So many sport movements require incredible reaction times, from goalkeeper saves in soccer and hockey to volley returns in the racket sports. But volleyball defenders are almost tops in terms of the need for spectacular reflexes. Players are expected to routinely do the impossible -- such as block or dig the ball after a thundering spike by a player like Brazil’s Jaqueline Carvalho, who helped lead her country to gold in the 2012 London Olympics. You can improve on your innate reflex speed with drills specific to volleyball.
Follow the reaction drill developed by the University of Florida conditioning coach Matt DeLancey to improve your lower-body reflexes. Warm up with two of your teammates with a pair of 10-yard shuffles to your left and your right. Continue into the heart of the reaction drill, as the three of you follow the coach’s hand signals to sprint forward, back pedal, shuffle left, shuffle right or squat quickly. Perform two sets, each 30 seconds long, keeping your head level and up and reacting quickly to each signal.
Set up a row of plastic discs evenly spaced about 10 feet apart. The one on your left is No. 1, the middle is No. 2 and the one on the right is No. 3. Perform an alternative reaction drill involving a mix of diagonal runs practiced by Penn State, running for 20 seconds up to cones in a fan pattern as your coach calls out the numbers in a random pattern, returning to your starting position between each run.
Play games of pepper -- popping the ball back and forth across the net to your teammates to keep it in play, rather than drilling it to win points -- only as a starting point in learning ball control, advises coach Jim Stone in “The Volleyball Coaching Bible.” Because the ball at the collegiate women’s level goes from the attacker to the defender in 0.3 seconds or less, defenders need to respond with reflex actions involving little conscious thought. Work up to scrimmages where you face attacks where the ball comes fast and from varied angles so you can dig the ball without thinking and keep your feet moving at all times in readiness to respond to an spiked ball.
Work on your timing for blocks, which are designed to thwart attacks -- typically called “spikes” -- by your opponents. React to the ball leaving the hands of your opponent’s setter, shuffle to the net in front of the attacker, and time your jump just a split second after the attacker leaves the floor. Raise your hands and spread your fingers to block the ball. As you become even more masterful, track the attacker’s tendencies, for example, to hit toward the sideline and block her path, advises coach Rudy Suwara in “The Volleyball Coaching Bible.”
Items you will need
- Plastic discs
- Volleyball: Rules, Tips, Strategy, and Safety; Sandra Giddens, Owen Gidden
- ESPN Summer Olympics: Brazil Wins Women's Volleyball Gold
- STACK: University of Florida Volleyball Reaction Drill
- YouTube: Penn State Volleyball Coaches Clinic: Adding Reaction to Drill
- The Volleyball Coaching Bible; Donald S. Shondell, Cecile Reynaud
- Ezra Shaw/Getty Images Sport/Getty Images