Vertically Challenged—Approach Speed
by: Jessica Adams
I work with volleyball players on a daily basis and there is one common ailment across the board—the approach. No matter how you’re taught to approach, there is an element consistently missing that makes all the difference: speed.
The approach to hit the ball has two main components; the first is that the approach leads to your jump, which gets your body in the air so you have a better chance of getting it past the block. The second is that it facilitates timing to the ball in the air so that you can hit it at the perfect height. Speed in the approach is an essential element for both of these, and yet it seems to be one of the most ignored parts of volleyball skill-set. Take the first component, for example and answer this question: will you jump higher from a walk or a run? Of course it’s a run. The momentum from horizontal speed gets transferred vertically through leg power during your approach. To put it simply: the faster you approach, the higher you will jump. This fact alone should make every volleyball player reconsider the tempo of their approach to the ball. Yet it’s the second component of the approach that makes them hesitate, or should I say, jump the gun.
You can always tell which player is a beginner when you watch the attempts of timing while hitting a ball. I honestly believe that it is one of the hardest and most time-consuming skills in volleyball—knowing when to approach and how to meet the ball in the air at the perfect time and place. Because of this, most players leave too early and slow their approach down in order to time more precisely their collision with the ball. They jump the gun on their first step and then slow down before the jump rather than being patient and speeding up to meet the ball. I definitely fell prey to this disease when I played. It took one coach in my life to realize my problem and work tirelessly with me to fix it. I kid you not, my coach would physically hold me back until the last possible second and then I would sprint my approach to try to get up in time. Changing anything about the way you play the game is frustrating, but when you’re 5’9” and trying to make it as an outside hitter, changing my approach to the ball seemed like the worst possible thing my coach could’ve done. It takes A LOT of failure and frustration to make that change, but once you get it down, you’ll never look back. I was jumping higher than I had ever jumped thanks to my fast approach and my coach’s patient persistence. What’s more than that, I was beating blockers to the ball. When you speed up your approach and timing, you can get in the air to the ball faster than ever and your blockers won’t know what hit them; or in this case, what went right by them.
You’re going to need patience, and a sense of urgency to get your body to do something that feels so unnatural, but your future will thank you. You’re also going to need a coach that knows how to make that change and is willing to work through the transition with you until you get it right.
If you have any questions regarding this information or you need a coach who will patiently work with you, contact me firstname.lastname@example.org.