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Learning to Spy

Photo by Han Duong |

Hey hey what do you say
Someone took your plans away
So what’s all the fuss
There ain’t nobody that spies like us

Paul McCartney

Have you seen coaches drape blankets over the net to work on “reaction time”? Maybe a coach stands on a box and rockets balls at the players, for the same reason. Consider that human reaction time is about two-tenths of a second. That isn’t much room for a major improvement. So how to top players seem to “react” so much faster?

They aren’t. They’re reacting sooner.

After understanding reaction time, some coaches then want to believe in “natural instincts”. Likely also false. Our top players are expert readers; they look through the net and watch the opponent for clues about what they will do with the ball. Simply stated, if you are waiting to react to the ball, you have likely already lost the point.

Some coaches believe that “reading” is the most important skill in volleyball. Many hours are dedicated to studying what clues the setters, hitters and servers give away, telling us where they will send the ball. We come up with phrases like “ball setter ball hitter” for our blockers, so they learn the correct places to look for clues. Most young players simply hit straight along their approach line. Armed with those ideas, it gets easier to “react” to your opponent.

According to Peter Vint’s study for the USOC, it takes approximately 0.25 to 0.54 seconds for a ball to go from the hitters hand to the digger on a hard driven ball. Not very long. Yet the hitter takes nearly two seconds to run, jump and swing, which is nearly everything we need to see to know where the hitter intends to hit. Two seconds is a long time to adjust to the opponent’s attack.

In our gym, particularly with young players, we call it “spying” on the other team. It seems like a big secret to look through the net, and watch what they are doing. Certainly, it’s how the game is intended to be played. William G. Morgan’s 5th of seven “helps” in playing the game, written with the original rules in 1897;

5. Watch the play constantly, especially the opponents.

To sharpen your player’s reaction time and instincts, teach them to spy on the other team.

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