Ask Coach Houser: Spike Approach for New Players

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Q: Any hints on teaching spike approach to new players? The toughest part seems to get them to incorporate swinging their arms properly.

Teaching your rookies a correct spike approach has to be done. I have no patience with coaches who say, "I tried, but my girls refused."

Girls can't be allowed to leave middle school ball without knowing it. They know the names of their teammates; they know the name of their school; they should also know a proper spike approach. It's absolutely fundamental. 

It Starts With the Arms

Let's talk about arms for a moment. For right-handed players, their arms will follow their left foot.

In other words, if the left foot is forward, both arms are forward.  When the right foot comes forward, both arms should go back, following the left foot.   

Some other arm hints:

? Both arms come up before the hit. Remind your girls to avoid the "lazy left arm" syndrome.

? When the arms are back, they should be back until they can't go back any more! If a girl's arms will go back so far that they're parallel to the floor, then that's what I want to see every time; unless the set is too low and she's in a hurry.

? Remind your girls to avoid the "bird wings" arm swing. This is when the arms don't go straight back and straight forward, but flap to the side like a bird.

Driving the Point Home

How do you reinforce this? I have created drills where I only award players when I see certain skills performed. You can run such a reward drill with arm swing.

Here's an example: If I'm coaching a middle school team, I may say, "I'm splitting the team into two mini-teams. Coach Jones and Coach Smith will be tossing balls to both mini-teams to spike. Coach Johnson and I are going to count how many proper arm swings I see from both lines. When we get to 100 we'll change the drill."  

Or you could say, "The first mini-team that gets to 50 will win." 

Improvising

If you do not have four adults at practice, alter the drill to this: "Jennifer and Samantha will start as the first to toss. When their team gets to 10 correct arm swings, I want a new player to toss."

Of course, one of your players is bound to say, "But coach, I can't toss well." You will answer, "Not yet. Go ahead and do it. You'll be tossing balls for as long as you play volleyball, so let's practice it now." 

Changing the Script

Suppose you want to convert the drill into something different? "How many correct arm swings can we all get together in just three minutes?

Each time we do this drill, we're going to beat the time before!"  It won't take long for all of your players to be doing their arm swing perfectly.

Different Paths, Same Destination

Just like kids learn Algebra in many different ways, so can kids learn their arm swing and spike approach in many different ways.

If your kids are still having problems, partner them with someone who has mastered it. You can also bring in video of the high school team and let the girls see more experienced players on video. 

When I'm in charge of a high school program, all the JVs know their spike approach. It's a point of pride for us. We want to look good.  We want to look trained.  We want other teams' parents & players to say, "They all do their spike approach the same way. That looks GOOD." 

But more than that, if a girl doesn't know a proper spike approach, then she will never be able to reach her potential.  It's a curse that we can put on our players or we can avoid. But it's up to us as coaches. And a spike approach must be learned in middle school, or in a player's first year with a team.
Coach Tom Houser is the head coach for the Roanoke Juniors 15s, as well as the director of STAR volleyball camps. He is the author of the volleyball drill collection, "I Can't Wait," and two eBooks on volleyball technique. Visit www.coachhouser.com for more resources on coaching and playing volleyball.

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