As a Strength and Performance coach to elite volleyball athletes I get to hear about what high school and club coaches do to prepare their athletes for battle on a daily basis. Sometimes I approve but most of the time I cringe. This is another long overdo article as my main passion for what I do is keeping athletes healthy. Yes, at Jackson Strength we also improve performance, but I know first hand how bad it sucks to be injured. From the age of 17 to 32 I suffered through some of the worst knees I have ever seen or heard about. It wasn’t the 2 surgeries that were the worst part of it either. It was the nonstop dull ache that many experts would broadly term Jumper’s Knee. They didn’t just hurt to play, they hurt to drive, sit in a movie, go upstairs, go downstairs, sit on the toilet, get off the toilet, and pretty much any other motion you can think of. It was that constant dull ache that eventually led me to retire immediately after my Long Beach State career was up despite an offer from Doug Beal (coach of the national team at that point) to tryout for the national team as a libero. Being in pain sucks but those who haven’t been through it just can’t understand the mild (or in some cases severe) depression you go through being in pain all day everyday. Fortunately through educating myself on diet and knee rehab, I was able to get rid of these knee problems and achieve a lifelong goal to play professional beach volleyball on the AVP at age 32. I only played for two years, but it got me what I needed: validation. I always knew I could be competitive at that level but my knees said “stop”. I obviously couldn’t see it then, but nowadays I am very grateful for those 15 years of knee pain. It now puts me in a position to help athlete after athlete prevent knee injury and/or get them out of knee pain. My surgeries and years of pain is why I get so fired up when I hear some of the things these coaches do to their athletes. It hits me at the core of my being and my first response is honestly, ANGER. Once the initial anger wears off I get more clarity and realize these coaches Â have good hearts (most of the time) and they honestly think that what they are doing is going to help their athlete and team be more successful. They are not purposely contributing to overtraining and potential knee, shoulder, or back injury. 99% of the time they are just doing what some other coach had done to them in their playing careers. So, these coaches do get a bit of a hall pass because they are not studying the proper training of athletes everyday all-day like myself or some of the other amazing coaches in this industry. To walk the fine line of improving an athlete’s performance all the while keeping them healthy is not easy. It is something that takes years of making mistakes and countless hours of experience working with athletes to do. I have by no means perfected it and I am proud to say that my training philosophy is constantly evolving and improving. I owe it to my athletes who trust me with their bodies to constantly be improving and refining my techniques for injury prevention and athletic performance. So, as of today here are top 3 training mistakes volleyball coaches make with their athletes:
1): Push-ups For Punishment: Now, let me be the first to say that I actually love push-ups when done correctly. They can improve scapular mobility, hitting power, and shoulder health. However, there is a big asterisk here. The athlete has to be structurally balanced and they have to be done with precision and perfect form, which is something that is impossible to achieve when you have 12 untrained athletes doing them at the same time. Here is a little checklist of things to look for when an athlete does a proper push-up: scapular protraction, scapular retraction, braced torso, glutes contracted, quads contracted, slight extension in low back, neutral spine, elbows tucked, controlled breathing, and proper torque through the elbows. Uh, what!?!? Trying to watch for all those cues with one athlete is hard enough. Now try to do it with 12 athletes and throw in the mix that 11 out of the 12 of them aren’t even strong enough to do one proper push-up yet alone 10! Voila, a recipe for shoulder and back problems.
2) Long Distance Running for Conditioning: If you were to ask an experienced strength coach, “What is the best way to reduce power, quickness, and vertical jump?”, many of them would say long-distance running. This means anything that involves a slow, steady pace. At it’s simplest, it is just practicing to be slow. This doesn’t mean a power athlete can’t ever run a mile. In fact, Dr. Bob Rakowski admitted to us in a clinical nutrition course that a lot of his USA Track and Field sprinters run one mile a week and their coaches feel it actually helps their sprint times. What I am talking about is the many coaches who condition their athletes in the off-season (and worse during season) with mile after after mile on the track and in the bleachers. The studies are clear, the longer you run the lower you jump. So, if you want to completely ruin your jump start training for a marathon. This is because jogging too much increases slow-twitch muscle fibers, adds stress to the body, breaks down muscle mass, and speeds the aging process.
3) Sit-Ups: As I mentioned up top, many volleyball players have terrible posture. Of the hundreds of volleyball players that have come through the doors over the last 11 years, I would say 4 of them had good posture. Most have their shoulders rolled forward and they are hunched over. One of my running jokes is that I tell my athletes that not only can I get them stronger, faster, and increase their vertical jump. I can also make them taller! One of the reasons for the posture epidemic is that girls volleyball players are usually taller than most of their friends and spend a lot of time hunched over to be part of the conversation. Think of a giraffe drinking water from a stream. Without a doubt, there is a huge clinical correlation with height and posture. The taller the girl, the worse the posture. This is why sit-ups are a huge mistake. They actually reinforce that hunched over posture we are trying to fix! Bad posture doesn’t just make athletes shorter, it also increases their chances of shoulder and back problems. Yes, sit-ups actually make most people’s backs worse!
Eliminating these three things will not only improve performance but more importantly keep our youth athletes off of the operating table and out of the physical therapist’s office. Something every parent, athlete, and coach wants.
Love to hear your feedback below!