There’s a dark spectre that hovers over every athlete. It doesn’t discriminate. Young or old. Male or female. Elite or novice. Beach, indoor, or sitting. It has no preferences, no predispositions, no morals and it WILL strike at any time. There’s no getting away from it, it’s just a matter of time. The clock is ticking… That spectre is injury in volleyball. Or at least that’s the traditional stereotype that’s conjured up when you think of injury risk.
I was once told by a superstar physiotherapist to think of injury risk like a game of poker where you can see everyone else’s cards. Although ultimately you might get dealt a bad hand and lose the game, you have the information to make decisions that can help your odds of winning.
Unlike poker where to win you’re trying to build flushes, straights or a full house, with injury risk we’re trying to manage the AMOUNT and DIRECTION of force going through structures in the body. By taking control of the way we use our body parts to transmit force we can manage our chances of getting injured. But before I go too much deeper into that, I want to expand on injury types…
I’m not a physiotherapist. Not even close. I like to simplify things so I can understand them, and this lead me to think of injury in volleyball in these 3 major groups;
Sometimes when you get dealt a bad hand there’s not a lot you can do about it. These injuries often result from impacts or collisions which are severe and very difficult to control. Broken bones, concussions, etc…
Sometimes you can get away with a bluff, but in the end you’ll always get caught out at some point. These are the injuries that come from asking the body to deal with much more force than its designed to in a way it wasn’t meant to deal with it. Ligament ruptures, muscle tears, etc…
Sometimes you can have all the best cards, but if you keep doing the wrong thing with them hand after hand you’ll lose. These are the injuries that come from asking the body to deal with a little bit more force in a slightly different way than it was designed for over and over again. Tendonitis, bursitis, fasciitis, etc…
As part of our role as coaches we try and help athletes to take control of their injury risk. We can’t control getting dealt a bad hand. However, we can teach athletes to be experienced poker players, to bluff well, stacking the odds of injury in their favour.
Now onto stacking those odds…
The human body is a majestically complex tool for movement. It’s able to align literally thousands of individual processes in response to unpredictable circumstances in order to achieve one specific outcome. It’s mind-blowing!
Thinking about this in the context of injury risk can be daunting and scary. Especially when, if you’re like me, you like to keep things as simple as possible. The way I overcome this obstacle is by asking myself ONE very simple question;
Fundamentally, when the body is operating effectively and efficiently movement is beautiful to watch. Picture Giba diving all over court retrieving lost ball after lost ball or Earvin Ngapeth killing balls from behind his head. These performers move pretty. In every way, right to the smallest detail.
On the other hand, picture those situations where you’ve seen athletes suffer injuries. Or think about those ongoing niggles and how movement might be causing rather than reflecting the issue. Often bodies position in the most ridiculously contorted ways before injury. Knees collapsing inwards, hunched through the spine, rounded shoulders, unable to hold arms straight. The warning signs of potential injury in volleyball.
I encourage you to consider this during your next coaching session. Ask yourself, do these athletes move in a beautiful way? Is the way they manage their body pretty? Does something not quite look right? Do they seem sluggish or stuck to the floor?
My starting point for managing injury risk is to promote pretty movement, because if it’s not pretty it’s probably not right. I encourage straight lines and right angles as a starting point to support beauty in movement. If the athlete cannot adapt to beautiful positions when asked, it’s a sign that more care and attention may be required.
Keep working to create your beautiful poker playing volleyball athletes.
Interested in more advice on developing robust, injury free athletes? Watch out for our supporting resources providing guidance on a range of simple and easy to apply training methods to reduce injury in volleyball which you can integrate into your coaching to develop beautiful movement. Coming soon!