Volleyball is an all-time favorite recreation sport. It can be played with as few as two people on a side on a variety of surfaces, including sand, grass or indoors in a gym. In summer, a pickup game of volleyball can occur anywhere a net is strung, so a variety of ages and abilities can enjoy the game.
From a physical viewpoint, volleyball combines a variety of skills and motions, which make it a great overall activity. You have to be able to squat down low to “dig” out the ball and you have to be able to jump and have good motion in your shoulders to hit the ball over the net. And, you need strong ankles to land on uneven surfaces without twisting or over-stretching the ligaments of your ankle.
Let’s first look at the ability to squat down. This sounds easy. But a large percentage of the population without hip, knee or ankle problems can’t squat all the way down without their heels coming up. Tight heel cords, imbalances in the ankle joint itself, tight hips or lack of flexibility in the pelvic base explain why. These individuals have a much harder time getting to those low shots because they lose their balance forward. This is a good example of the fact that there are usually very structural or muscular reasons why one person is better at an activity than another.
Next, the ability to jump high is something that can definitely be improved with practice. Strong calf muscles, quadriceps (front thigh muscles) and gluteals (buttocks muscles) all help with the action of jumping, but just strengthening these isn’t enough. The quick reaction time needed to recruit your muscles for this instantaneous action requires practicing the jump itself against some resistance. Individuals who sprint better than run long distances have a greater percentage of quick response muscle fibers. These individuals will have a better natural ability to jump quickly, Training can help everyone. Physical therapists can be very helpful in different training techniques.
Strong and flexible shoulders to “spike” the ball give you the range and power needed to be successful at the net. If it’s OK’d by your doctor, you can check whether your shoulders are adequately flexible by laying down on the floor and raising your arms behind your head as far as possible without arching your back.
Can you put your arms flat on the floor? If not, it means you have room for improvement in your ability to hit the ball. More mobility at the shoulder will take some pressure off your neck because your body has a tendency to compensate for tightness. Building strength specific to hitting the ball with your arms overhead is something that can also be improved. Check with your physical therapist for how to accomplish this.
Strong ankles are a helpful commodity when you play on uneven surfaces such as grass or sand. Few people realize that spraining the same ankle more than once can lead to an unstable ankle and a greater chance of continuing to sprain the same ankle. Important receptors in the ankles, which tell the brain what position the ankle is in, get damaged. This means that without your knowing it, you may land on your foot with your ankle quite twisted. The impact will tell you. Proprioception, or the ability of the brain to know where its body parts are, can be enhanced through different balance activities. Anyone who has had a couple of severe ankle sprains on the same side should be aware of this problem.
Whether you play volleyball in a pickup game or in a league, tuning your body to this or any sport you play can improve your athletic ability, your enjoyment of the game and your physical conditioning.