Summer Improvements: Making strides and having fun
AAU’s…done, Nationals…done, Summer Soiree…done…and you thought the day would never come. Another long, grinding club season in the books and you are so incredibly ready to hit the beach, bombard the lake, travel the world, and do everything in your power to NOT touch or even think about volleyball for the next few months. Right? Wrong! While summer may seem like the perfect time to slack off, it is actually quite the opposite. With a slight break in your crazy schedules and a pause in competition, this time is the perfect opportunity for you to make your biggest improvements yet. And, while it is important to have fun and enjoy the one and only break that you have, having fun and making strides towards improvement is not impossible. Believe me, I’ve done it!
So, how can you capitalize on these next few summer weeks without sacrificing your physical and mental state? First and foremost, you must identify where you stand physically and mentally. With this information, you can then establish what your body and your mind truly needs in order to fully rejuvenate itself. The faster you make this identification, the faster you can regroup.
So, sit down with a coach, family member or teammate and hold a casual conversation about the season. Post conversation, you should have enough information to establish where you stand physically and mentally in relation to the sport. You may feel a few different ways:
You Are Physically Exhausted:
If you are injured or fatigued, just understand that these next few weeks of summer don’t have to be physically exhausting or consuming. In fact, this might be the perfect opportunity for you to SLOW things down.
Hit the Gym: Hit the gym and work on strengthening those small muscle groups through body weight exercises and balance work. Using shoulder bands, bosu balls, medicine balls, ab rollers and TRX bands are all great ways to build strength without using vigorous weight or force. Seemingly simple, non-taxing exercises like body squats and TRX V-ups have the ability to improve your range of motion, strength and can save your body from nagging injuries in the long run.
Hit the Pool: No gym? No problem! Hit the pool! Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to be a great swimmer to benefit from a pool workout. Grab a kickboard or hang in the shallow end while running in place, doing high knees, mermaid kicks, stir the pots, leg lifts or even crunches! Scientific studies prove that the buoyancy, viscosity and hydrostatic pressure of water therapy increases range of motion, blood flow and speeds up the muscular rehabilitation process. Just don’t forget your sunscreen!
Build or Improve Technique: No competition, no statistics, no pressure…this “off” time is the perfect opportunity to make any necessary tweaks, changes or additions to your technique. The more repetition you can get, the easier it will be for your body to store certain movements and skills through muscle memory.
Examples of ways to improve technique without exerting too much physical energy:
- Set against a wall (posture, wrist/hand speed, consistency)
- Pass on a swirley stool (creating angles, opening up early)
- Pass with a towel on your back (shoulders forward, feet behind the ball)
- Set while sitting in a chair (posture, hand speed)
- Serve areas (consistency)
- Serve for float or serve short
- Controlled passing reps
- Arm swings off box
- Shots to an area
Go Yogi: Yoga is a great form of exercise that builds strength, flexibility and helps facilitate mind and body awareness.
Visualize: Seeing is believing! You can actually visualize yourself performing a certain skill as another form of training. Studies show that you stimulate the same brain region when you visualize an action as you do when you actually perform that action. And the best part about visualization? You can do it anytime, anywhere, without any physical exertion.
You are Mentally Exhausted:
You may realize that your body feels great, but your mind is exhausted. It is never EVER wrong to take a step away from the sport you love. In fact, taking a mental break and not thinking about indoor volleyball for a few weeks may be exactly what you need in order to come back stronger than ever. However, just because you aren’t necessarily thinking about indoor volleyball, doesn’t mean you can’t make strides towards improvement.
Stay Active: Try to pick up another sport and continue to stay active. Believe it or not, every single sport has some sort of element that is relatable to volleyball. Hone in on the skills that translate to your position and emphasize strengthening those skills.
Hit the Weight Room: Soreness? Fatigue? None of that matters. With a slight break in competition, this is the perfect time to let it rip in weight room…without hesitation. Try getting into the weight room 3-4 times per week and start implementing Olympic lifts, plyometrics, cardio and speed work into your routine.
Do Something Different: Sometimes it takes time, and a step away from the sport for you to realize how much you love and miss it. There is absolutely no harm or foul in shifting your attention elsewhere for a few weeks or months. This is a great time for you to break away from being defined as a volleyball player and to discover who you are as an individual. Try an internship, part-time job, volunteer, attend summer school, pick up a summer project or even try to force yourself into an environment that you wouldn’t normally be in!
Get out on the Beach: Another great way to give yourself a mental break is by giving sand/beach volleyball a try. Although they share the same name, beach and indoor are two completely different sports! Getting out on the sand allows you to continue playing a variation of the sport you love, while reducing the stress level significantly. It can also spark a sense of freedom and often times reminds volleyball athletes why they started playing in the first place…for fun!
You are Physically and Mentally Exhausted:
Don’t feel ashamed if you are physically and mentally shattered. You have been going 100% for a long time and need a break! Simple as that…
Take a Vacation: Hawaii? California? Oregon? Your cousins house? Just go and enjoy! Spend time with family, soak up the sun, interact with new friends and faces and enjoy this beautiful thing we call life! Don’t let the pressures of college volleyball, starting lineups or tryouts run you into the ground. Everyone needs time, and taking a week away from volleyball isn’t going to diminish your hard work or the improvements you’ve made this season.
Give Yourself Enough Time: During this time, it is important to be honest with yourself. How much time do you really need to fully rejuvenate? Make sure you aren’t “jumping” back into the fire too soon because once back in, it is counterproductive to jump back out. When you decide you’re ready, fully commit yourself to the process of improvement and to your team!
Ask Yourself Why? Why, is an important question. If you find yourself stuck in time, not wanting to commit yourself back in, you need to ask yourself why. Why did you start playing this sport and why are you continuing to play this sport? If you are hesitant to find an answer or your answer doesn’t revolve around love, joy or a burning passion to compete, then why are you playing? This sport requires commitment. You will never live up to your truest potential if there isn’t something about volleyball that triggers feelings of passion, drive, love and/or joy.
You Feel Great:
What an exciting moment. During these next few weeks you can spend as much time as you want learning, developing and strengthening yourself as a player and as an athlete in general. You have no expectations, no pressure and no competition, so I suggest you use this time to learn about your weaknesses and find ways to improve them! Get strong. Get healthy. Get technical. Get grinding!