Sunday, 14 Jul 2024

Teach Off-Hand Hitting

Off-side skills are an essential aspect of many sports. In basketball, players need to dribble with both hands. In lacrosse, shooting from either side is crucial. Soccer players must be able to use both feet to score goals. However, in volleyball, we mainly focus on developing one-handed hitters, primarily catering to right-handed players who make up the majority of participants. This means that our game systems are designed with a bias towards right-handed players, with setters favoring the right side of the court. But it is essential for volleyball players to learn how to hit with their non-dominant hand. It’s not a difficult skill to acquire, but it requires coaches to dedicate practice time to it. Starting at a young age, players should have opportunities to practice hitting with their non-dominant hand, both on the ground and over the net during warm-up games or drills like “pepper.” The earlier players become proficient in using both hands, the better they will be at adjusting their hits in mid-air during a jump.

While off-side hitting is important at all levels of the game, it is particularly crucial for younger athletes who tend to make more errors in judgment. As decision-making largely occurs on the ground for younger players, they need to be able to use their opposite hand when the ball drifts to the left side of their body. The first shot we teach players is the across-the-body motion, where they swing with their left hand, bringing the ball from left to right over the net, dropping it into zone 4 due to the radical angle. Any other angle would result in hitting the antenna.

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The Occurrence of ACL Injuries

Let’s discuss how ACL injuries can happen. Picture a scenario: it’s match point or the middle of practice, and the coach is urging players to hit every ball. An athlete misjudges a ball and jumps, leaning way over to the left to hit it with their right hand in an attempt to save it. This tilts their body to the left, creating a precarious off-balance landing over the left leg. This landing puts significant force on the knee, potentially leading to an ACL injury or ankle damage. Improper landing is a significant contributor to ACL injuries in volleyball, particularly in the front row, where the nearby antenna plays a role in determining the success or failure of getting the ball over the net. Misjudged back row attacks can also result in similar landing issues. Research suggests that many ACL injuries occur due to improper landing techniques.

Another scenario involves a player jumping in the middle and the ball being shot past their body during a shoot or a faster set. A right-side dominant player might turn and hit the ball with their right hand, putting them in an awkward landing position. Alternatively, they could use their left hand to tip the ball to an open space. Although this isn’t an actual hit, this skill is essential for handling misjudged balls.

The final scenario occurs when a right-handed player runs in on the right side of the court (zone 2) but realizes that the ball is too far to the left. In this situation, the player could rotate to their left and hit the ball with their right hand, still aiming to hit into the court on that side. The need to hit the ball with the left hand is significantly reduced in this instance, as it’s the opposite of what we see in zone 4 outside hits presented in the first scenario.

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Prevention Techniques

Learning to hit with the non-dominant hand can be a straightforward process. Two right-side dominant athletes stand on opposite sides of the net. The first athlete turns their right shoulder to face the athlete on the other side. The ball is set to the left side of their body, and the athlete swings from left to right, bringing the ball over to the other athlete. The athlete on the other side, with their right shoulder facing their counterpart, hits the ball back. They alternate using their non-dominant hands.

The bottom line is that coaches should aim to develop both sides of their players. During practice games or drills like over-the-net pepper, a few minutes should be dedicated to practicing non-dominant hand hitting until it becomes automatic. Making it automatic is crucial because players don’t always have time to think and adjust mid-air. If players always knew where to jump, they would consistently jump in the right place. Left-handed players, in particular, should invest more time in developing their non-dominant hand hitting skills. They often receive right-handed sets when hitting to zones 3 and 4, leading to a need for using their non-dominant (right) hand earlier on. As a result, left-handers commonly hit to zone 2 on the right side of the court, increasing the risk of knee injury.

Landing Considerations

Recent research has highlighted the link between improper landing and ACL injuries. Improper landing occurs when an athlete reaches out to hit the ball over the left side of their body. How long is an athlete in the air? According to research by the United States Olympic Committee, the overall airborne time ranges from half to two-thirds of a second, with about 0.25 to 0.32 seconds dedicated to contact with the ball and the remaining time dedicated to landing. Due to the limited time available for adjusting the landing technique, improper landing often occurs. By emphasizing hitting with the non-dominant hand instead of relying on a dominant hand hit, the landing issue naturally resolves itself. When hitting with the non-dominant hand, landing technique remains uncompromised, leading to more controlled and safe landings. Ultimately, we must equip all players with the ability to resolve these judgment errors, which often happen with minimal time for adjustment, by training them to use both arms as needed, both on the ground and in mid-air.

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Developing off-hand hitting skills in volleyball is essential for players of all levels, particularly at a young age. By dedicating practice time to hitting with the non-dominant hand, players can improve their overall technique and reduce the risk of injuries, particularly ACL injuries caused by improper landing. Coaches should focus on developing both sides of their players, ensuring they are proficient in using both hands. By doing so, players will have the tools to handle misjudged balls and make successful hits from various positions on the court.