Practice? Practice? Yep, we’re talking about practice!
Most coaches, including myself, are methodical when planning practices. We have philosophies about warm-up drills, training skills, and training team systems. In teaching these philosophies to our teams, there is a finite amount of time in order to make sure positional responsibilities are completely organized come match time.
There is one thing coaches will most certainly agree on – and that’s the notion that we ALWAYS want fresh/ injury free athletes. What I have come to learn is that as meticulous as we coaches are about planning practices down to the minute, we have to be just as picky with how we allow our athletes to rest.
Rest can be broken down into 3 areas:
The physical aspect of rest is obvious…how many periods of time do I allow my athlete to take a break from physical activity? Do I always use jumping-based drills or do I train my athlete to reflect the amount and variety of jumps he/she will take in a match? The mental aspect takes into account training new skills, systems, and scouting reports. For instance, a great way to balance physical rest is to incorporate a video or team bonding session instead of a practice session. The emotional aspect takes into account how much an athlete needs to “pump themselves up” for a drill or competition. The nervous system will only allow so many instances where the entire self is in “pump-up” mode. That is for a big game or competition. It’s important to control how often you require your athlete to go “full throttle.” For instance, at the college-level, we have practices early in the week (after a weekend of competition) where we do skill-based and situational-based drills in practice 80% of the time. We only spend 20% of the time in complete game mode early in the week. This keeps the team hungry for competition-based drills and high pressure situations. Towards the end of the week, we play more in competition mode, so that the team stays fresh in all aspects when it counts the most, competition!
Rest is often times the MOST important part of your season, because it allows you to build off of training and competitions in order to peak at crucial times. Sometimes, we coaches can get fixated on a practice that we forget to think bigger picture. For instance, how will the practice schedule affect how the team feels two months into the season?
My goal with this article is to get you thinking with separate focus lenses: first, is this week’s training preparing me enough for my opponent? – both systems and fitness wise. Second, does my training schedule over the month and season allow my athletes enough rest (physically, emotionally, and mentally) in order to stay fresh as the season goes on?
How much rest is enough? When should you make the decision to stop a practice or change training vs. making your team push through fatigue in order to build greater volleyball fitness? These are some tough questions, but hopefully these guidelines can help guide your decision making process:
1.) Your #1 Responsibility as a Coach is to preserve your players’ love for the game.
a. Map out the year for your teams into phases…pre-competition/pre-season, competition, post season competition, recovery season, training season, etc. Know when your players are training hard, building fitness, taking time away from the gym, etc. In other words, keep a good balance of getting them into shape while giving them enough time to mentally and emotionally recharge from the meat and potatoes of your phases, the competition phase.
2.) Plan practices in phases.
a. Do you have 10 days of pre-season practices? How about 4 days of preparation before your next match? How about one month before Nationals? Plan in advance! Address skills and systems that you will cover each day, and get this organized for the entire block. This way, you can enter into training with a “map” of how your training will build on itself throughout the week or 10-day block. Set a goal for the end of each block of training in order to stay focused with items to be covered during your training. Be ready to adjust if your team is over or under performing at your training goals. Watch Mark Barnard of Oregon State University elaborate on the 10 Day Practice Plan in this video:
3.) Mix up your drills to give positions rest DURING training.
a. We warm-up with a game of short court, which emphasizes middles and pins scoring off of tip shots and also deciding which balls to block/ which to pull off for. It also emphasizes those positions to take garbage balls away from our setter, so to get her in-system most of the time. We also play a wash drill, which absolutely gases our attackers. Both of these drills may necessitate playing one game with and one game without that position. For instance, play two games of aggressive short court then sit the middles out for a game. Another example is to play one mini game of “3 ball wash” then flip front and back row. Click here to see other wash drills
4.) Know your team’s level of fitness and be able to identify when they need rest vs. when they need to push through a tough drill
a. This may be the toughest of all, but it is something that you must absolutely get good at. There are times when your team will look flat, and it’s because they’re mentally/ physically/ emotionally fried. End practice early if this is the case. If they are having a trouble getting going and the competition juices just aren’t flowing, do some low-level things and get them out of the gym.
b. Another tactic I like to use is to end practice because the level simply isn’t good enough. It could be after a passing drills or a 6’s drill, but if the level isn’t where it needs to be, end practice. Practice is a privilege. Find a way to communicate this to the team where they do not receive the action as personal but that you are disappointed with their level of engagement. While this move should be used rarely, it can be used very effectively and become your biggest motivator of all.
c. Conversely, if they are coming off a day or two of rest from last week and start to struggle with the intensity of a drill, challenge them to push through by giving them specific areas of the game to work on. There are times to push them physically, and while it may be hard to push them to the limit multiple days in the week, it is necessary to stick in a few of these “hard days” in order to build game fitness that will pay dividends down the stretch of a long season.
These are just a few loose guidelines to follow when trying to keep your team healthy as the season goes on. It is important to note that other factors play into your team’s health as well. As a coach, we only see our players for a small percentage of the day and small percentage of the week. Factors outside the gym also play a paramount role in influencing in-gym preparedness and behavior. A few that come to mind immediately are nutrition, sleep, social pressures, and school responsibilities. What are some ways that you help your student athletes manage these aspects off the court? Would love to hear them!
Marie Zidek is the Assistant Volleyball Coach at the University of San Diego and a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist – see more articles and videos from Marie here – MARIE ZIDEK CONTENT