When it comes to sports, young athletes need to be approached and trained differently than those in high school, college, or professional. Whether they are novice or a gifted young athlete, conditioning has many purposes.
Knowledgeable coaches, trainers, and parents should focus on drills that are not only skill-specific but also fun and focused on building coordination in younger athletes.
Drills should be short, focused, and basic. The young athlete is building a foundation to help them grow in the sport. Nowadays, more so than in the past, children do not play as they once did. The play was a natural way for boys and girls to develop balance, coordination, and confidence. In today’s society, many kids sit behind screens versus playing in the yard or neighborhood park. It may take some time to develop proprioception and coordination.
For young athletes starting in volleyball, there are six basic, foundational drills that can help solidify skill and prepare the athlete for more advanced work and avoid injury.
This is an excellent tool for young athletes just starting with volleyball. Instead of using the traditional ball, use a medium-sized beachball. The larger, lighter, and softer beachball can help new athletes handle form, passing, and reaction. The beachball will move slower than a traditional volleyball, allowing athlete time to react, get into proper form, or move the ball and call it. This can also be an effective tool to work on big bumps or smaller/controlled bumps.
This is a drill in which the athlete can work on passing to themselves with one arm. Have the athlete hit the ball twice on one arm, then switch to the other arm. Keep alternating between the arms for 2-3 minutes. A progression for this would be a small bump followed by a big bump. This drill can be done with the team, or easily at home.
Have three players form a triangle, standing several feet apart from each other. One athlete will hit while two are tossers. The player will shuffle to the side until they are in front of a tosser. The tosser sends the ball to the player who bumps the ball back and quickly shuffles to the other ball tosser. As soon as the first tosser catches the ball, the other tosser should begin. This will test the player’s speed and reaction, as well as how to plant their feet and hit the ball to a target.
This drill can be done alone. All the player needs is a volleyball and a solid wall surface to work from. Begin passing the ball close to the wall. Slowly back up, creating longer and longer passes. Then move back in close. The athlete can also try using a single arm.
The athlete will begin setting the ball close to the wall and slowly move back, creating distance. The athlete can move in and out for 2-3 minutes. Have them perform with double or single hand as well.
A challenge for newer volleyball athletes is moving after they serve. Often a player will serve, then stand back and watch the action. Have the athletes create a single file line on the serving line. The first player in the line will serve when they hear the whistle. As soon as they serve the ball, they must sprint to catch the ball and return it to the next in line. If the player’s ball does not go over the net, or ends up out of bounds, the server try again before they can hand it off to the next in line.
When working with young athletes it is important to stick with simple drills to help improve endurance, coordination, focus, and sport-specific skills. There are dozens and dozens of drills – all beneficial – but working on a few simple drills can help keep the young athlete focused and not overwhelmed. Remember, they will have many years to progress.