Monday, November 10, 2008

Conference Champs

Trinity volleyball won the SCAC Conference Championship and Megan Dudley won the Tournament MVP. Dudley was the one Trinity volleyball athlete training with me this summer and while her hard work there certainly helped it was the VOLLEYBALL coaching staff and team that really helped her to excel. There is no doubt about it: speed and power training helps volleyball players access their ability but there is no substitution for high quality, high performance volleyball coaching. Coach Julie Jenkins and April Fricke are a couple of the best and their success record substantiates that. Substance is a good thing.

This is my first year working with the Trinity volleyball program and I'm happy to be able to learn from the coaching staff and athletes there. Trinity is often referred to as the "Ivy League of the South" so there's no doubt that all of the girls are smarter than I am.

So as to not leave out any details that might be helpful to some, here were the things we did focus on this summer:

1. Improving Power and Speed

2, Improving Relative Strength (Strength to Bodyweight Ratio)

3. Decreasing Bodyweight

Dudley had a great starting point as her fitness was/is top notch. This allowed us to focus on the program qualities that would maximize her abilities and not simply guarantee that she could perform healthy. Often I have to spend a good deal of time retraining movement and addressing poor mobility/coordination relationships, especially with more seasoned volleyball players as the compensation path is an incredible one. Take note: a broad range of physical abilities focused on early in athlete development will allow an athlete to maximally express specific abilities further down the road with less physical wear and tear. Early specialization is a stupid concept but so is not exercising/training at all (more on that soon).

Dudley also felt like she needed to lose around 5-pounds and I agreed it would not hurt, especially if we could concurrently increase her power/strength numbers. She is a very muscular-lean athlete and started training this summer with a 28" approach jump. Her approach jump ended up improving to 31", which we both felt was a great improvement considering she had a solid 3 years of training under her belt prior. To get there, we focused on:

1-Improving her stretch-loading for jumps and increasing her power via the hang snatch

Jump/speed work was a variety of medicine ball throws, fast-SSC (Stretch-Shortening Cycle) transitional jumps focused on rapid ground contact in a stretch-loaded position combined with full extension. Med ball throws were vertical jump tosses, caber tosses (granny tosses do not sound athletic. Caber tossing! Now that screams aggression!), and med ball slams. I think often people are so caught up on rapid ground contact (less than .25 seconds and really focused on around .10 which is essentially the snap of your fingers) that they forget about what the body should do after initial contact. We focus on rapid ground contact and the mechanisms that create good extension (jumping from a power position and extending through the hip/knee/ankle). Otherwise the athlete is just bouncing, which in the complexity of athletic performance and volleyball, simply won't cut it. The timing mechanisms and rhythms of fast stretch-shortening cycle activity contribute beautifully to jumps common to volleyball, namely the approach jump and block jump.

Hang snatch work was highly technical at first as Dudley needed improvement on her technique. She had experience with cleans before but snatches were relatively new to her. We were very conservative with loading as the coordination improvements I see with people new to oly lifts and variations are often enough to drive the force-velocity curve towards positive change without the traditional power loads. As an aside, I often view the percentage recommendations as plain fiction, seeing as working off a percentage of intensity always assumes several things:

A-That the lifters 100% effort was of high quality. With olympic lifting this is a big problem as often it is only maximum loads that expose the athletes weak points in the same way as a faster/more powerful or technical team exposes a volleyball teams weak links.

B-That the athlete is capable of reproducing the same effort and technique on a very consistent basis. Practice does not make perfect, perfect practice makes perfect, so there will be no assumptions about proper technique being ingrained so early in the training process at my house. Technical mastery of complex skill, whether it be olympic lifting or volleyball, requires thousands of hours of practice and training with constant attention to detail. There is no, "This is the snatch. Now let's get after it!"

2-Eliminating unnecessary volume from the training and focusing on the front squat and chin-up as the primary relative strength indicators

Front squat improved over the summer from a 60-kilo (133 lb) triple to 75-kilo (165 lb) training doubles performed for multiple sets (we never went beyond 4).
Chin-ups improved from band assisted work to bodyweight triples for multiple sets. Given a bit more time, I'm sure we would have progressed quickly into loaded chin-ups. Dudley represents that athlete who is ready for improvements if given an appropriate training structure.

3-Decreasing Bodyweight

This change was quite simple and was simply an extension of the training process. We performed much less total volume than she was used to and Dudley was very disciplined on her nutritional program. Dudley continued to perform the Trinity conditioning work on off-days and had a great summer of preparation to improve her confidence and performance for the competitive season.

With that said, I hope my thought process helps others to see how complexity and simplicity can be successfully interwoven for a great training result. Every athlete presents unique challenges but all can benefit if their energy and talent can be focused successfully.

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