How to Up Your Volleyball Game

By Sarah Tuff Dunn |

Whether you’re spiking, digging, or diving, volleyball is all about power, speed, and coordination. Practice these fundamentals, and you can enjoy the full-body — and social — benefits of the sport.

“The beauty of volleyball is it uses all the movements,” says former professional beach player Curtis Jackson, author of Strength Training for Volleyball. “It’s a great sport for improving athletic ability that will cross over into many other sports.”

“It’s also stimulating for our brains, to be moving so dynami­cally,” he adds. “This improves proprioception and overall in­creases our quality of life.”

The game is a fun way to get and stay fit year-round, whether you play in the sand or on a court, indoors or outdoors. It has beginner-friendly simple rules and can be adapted to varying levels of skill and competitiveness.

The sport’s popularity has birthed intramural and recreational teams nationwide, mean­ing that if you’re not already playing with a group, like-minded teammates won’t be hard to find.

“Volleyball is the quintes­sential team sport,” says Olym­pic gold medalist Karch Kiraly, head coach of the U.S. women’s national volleyball team. “You can’t hold on to the ball. You can’t dribble it all the way from one basket to the other or run all the way down the field as soon as it comes to you. You have to move it to a teammate.”

Experts agree that finding a practice partner is the top way to up your volleyball game.

“General fitness is more important than being able to say, ‘Hey, I can squat 200 pounds,’ or ‘I can power clean 150 pounds,’” says University of Colorado head volleyball coach Jesse Mahoney. “And getting out and playing is probably the best drill any volleyball player can do.”

Still, doing drills on the court, at the beach, or in the gym can help you build an even stronger foundation for moving faster, jumping higher, and spiking harder.

Quick,reflexes are foundational in volleyball. Before you can bump, set, or spike, you have to “read the oncoming ball in time to get your body in the right place,” says John Kessel, USA Volleyball’s director of sport development.This two-part, 10-minute, footwork-focused warm-up will prime your body and mind to optimize your performance. It calls for a set of stairs, a jump rope, and a timer.Reactive box jumps improve not only jump­ing ability, says Jackson, but also general explosive strength, quick feet, and overall mobility — all keys to a better volleyball game.Strong calves, glutes, hamstrings, core, and quadriceps are all essential to jumping high and reacting quickly during a volleyball game.Good contact can make up for other imperfections when serving (or spiking) the ball. Aim to hit “the middle of your open, flat, strong hand against the middle of the ball,” Kiraly says. “That’ll allow you to send the ball strong across the net on a low trajectory where it doesn’t cross the net by much and doesn’t give the opponents much opportunity to respond to your serve.”Near some sand? Playing two-person beach volleyball is one of the fastest — and most fun — ways to improve your skills, says Jackson. With fewer play­ers, you’re forced to cover more court while bumping, setting, spiking, serving, hitting, and defending.“It will get you in shape faster, and it will get your muscles ready for playing indoors on a more forgiving surface.”

Durable but soft to the touch, this ball is suitable for indoor and outdoor use. Available in a variety of fun, bright colors. $19.50 atAnkles can take a beating during volleyball. This brace’s lace-up, adjustable style makes it adaptable for almost any player. $29 at various retailers.Protect your knees with ease, thanks to the foam padding and stretchy fit of these knee pads. $30 atExperience Life.

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