DePaul’s Marie Zidek, coach and certified trainer, on preparing teams in offseason

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Marie Zidek volleyball conditioning 2/3/2020-DePaul volleyball
DePaul coach Marie Zidek
Marie Zidek is likely the college volleyball coach most qualified to physically prepare her team.
Not only is she entering her third year as the super-fit head coach at DePaul University in her hometown of Chicago, Zidek graduated from Northern Illinois in 2006 with a degree in kinesiology and then got her master’s degree in exercise and sports science at Oregon State in 2010. What’s more, she is also an NSCA-certified strength and conditioning coach. We asked her about how she trains her college team in the offseason and thoughts she had about club teams training in season and how high school programs might prepare during the spring and summer.
In this first of two stories, she offers training schedules for high school and club teams.

 

By Marie Zidek for VolleyballMag.com
Having played volleyball for most of my life, coached at multiple levels of the game, and served as a certified strength and conditioning specialist who has trained volleyball players at all ages for the past 13 years, I get this question a lot: 

“What’s the best weight and conditioning workout for my team? I coach (insert volleyball level or age here).” 

Hopefully I’m able to share some ideas in this article that allow you to pull what I call “bedrocks” for the level you coach in terms of age and ability. I will also provide a sample volleyball workout that I’ve used at the latter high school- and college-aged populations. Before we get there, first some important background information that every coach should have as you think about what workout and what approach is going to work best for your group.

From a college coach’s perspective, volleyball student-athletes on both the men’s and women’s side are showing up to college campuses with more volleyball hours of training and practice than ever before. For the most part, it has been a good thing to have better youth facilities, more knowledgeable coaches at the youth level, and more competitive tournament opportunities that expose players to many different styles of play. 

However, there have been unintended consequences of more hours of organized play at an earlier age in life. Research on many fronts have shown that one pretty commonly acknowledged unintended consequence is that this earlier professionalization (i.e. more structured hours of sport per week started at an earlier age) and early specialization of playing one sport vs multiple sports has yielded an increase in injured athletes and over-use injuries. 

It does not take a rocket scientist to see why kids need shoulder surgery, have back issues, or have knee issues in college after to watching them take swings for their high school team from August to November then take swings for their club team from December to July (and repeating that for the four years. Speaking as a college coach, we typically see many of these over-use injuries hit their worst at the college level when the accumulation of swing count and work economy catches up with the athlete. Ironically enough, we see over-use injuries in the untrained population too (the athlete that does nothing before pre-season and accelerates their jumping program too quickly). 

Professionalization earlier in life spans means the decrease of unstructured play. 

The time playing sport is spent teaching volleyball skills — athletes learn how to spike approach at age 12 before they learn how to squat, lunge, or land on two feet safely. 

Athletes are taught how to start in their serving stance and how to overhand serve but not necessarily how to throw a ball. 

I’m sure many people reading this article have watched an athlete throw out a first pitch or throw out a mini-volleyball before the game and wondered how the heck they’re playing volleyball in the first place. A more poignant example are pro athletes that have a 40-plus inch vertical but can’t balance on one leg in stork stance! How are they able to land safely over time if their body isn’t taught how to absorb and distribute loads? 

That said, professionalization of youth sport does not show signs of stopping anytime soon, so we must meet fact with action. Seems that both extremes, the over-trained and under-trained athlete, are realities that shape how we handle our strength and conditioning workouts.  What is most-needed to protect our youth athletes’ development and participation in volleyball that keeps them on the court instead of sidelined with over-use injuries? 

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If you coach the youth population (ages 10 through 18) TEACH THEM TO RUN, JUMP, and THROW in addition to working on the basics of skill (passing, etc.)! 

Make it a fun of blend of structured skill training and fun physical activity. For example, relay races are a great idea! Mix into your practices (at the start or before a drink break) exercises without the ball that involve basic athletic postures, such as: walking lunges, planks, side planks, side-to-side hopping, squats, crab walks, bear crawls, sprints, backwards running, Spiderman crawls, etc. 

Teach them to throw and catch! 

Teach them the basics of their non-throwing foot forward, loading and unloading of their arm, and fluid rotation around their shoulder joint. 

Teach them how to balance on one leg, squat on two legs, bound from one leg to another, go from a squatting to a jumping motion, etc. 

Teach them what landing on two legs feels like and what stable body positions feel like. 

Teach them how to land on one leg and then jump back up to land on two legs. 

Teach them what rotating their core feels like and teach them how to transfer power from back foot to front foot postures in addition to teaching them how to absorb force. Add distractions such as medicine balls, tennis balls, etc. 

Make it fun and make it competitive. 

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The older the athlete is, the stronger and more powerful he or she will get due to adding muscle mass and growing in height. Teaching them what safe and powerful body postures feel like not only trains their muscles physiologically, but it also teaches their brains which muscles to fire and when. This is the most crucial part of motor development in our youth — teaching the nervous system what to fire, when to fire it and HOW to be aware of their body is in space in order to predict where it can go next.

This is a feedback loop that can be learned and trained. Not only will they be able to produce more power, because they will have better mechanics that recruit more muscle, but they will be able to absorb forces around the joint better, too. Remember, sporting injuries most often happen in the first 20 percent of the deceleration phase/ eccentric phase of activity. 

Programming for high school and club require different pre-planning. 

High school matches are typically played during the week during the regular season.

Club season is longer and has a lot of different parts. Weight and conditioning workouts and load should change with intensity to reflect these changes. Also, keep in mind, you are still training kids. They still need basic movement training. The amount of weight they are lifting should not be the focus. Executing the correct movements should remain the target focus. 

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Here is a good rule of thumb to follow if you’re a youth club or grade-school coach (ages 10-13):

Start your practices with some type of relay race without the ball that encompasses bear crawls, crab walks, sprints, line jumps, skipping, carioca, etc.

— Skill level and repeatability of skill is typically low at these levels, so the level of drill you do in partners and with coach facilitation is beginner minded. Alternate a stationary activity where the kids facilitate (i.e. partner toss and catch passing) with some type of coach-facilitated drill where the athlete has to shuffle into the drill, execute the pass, and then sprint out of it. You can get really creative here — passing is in the example, but you can extrapolate this to all of the skills. 

    • Add a wrinkle to the stationary activity and find a way to elevate the skill after you have them in a movement-oriented drill. For example, a passing progression would start with one partner at the 10ft line tossing to a partner about 5 feet away. The partner is working on putting a solid platform together performing 5 reps before switching. Both partners go through two times. The next drill could have the line of tossers at the attack line with the line of passers lining up in single order passing while shuffling along the center line migrating from one side of the court to the other. Two laps around the line then switch tossers and catchers. The next drill could be the coach throwing or control serving over the net to the passers that have to shuffle their feet to the ball where ever it is and get their platform on it. 
      • In this progression, you’ve worked on squat stance and athletic stance (how to not be flat footed). You’ve worked on balanced lower body movements and built strength in the legs by shuffling, and you’ve made it fun while working on skill execution.
  • Practice throwing and catching EVERY practice. Take time to address mechanics by starting with tennis balls. Migrate to over the net. Find ways to make it a game. For example, the partners try to get five throws each and it only counts if the other partner can catch it.
  • Practice jumping and landing every practice. Having players learn their spike approach and catch at the top of their reach is a great example of this.
  • Finish practice with a fun volleyball relay race or wash play. 

Here are some good rules of thumbs as athletes get to High School age (14-18):

  • Each session should include a movement mechanics portion/ dynamic warmup
  • Each session should include a conditioning component
  • If you have a 2 hour practice block, about 10 minutes should be dedicated to non-ball warm-up and 10 minutes dedicated to conditioning at the end of practice 
    • Why? Injury typically happens at the end of practices … in the last 20 or 30 minutes of sport activity when athletes are tired. Especially at the beginning of club seasons, spending this time at the end of practice with conditioning instead of ball-related skill activity will help your athletes build the work economy and body awareness when they’re tired. This means leading up to qualifier time or big tournament time, you’ll have stronger athletes able to be safer body posture and absorb loads longer into practices.
  • Continue to refine and tune them into how to RUN, JUMP, and THROW (this helps them continue to learn to absorb forces the larger those forces get as they get older and more powerful)
    • Walking lunges
    • Body weight squats
    • Split squats 
    • Sideways lunges
    • Sideways bounding
    • Single legged bounding
    • Double legged bounding
    • Med-balls — these develop power and teach the athlete how to transfer power from lower body to upper body (mimics just about every volleyball move, which requires the lower body to be connected with the upper body in order to transfer forces)
    • Over-head strength
    • Throwing mechanics 
      • Start with basic throwing of a tennis ball in partners and progress to teaching fluid arm swing with small soft volley minis then volley-lites then normal volleyballs
  • Teach them how to LAND correctly 
    • 3 sets of 10 landings off of a 20in box is a great place to start
    • Emphasize quiet, toe to heel landings and sitting in a stable squat position (time to stabilization in balance should be trained often and can be thrown into a warm-up)
    • Progress to single legged jumps over small hurdles and eventually to double legged landings with a bound into a single leg landing (mimics block moves from long distance)
  • Basic movements
    • Squats — can be with weight or body weight
    • Lunges — emphasizing driving through the heel to activate the posterior chain (low back, glutes, hamstrings)
    • Over-head movements such as dumbbell push press
    • Dumbbell rows
    • Shoulder complex exercises — side raise, bent flys, front raise, isometric holding
    • Throwing mechanics — something as simple as teaching them appropriate loading and unloading and how to lead with their non-dominant shoulder in addition to really opening and closing their shoulders can be very influential to shoulder and back health as their arm develops motor patterns
    • Med-balls are great teachers of how to coordinate motor movements fluidly. A 3kg medball is perfect for this population. Taking them through a variety of movements that require throwing and catching using their core can teach them how to generate core stability and mobility as well as teach them how to put their bodies in position to absorb force on the catch.
    • Core work — planks, side planks, butterfly kicks, hamstring bridges

Programming Schedule for HS

  • Pre-season: 2 practices/day (one session more ball control and reps with more rest time in-between + one session with wash drills or competitive game play)
    • 10 minutes Dynamic warm-up before each session
    • 45 minutes Weights 2 x per week that focus on basic movements like squatting, lunging, overhead pressing, rowing, and shoulder complex; should include medball work
    • Core + balance work at the end of one practice (pick 3 exercises and perform each 3 times)
      • i.e. plank 3 x 1 minute + single leg balance + hamstring bridges
  • In season: 1 practice/day for 2 hours + 2 matches per week or tournament per week
    • 10 minutes of Dynamic warm-up before starting each session  (include landing practice, shoulder band work, and single legged landings)
    • 45 minutes of Weights 2 x per week that focus on basic movements like squatting, lunging, overhead pressing, rowing, and shoulder complex; should include medball work
    • 10 minutes of Core + balance work at the end practice (pick 3 exercises and perform each 3 times)
      • i.e. plank 3 x 1 minute + single leg balance + hamstring bridges
  • Postseason: 1 practice/day for 2 hours + tournament week
    • 10 minutes Dynamic warm-up before starting each session (include landing practice, shoulder band work, and single legged landings)
    • 30 minutes Weight Session 1 x per week focused on basic movements that are low set and low rep (3 sets of 5 or less reps) focused on squats, split squats, overhead press, medballs. This time of year lifts should be short — maybe 3-4 exercises performed for 3 sets of less than 5 reps
    • 10 minutes Core + balance work at the end practice (pick 3 exercises and perform each 3 times)
      • i.e. plank 3 x 1 minute + single leg balance + hamstring bridges

Programming for Club

  • Build-Up: Focused on making your athletes ready to handle tournaments that are two, three and even four days long.
    • December — recovery month from high school and transition to light practices mostly low impact and ball control; lots of days off or cross conditioning (other activity besides volleyball)
    • January/February — more structured practices; longer conditioning reps; lifting 2 x/week
      • 10 minutes Dynamic before each practice
      • 45 minutes Weights 2 x per week that focus on basic movements like squatting, lunging, overhead pressing, rowing, and shoulder complex; should include medball work
        • Strength — 3-4 sets of 8-12 reps trying to add weight each set
        • Should include aspect of jump training (hurdles, box jumps, etc.) 
      • End of practice core and conditioning
        • Plank
        • Sideline to sideline sprints
        • Change of direction drills
        • Jumping drills
  • Qualifier Time
    • March/April — multi-day tourney & qualifier time
      • 10 minutes Dynamic before each practice (include landing practice and single legged landings)
      • 45 minutes Weights 2x per week that focus on basic movements like squatting, lunging, overhead pressing, rowing, and shoulder complex; should include medball work
        • Power — 3-5 sets of 3-5 reps @ 75-90 percent weight
      • 10 minutes Core + balance work at the end practice (pick 3 exercises and perform each 3 times)
        • i.e. plank 3 x 1 minute + single leg balance + hamstring bridges
      • Very little to no conditioning … your practices should be your conditioning
  • Mid-year Recover and Build for Post Season
    • May — little to no tournament play; perfect break before JO’s and AAU’s kick up
      • 10 minutes Dynamic before each practice
      • 45 minutes Weights 2 x per week that focus on basic movements like squatting, lunging, overhead pressing, rowing, and shoulder complex; should include medball work
        • Strength — 3-4 sets of 8-12 reps trying to add weight each set
      • End of practice core and conditioning
        • Plank + hamstring exercises
        • Sideline to sideline sprints – longer reps and longer sprints (increase work volume)
        • Change of direction drills that are fun and have athletes compete against one another
      • May add a little jump training since there are less tournaments 
  • End of year
    • June/July  – one nationals tune up tourney + end of year tournament 
      • 10 minutes Dynamic before each practice
      • 45 minutes Weights 2 x per week that focus on basic movements like squatting, lunging, overhead pressing, rowing, and shoulder complex; should include medball work
        • Strength — 3-4 sets of 8-12 reps trying to add weight each set
      • Little to no conditioning as practices become more important and take more of the volume

In the next article, coach Marie Zidek’s tips for training a college team in the spring.

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