how you develop great spikers.