A successful volleyball season requires athletes to dedicate time to mastering the skills in practice that they will employ during competition. But none of that is possible if they can’t make it to the court because of an injury. While it’s impossible to eliminate all risk for injury from a sport, preventative measures before, during and after practices and matches can help keep athletes from experiencing some of the most common ailments throughout a season.

From strength training, to stressing rest and proper techniques for warming up and cooling down, targeted routines should be implemented in daily schedules to teach players to treat their bodies with utmost care so they can play their best come game day.

Some common injuries seen in volleyball players include ankle sprains, torn anterior cruciate ligaments (ACLs), and overuse injuries such as shin splints and stress fractures. According to a National Institute of Health study, more than 81 percent of injuries involve the knee, followed by the ankle and shoulder.

Injury prevention strategies abound. From holding phased-in, multiple-day practices to modifying practice times to account for uncontrollable external factors, such as weather, plans need to be to be incorporated to reduce preseason injury rates.

A fundamental building block to minimizing injury is proper hydration and recovery. Beyond the basics, certified athletic trainers can make a significant difference by designing season-long, sport-specific programs for the unique needs of athletes.

At the start of a season, coaches should not only get to know the strengths and weaknesses of their athletes, but also look over tournament schedules and devise training plans that include rest and recovery days before and after big competitions.

WAVE Volleyball in Cardiff, California, has its players complete a Functional Movement Screen (FMS) at the start of the season. This screening takes an athlete through all of their basic movement patterns, squatting or lunging for example, in order to gauge how they move. The goal is to identify weaknesses or instabilities in athlete’s bodies before injuries occurs. This allows WAVE Director and Strength Coach Amber Walker to develop specific prehabilitation plans for individual players based on the results of the FMS.

Each athlete also takes part in club-wide injury prevention programming developed by Walker.

Activities include strengthening the shoulder before the reaching the most competitive section of the season, pre-practice band activation, with moves such as band walks to strengthen the hips and glutes, and two lifting days each week — one for the upper body and one for the lower body.

Walker also encourages athletes to warm up and recover each time they play.

“It’s just really important for them to just not sit when they’re sore, or be sedentary when they are fatigued,” she said. “There is a way for them to come back and get in an active recovery.”

In December 2016, Walker implemented her programming as a supplement to the players’ regular practice schedules, and after just three months, she has seen the benefits as fewer girls are missing practice and games due to injuries.

And so have the players.

“Once you start seeing and feeling it on the court, you realize you can’t miss strength and conditioning,” Walker said.

Parents have noted the change and are eager to enroll their kids in the optional program as well, she added.

Maggie Griffin, Club Director at VC Nebraska, also takes time at the beginning of the season to map out practice and recovery for her athletes. The goal is for players to be at peak health and performance at the end of the season, when stakes at tournaments are higher.

“That’s the biggest thing about being proactive is really looking at the schedule and breaking it down; planning so that the kids aren’t overloaded,” Griffin said.

At VC Nebraska, strength training is built into every athlete’s schedule.

At the start of the season, athletes focus on improving their balance, agility and jumping technique — a foundation that helps prevent injuries as the season progresses and training increases. They are routines that are going to help the players build good habits throughout the season, Griffin said.

Many VC Nebraska athletes also play high school basketball, and their dual participation requires special consideration as the end of the hoops season overlaps with the start of the club volleyball season. To account for the additional playing and training time and to prevent overuse injuries, VC Nebraska devised a separate conditioning and training program for those who play both sports.

“We don’t want to add another weight lifting section on top of what they are already doing,” Griffin said.

VC Nebraska and WAVE Volleyball also educate athletes and parents about the importance of rest, recovery, sleep and nutrition, so the time players put in on the court and in the weight room is being supported by healthy practices outside the coaches’ control.

At the start of the season, VC Nebraska holds a mandatory seminar for parents and athletes to highlight the importance of proper nutrition and sleep in helping players stay healthy and productive.

“If you relate it directly to how they perform, they’re good about following the guidelines,” Griffin said.

WAVE and VC Nebraska are both members of the JVA. To learn more about how the value of a JVA membership, click here.

About the Author

This article is written by Emily Winters from SportsEngine, the official technology partner of the JVA. SportEngine offers special pricing and packages exclusive to JVA member clubs. More than just a website, SportsEngine can help you solve serious challenges you face with tryouts, billing and collections, team communication, tournaments, and more. For more information click here.