By Dr. Chris Koutures for

Now that essential social distancing and home-isolation needs have replaced all the matches, practices, and tournaments, what can volleyball players do?

First of all, follow those social-distancing and home-isolation orders. And make sure your families and friends follow them, too. This isn’t the time for get-togethers or in-person group practices. This is the time to protect the lives of vulnerable people and healthcare providers.

As a pediatric and sports medicine physician, many of the injuries I see are due to overuse and overload — too much activity, often amped up too fast or too soon for younger bodies.

With many overload/overuse injuries, not only it is a volume thing that needs attention but often there are mechanical issues that need attention. For example, weakness in the central core areas (back of the shoulder and hip/lower back) can create poor function and pain in shoulders, knees, legs, and feet/ankles. These weakness patterns can be in part from rapid growth and also due to too much activity and built-up fatigue. 

Some athletes need a break — time away from repetitive activity to heal these types of injury. The usual response I get when recommending rest centers around a variant of “I/we don’t have time to rest.”

You’re getting that time now.

But I’ll often recommend rehabilitation exercise programs to address those issues. Even with the most diligent of athletes, it’s quite difficult to recover and get stronger/better while continuing to push through all the usual practices and competitions. 

Now, these types of focused exercises and movement education aren’t just designed for the injured. Many teams and institutions incorporate strength and conditioning exercises as part of regular training. Commonly, time is usually not an ally. Either athletes have limited (or no) time to get the full benefit, or they are trying to complete these programs while again pushing through practices and competitions.

Well, in the midst of the overwhelming COVID-19 pandemic, now there is time for rest — for active recovery exercises, for trying something different.

So, if I am giving some professional recommendations for volleyball players, I’m going with the following (pay special attention to 7-9).

  1. Maintain appropriate social distancing
  2. Rest. This does not mean becoming a couch potato.
  3. If you are in a high volume/repetitive similar action activity (like volleyball spiking, jumping and serving) take some time away. You may be shocked at how much better you feel with that relative rest. 
  4. If you’re worried about losing volleyball-specific conditioning, technique, timing and precision, realize that without coordinating with teammates (i.e. can’t hit well without a setter), close-up coaching, and proper surfaces, it is hard to maintain high-level precision. Also realize that, unfortunately everyone else is at the same disadvantage, so take the best care of yourself.
  5. If you have connections to on-line programs, enjoy the benefits of social interaction with coaches/instructors/teammates. This is a key time for some of that general strength and conditioning work that we talked about earlier. Some sports medicine professionals are still available in offices and many have developed on-line exercise programs. Don’t be afraid to reach out and use this time to your best advantage, but make sure you are getting sensible advice and very importantly…..
  6. Please do use common sense when exercising at home. For example, trying to do repetitive leaps and jump combinations on the kitchen tile floor may put unnecessary stress on your legs. I have also talked with coaches and instructors who are cautious about assigning exercise programs — they worry about risk of injury due to lack of supervision. 
  7. I’m going to challenge you to look at things differently, especially if you see yourself as a “only a volleyball player” or “only a libero.” Let’s make a goal of not just trying to be a better libero, but rather look for ways to become a better overall athlete. Can you jump more efficiently (without knees caving inward)? Can you work on making the muscles behind your shoulders more effective? Here’s the chance to work on those injury rehab/reduction or general strength programs that you somewhat (or never really). 
  1. Speaking of looking at things differently, here’s my second and somewhat linked challenge: Find something totally new (or something you haven’t done in a long time) and just do it! Go on a hike (social distance alert again), play board games, or write in a journal. Do something that you haven’t had time to do until now. Go out and do some free play. Let kids direct what’s going on and have less adult organization and outcomes.
  2. Get those 8-9 hours of sleep. This is always vital and especially now in stressful times. Try to keep a good schedule with regular bedtime and awakenings. Before going to bed, write down two or three things that went well during the day and you are grateful for. These positive habits of gratitude can help with feelings of lack of control that many are experiencing at this time. 

At some point, volleyball practices and games will resume, with many players eagerly returning more rested, healthy, and hopefully injury free. On the flip side, some players might realize that after time away and doing other things, they don’t miss playing volleyball at all. Both scenarios are quite likely and should be considered “OK.”

Every volleyball athlete should be given full permission and opportunity to make decisions about future choice of continuing with volleyball, as well as level of play, and time commitment. 

Dr. Chris Koutures is a dual board-certified pediatric and sports medicine specialist who practices at ActiveKidMD in Anaheim Hills, CA. He is a team physician for USA Volleyball (including participating in the 2008 Beijing Olympics), the U.S. Figure Skating Sports Medicine Network, Cal State Fullerton Intercollegiate Athletics, Chapman University Dance Department, and Orange Lutheran High School. He offers a comprehensive blend of general pediatric and sport medicine care with an individualized approach to each patient and family. Please visit or follow him on twitter (@dockoutures).

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