This week I got an email from a coach, who asked a great question - sit or stand during match play? Bill, a coach in GEVA, and Peter, from the USOC who I collaborate a lot with on the science of volleyball, have kindly said I can use our email discussion in today's blog, so here goes:

From: Bill Lee

Hi John, Bill Lee from DIGS Volleyball in NJ. Scott Mose says hello, he was re-telling us the stories about your Cobra invention:-)

 I recently attended the CAP session in NY, I really appreciate you and the staff taking the time to spread your knowledge and passion for the sport. I have done my best in the last month to spread the word.

 We are having a debate that we could use some help with. Speaking with a few coaches the question was raised as to the benefits of having your players off the court sit or stand. We were always lead to believe that allowing players to sit would make them stiff. One of our coaches noted that not only does the Stanford Women's team sit but all basketball players sit and they are able to enter the game and immediately contribute.

Basketball is slightly different in that you have an opportunity to run which could aid in getting loose. Anyway, do you have any thoughts or has USAV done any studies that would suggest one position over the other?


Bill Lee

On Wed, Feb 25, 2009 John Kessel wrote:

Bill, what a GREAT question.  When I get such simple but important questions, I oft bring in a USOC Sports Whiz who happens to be a vball player, Peter Vint. Can I use your email to make into a blog post on the topic, once we get Peter's take, and mine too?

 For me, the "study" is called recess. They happen in tens of thousands of schools, mostly Monday thru Friday, in the morning and then the afternoon. The athletes are found sitting, on very small chairs at very small desks often,  pushing pencils the size of a log across paper, drawing outside the lines with crayons, being perplexed about why zero times any number is still zero, and even listening to stories in comfy chairs. Then WHAMMO, a bell rings, and these dormant jocks go from zero to 60 faster than any Porsche ever did. They maintain that speed for some 10-15 minutes before decelerating from warp speed, down to below light speed, and return to sitting. They do this, by my observation, an average of three times a day, morning recess, lunch, and afternoon recess.

What I find important is that, I have never seen any of those kids jogging before they go to warp speed....saying "Hey, wait up Billy, wait for me, I have to jog first....nor do I see a single playground athlete saying "Hey wait Kess, I have to stretch, hold the game of until I am ready OK?" ... and perhaps more importantly, I don't see them coming in back to sitting, saying "Oh gosh, I pulled a muscle again..." I do see them coming in early, the school nurse, with skinned knees, and even a sprained ankle - from mistakes learned in new forms of dodging in a tag game, or from inadvertent swing set errors made while attempting a triple pike dismount, and more than a few balls-to-a-face-missed throws and such, as they learn how to PLAY.  

I have attached, for both Peter and you, two articles related to the topic, where the CDC and over 100 other studies show that stretching does not reduce injuries. So my response...whatever floats your players' boat.  Standing, sitting, they both are OK options just keep them mentally engaged. I would refrain from letting them sleep however, as having beds in the gym would take up too much room.

Peter, what think you?

From Bill Lee

Subject: Re: To Sit or Stand

Thanks John, feel free to use the e-mail on your blog.

We have an air mattress for the girls to lay on in between matches on long tournament days. We figured it was better than the cold concrete floor but maybe that's the problem:-)

Thanks for the feedback and the articles, I will share with the group. I will check the blog for any updates.

 One other thing, what was the name of the little book you carry in your brief case to share with your team? "Would you rather dare book" I'm not having much success at Barnes and Noble asking using that phase;-)

From: Peter Vint

Hi guys:

I am not aware of any systematic study of sitting versus "inactive standing" on performance. It'd sure be easy enough to do. That's not to say such work does not exist, but rather that I am not currently aware of it if it does. That said, I've attached two somewhat recent review articles on the performance benefits of active versus passive warm up. In general, the effects are small and may or may not affect manifest themselves in a sport like volleyball. While assessments have been made on the effect of temperature on joint and muscle stiffness, any implication that this is related to injury remains speculative.

My professional opinion is that there may be situations when an athlete needs to sit for purpose of either instruction or recovery or medical attention. Outside of this, either standing or seated would likely be okay but I'd recommend some sporadic activity (jumping or running or other movements during timeouts or game breaks) to reduce muscle stiffness. I love John's recess ****ogy and think it's a good one here. Ironically, if athletes were seated but allowed/encouraged to cheer their team on, they may actually move around more (getting out of their seats then sitting back down) than if they were standing.

Thinking of the issue on the whole, I think there are a couple of competing issues but I don't know that either is truly significant. One is that either standing or sitting may be more conducive to "keeping an athlete's head in the game". Match awareness may be a more important consideration than any difference in neuromuscular performance (which I would anticipate to be relatively small). That said, in my experience, this may be more affected by who an athlete is sitting or standing next to than whether they're actually sitting or standing.

The second issue is that while we may naturally consider standing to be the more demanding or active position, it may lend itself to modest differential stiffening of the quadriceps and hamstrings. If this is an issue at all, it would likely be manifest in athletes with some level o****nee instability. I really can't say that this would be an issue, but I'll explain and you can judge. Note there is a bit of detail in this discussion and it might be more cumbersome than it's worth. Read on at your own peril.

In standing, the knees and hips are extended and therefore the three single-joint quadriceps muscles (but probably not the two-joint rectus femoris) will shorten and may modestly stiffen in this position if there is no sporadic activity. The hamstrings will likely be somewhat less affected as two of the three muscles span both the hip and knee. While knee extension would tend to lengthen the hamstring, hip extension would tend to shorten it. The net effect on muscle length change is probably about zero. While sitting, the opposite happens. Here the affected quadriceps muscles will stretch due to the flexed position of the knee. The hamstrings, now stretched by the flexed hip but shortened by the flexed knee again probably stays at a relatively constant length. So, differentially, sitting versus standing could result in somewhat, albeit modestly different muscle lengths at which stiffness may set in. This could theoretically result in differences in levels of initial quadriceps force production.

In sum, my impression is that the duration in which an athlete would sit or stand would likely be inconsequential in terms of neuromuscular performance.


From: Bill Lee

I agree with the concern over what athletes are doing while they are sitting, especially teenage girls!

We talked about them taking stats or similar duties to keep them involved with the match.

During the recent President's Day tournament I watched one team with a rule that states the bench must stand if the team was down by 5 points or more.

Very interesting insight on possible impact of the affected muscle groups.

We appreciate the feedback and will look for the blog and continued discussion.