devo's volleyball – Australian volleyball: news and views

Volleyball players in mid court suffer more physical stress

Posted by devo on September 23, 2009

A new Australian study has shown that volleyball players, who play in the middle position on court, end up with more physical stress from jumping and landing than their team-mates do.

… in the highly competitive world of elite sports, there is a growing trend towards assessing the physical load on players to make sure they don’t suffer repetitive strain injury. In volleyball jumping and landing puts the most load on players … “Middle players are taller and heavier and they jump better than they did 10 years ago, 20 years ago,”  … Sheppard says to “future proof” Australian volleyball talent identification, players selected for the 2016 and 2020 Olympics will need to be taller than those selected for the 2000 games. “For middles we’re looking for ginormous human beings – 220 centimetres wouldn’t disappoint me, but certainly we’re going to need players that are over 215 centimetres,” he stated.

… “Bigger athletes tend to break down easier under musculoskeletal stress,” Sheppard added. … working out how to train smarter, rather than necessarily less, is essential in all sports. more@littleabout

30 Responses to “Volleyball players in mid court suffer more physical stress”

  1. Sally B said

    I agree – that is why we all want to become outside hitters and setters…..

  2. Troy M said

    interesting on one hand they say taller people are more likely to break down under musculoskeletal stress and on the other they want more of these people with relatively shorter volleyball lifespans.

  3. don’t setters get screwed knees too?

    You do see some setters and middles still play international well into their 30s

  4. Iremember said

    The common area between setters and middles is the running and turning. The setters really have no choice. However the trick for longevity playing through the middle is to never transition. As a middle who still has knees I can attest to that…and after watching a few games in SVL I notice many young people are following my lead.

  5. Yankee Boy said

    Let’s face it, most middles live the life of luxury, sure they have to jump a little when they are in the front row but they then spend half the time off the court after they are liberoed (can I use that spelling?) annoying the hell out of the coach telling us how good they really are in the backcourt.

  6. Kasper said

    The reasoning doesn’t seem crystal clear to me. Although, I suppose, if you’re taller you wouldn’t need to jump so high to reach the same height.

    But still, you see only few international middles being more than 205 centimetres or so.

    If you had to find Aussies of 215 centimetres or more, you would have very few people to choose from (how many would there be in all of Australia, maybe less than 50?). From those people, you would have to find players with the right age, motivation and a little bit of motor skills…

    I don’t think they’re right about this.

  7. markleb said

    It is common knowledge that middles jump more than players from other positions, even if the middle does not jump serve. In some cases it can be by a factor of 20% or more, depending of course on the team and the situation (and if the middle does jump serve).
    As Hugh said, middles do mature later than other players and they are comparable with setters in that way. Despite the number of jumps that are required, being a successful middle blocker is actually less related to physical ability than other positions. Experience is a key factor. The ability to understand the game and read the play as it unfolds makes up significantly for any loss of physical speed or power that occurs as players get older. If you move earlier, you don’t need to be so fast. Another factor is technical. Blocking technique is very difficult and it takes a long, long time to master. Having your hands in the right position is vital, and that takes a lot of time.
    As always, height alone does not determine volleyball ability. It never has and it never will.

  8. Yankee Boy said

    Kasper is right on the money here, where are we going to find men that are 215cm or taller that have the ability or desire to even want to play volleyball. The chances are that they have been snapped up by basketball or AFL well before they have even heard of volleyball. Of course at 215cm you would probably need a minimal jump in the middle to be effective therefor extending your jumping lifetime.
    As Mark says the height issue does not solely determine the level of volleyball ability, all things being equal you are probably going to opt for the taller player in almost any given situation, however all things being equal never seems to be the case.

  9. When i coach juniors (and often when i coached reserve women), i never use specialist middles. sometimes i swap players around for blocking matchups, but unless it’s a high level, just get them to share it around. Players should all be able to play at least 1 rotation in the middle.

    At the elite level, i have no idea what’s right. But given, you play any professional sport, you should expect your body to be screwed by the end of it.

  10. Luke said

    Mark, I couldn’t agree more with what you wrote. Height is not everything in the middle, it’s training, concentration and experience. Being able to read the play and move well is so much more important than being 215-220cm, sorry Jez!
    The best middles in the world are just not that big and there is a reason. Being a great middle (which is what we need to be the best in the world) is sooooo much more than being big and blocking high. You need to be fast, disciplined, determined, be able to set perfectly, transition fast be ready for any situation. I have seen plenty of big gubers and not 1 can do all that.
    Gold medal game in 2008 Olympics, were any middles over 205cm? I don’t think so, could be wrong though

  11. Jeremy Sheppard said

    Interesting debate on this site, as usual. I’m glad we have this forum.

    Did anyone who posted here read the article? Not the media article, but the actual article? Sound bites from an interview certainly don’t paint the full picture, so i’ll summarize some of the key points:

    The analysis involved many international matches, and the athletes analysed in the study were from the national programs of Australia, Argentina, Canada, and Brasil (that’s how you spell it by the way). It was a collaboration with these countries (simply because i have connections there). middles do more maximal jumping, setters do even more, but jump-sets are generally considered sub-maximal, so we considered that. Junior national team players don’t jump nearly as high (relative) to seniors, but junior national team middlers are actually taller (despite having growth left in them) than senior national team players. players are getting taller in all positions, and jump higher. Not sure why this is a contentious issue, but its true. On winning teams (i.e. teams that won the games we were analysing) players did more blocking, but of course this makes sense-you have serve. Remember, these are averages and trends.

    As for interpretation, Mark I can’t wait to have a coffee (pre noon) or beer (afternoon) about this next time. At no point have I (or my colleagues overseas) stated that its a pre-requisite to be tall to play the game. I’m working with a couple guys right now who are very short, but i believe in their potential. But the fact is that players are getting taller in all positions, and that the difference/disparity between height in middles and other positions is getting larger, in GENERAL, than 10-20 years ago. As I have always discussed with my bosses (head coaches) in terms of height, its not THE determining factor, but it is an important factor. Luke, you weren’t the tallest, but how did you make up for the difference when blocking taller opposition? Greater speed, anticipation/decision-making, technique? I’m not going to blow sunshine up your arse, but simply put, being more successful in defending space above the net against taller opposition would have required you to be superior in other areas (as you and Mark suggest). This is the same for the guy who lacks these characteristics that you’ve played against-he might have made up for it with… maybe being 10 cm taller! What if you find a guy who IS 220 cm, and then you develop him into being exceptional in technical, physical, and cognitive areas?

    My job is physical…I’m just a curious strength coach who loves the sport.

    To summarize my view as concisely as possible: THERE WILL BE SHORT PEOPLE ON NATIONAL TEAMS IN THE FUTURE. But, in general, they will offer something exceptional in other areas important to the game. I consider many of the Brasilian team to be short. I consider none of them to be lacking in skill and other areas that are important. Volleyball is a skill sport. Games are won in skill.

  12. Troy M said

    Just quickly, if Brazil are so successful with a team that is what you consider short, and “Games are won in skill”, why is the emphasis not on identifying people with greater capacity to learn/develop skills than on people who are simply taller in height?

    BTW Brazil is spelt with a Z not an S in English. It tends to make sense to use the English spellings/pronounciations of names in an English language forum, because using the native tongue to write names may lead to confusion, for example: Deutschland, Россия, 한국, 中国, Suomi, Hrvatska.

    • Steve said

      Are there objective tests that can be used to identify this? Identifying tall people is pretty straightforward, but capacity to learn is a completely different animal. People learn in many different ways … by doing, hearing, reading, seeing demonstrations etc, so not sure you could pre-test this.

      Makes sense to me to find people with the preferred physical attributes first and then eliminate people from that group who don’t have the other requirements. Of course you also take people outside the preferred range who demonstrate excellence when given the chance. I.e. talent id a bunch of giants, but if some 6’4″ kid (or 6’6″ in the middle) comes in and destroys everyone at national juniors then of course he should be roped into the program.

      Lol on the country names too by the way.

    • Anon said

      Because you can’t teach some to be tall. It’s easier to teach skills (no matter how long that takes) than it is to teach height.

      • guy said

        yeah but just because someone is tall doesnt necessarily mean that you can teach them the skills necessary to play the game. i have seen way too many cases of people being picked only because they are tall and then never amount to anything. while the shorter people with a very high skill level never get anywhere cause they are too short. im sorry anon but i absolutely cannot agree with you

        • Robbo said

          i think the point he’s getting at is that it might be hard, but i’d say it would still be easier than grabbing a 5’10 kid and teach him to be 6’6 ;)

        • Anon said

          I’m saying the thought process tends to be “we can take a 6’3″ kid who’s an excellent age group volleyballer or we can take a 6’7″ who relies heavily on their height and hope that with enough coaching and training he will develop into an international volleyballer”. If I had to put money on one of those two players “making it” as an international level volleyballer, I’d put my money on the big kid 9 times out of ten purely because they have the basic physical side of thing covered already. Guy, I agree that some things can’t be taught, no matter how long you try for, people have limits to their abilities. Robbo seems to have gotten my point. Even at national juniors this year, the vic u21 team won gold with 6’1″ and 6’4″ middles playing against Queensland, who were prototypical AIS type athletes, but those guys aren’t going to have that success at the level above that no matter how hard they try.

          • markleb said

            I’ve never understood the argument that only the ‘big’ guys they have a chance to win at the higher level. I always ask the question if the ‘talented’ guys can’t win against the ‘non talented’ guys, how can they possibly be expected to win at the next level. To me that’s a completely nonsensical argument.
            Read any article from Doug Beal about scouting players and they always pay attention to guys that win, because playing volleyball is and should be one of (but not the only) the key indicators of future success.

      • markleb said

        The other thing you can’t teach is a feel for volleyball and that is one thing that gets left behind. The players who intrinsically understand the game. They are the ones who have the best chance to be successful.

        • Anon said

          I agree, there are those people who are successful no matter what their size. I think thats something that is very apparent if you go to watch any school or junior tournament. I often select my teams (where and when I get the opportunity to) according to skill, effort and height in that order. I’m torn that at the time of talent id (usually mid teens) those kids who are fully grown at 6’4″ may have figured out where then ends of their arms and legs are better than the kid who is 6’4″ and still growing. I’m not saying don’t select them on grounds that they are smaller, but they may be closer to their ceiling (However, we do pick teams primarily to win games, not to say we coached so and so back way back when).

          Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers makes an interesting argument about selection of junior teams and I’m seeing elements of it fit in with the AIS selection policy. They needn’t pick the best kids at the time, they can take a flier on some big gumby kid with the hope that with that time and effort put into him he can be just as good as the kid who wiped him off the court at u17’s.

          I fully agree that size is not even close to everything it takes to be a good volleyballer, but I can’t help but think about the other side of the coin.

          • Steve said

            10,000 repetitions … great book.

            This is why we have “B” teams competing at national junior tournaments. It gives the kids who aren’t quite there skill wise but have the right physical attributes a chance to play at the higher level and gives national coaches a chance to see how they compete against players currently better than them as well as insight into their mental approach to the game.

            “B” teams should be devoted to such kids, who may not necessarily be the next best ten or twelve players in the state.

  13. Troy M said

    Learning can be assessed in various ways, and shouldn’t be disregarded as less important because they cannot be measured as easily as height – especially when it is acknowledged there are more important variables than height.

    Obviously if you were wanting to establish an elite team, you don’t want to go through an in depth assessment on every individual who wants to join your team. Filtering by height makes life easier, and if you had to plow through thousands of potential applicants, then it would make sense. But I have not seen any evidence that shows people who are 210cm are any less capable of being world class middle players than people who are 215-220cm.

    the risk that is faced by setting a prerequisite for selection as high as 215cm is that the ability to exclude on the basis of other criteria which are more important such as skill level and skill capacity is limited.

    ps the 6’4″ or 6’6″ kid who were destroying everyone at national juniors are going to miss out by a good 15-25cm.

    • Steve said

      Learning ability isn’t less important, it is just more difficult / impossible to do as part of a screening process, particularly with the resources available to Australian volleyball.

      I also wouldn’t go so far as to say other factors are more important than height, it would be more accurate to say that others are equally as important. You can have the most skilled team in the world, but if none of them are over 6’0″ they aren’t winning anything of great importance.

      I agree that 215cm is setting the benchmark a little too high given the limited number of such people, but 205cm plus those extraordinary athletes identified via performance seems reasonable to me. Your second paragraph would indicate you agree with this?

      Re the 6’4″ and 6’6″ kids they don’t miss out, they just have to prove a little more before they get included while the tall kids get an easier path to access elite development.

      • Troy M said

        re height, I was following on from what Jeremy had said in the final paragraph about volleyball being a skill sport, and he considers many of the Brazilian team players to be ‘short’.

        When saying height is less important than skill, you are right, obviously a 160cm player no matter how skillful will struggle in any position on the court against 2m+ players… What I meant (and didn’t say :P) was when dealing with small differences in height (10-15cm worth) other factors are more important and can overcome these small differences in height (eg variables such as speed, leg power, hand/eye coordination, reaction time, cognitive capabilities – without even touching on psychology are going to play a bigger difference.) This is why people who are shorter than 215cm have not been excluded from selection to elite teams in other countries.

      • Troy M said

        oh yeah, i do agree with having some height criteria for selection, but it should either be set conservatively, to ensure people with extraordinary capabilities in other areas that are sufficient to compensate for height defecit are not excluded or there should be an alternate pathway available for people who only miss out marginally with the height standards (eg if someone misses out on height criteria, they may alternately complete a separate assessment battery consisting of other variables such as speed, agility, leg power, reaction time, where they would require results higher than their taller counterparts etc etc)

  14. Alexis said

    This started off with an assessment of the physical stress placed on middle players and has gone in some really interesting directions (not that the initial topic isn’t interesting – sorry Jeremy!).

    It seems to me that whenever a ‘tall’ team wins a major competition it is because they’re tall, but whenever a ‘short’ team wins it is just because they are Brasilian (because they usually are) so it doesn’t count (and yes, i choose to spell it the same as my Brasilian friend does). The US men’s team had starting PHs in their Olympic Gold Medal winning team at 6-5 and 6-6 (you don’t even want to think about the heights of the Brasilian players who lost).

    Having said that, when Schacht/Slack won a Bronze medal at World Champs did everyone say – wow, we should start selecting 6-3 guys because they win medals at World Champs? Of course not. But at the same time its missing the point to think they won ‘despite their height’ rather than ‘because of their skill’.

    The fundamental flaw in any of the arguments is that assumption that somehow its easier to coach a ‘freakishly tall’ player to be ‘great’ than it is a medium sized player to be ‘great’. Literature isn’t everything but I don’t think there is anything to support this premise. This takes it way beyond a height issue, but a coaching/learning issue.

    Steve, you are right about Talent ID being related to height because it is easier. It’s the elephant in the room. Talent ID is a scientific approach to selection and development in order to optimise Australia’s small sporting population. Because of this, everything that can be measured (easily) is measured in the process. Of course this means everything that cannot be measured (ie: learning capacity, ambition, coachability, durability, etc) is not.

    Ultimately there are enough examples in world volleyball to prove what you choose. For example, the starting middle of the Japanese Gold medallists in 1972 (Minami) was 6-5. The starting middle of most of the Brasilian Gold Medal winners recently (Andre) was 6-6 (maybe 6-6.5). Therefore there was an increase of 1 inch per 37 years in the heights of gold medal winning middles (that comes to about 1cm every 15 years for anyone who is still reading this).

    Do I know the answers, no. But I know that a few of the questions are pretty difficult ones. In the end, as they say, if it was easy everyone would have a gold medal.

  15. Jeremy Sheppard said

    What i did was examine the trend in the characteristics (i.e. height, mass, jumping ability) and found that the positions were becoming more ‘distinct’, in that players from the differing positions were ‘more different’ than in the past. Players are getting taller, on average. You can find exceptions to the contrast, or you can find examples to support that. But data is data, no need to get emotional. How its interpreted, is something that i haven’t discussed. I’m a bit confused as to why their is pseudo-confrontation on selection policy. I don’t disagree with anyone’s viewpoints regarding height as a consideration, skill, etc. Its not my job to select athletes anyway. I did say to a journalist that part of future proofing my work is preparation for very taller athletes-215+. I have worked as a strength coach and sport scientist in volleyball for about 16 years, and I’ve worked with ~10 athletes over 210 cm (barefoot). 2 of them were 215 cm, so good point, their are not a lot-but they are there, and other countries will also have some very tall athletes too, and likely they’ll play middle.

    On average athletes have gotten taller. This is not my opinion, this is data we collected. How the individual interprets this is up to them. My consideration is simply-these big guys jump heaps. this brings up lots of considerations for me as a strength coach (again, least of which being selection policy). Like, for instance, can you do snatches from the floor with a 220 cm guy? What’s the risk to benefit ratio? I leave selection policy to you coaches, and you can lean on me to get them to jump higher. I think you may be assuming that i wrote an ‘article’. I did not. Its a manuscript, containing data, in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. Whether you like how that manuscript was represented in the popular media is not within my control, and is alot like having an argument with your thumb.

    My comment regarding 215-220 cm athletes should not be taken out of context-tall athletes will be in our sport, and since athletes in the sport are GENERALLY getting taller, that’s something i’m preparing for. Its not actually my job to go find the 220 cm guy. I believe i’ll still be working with a national team or pro team in the next 2-3 decades that employ 190 cm players too, but its unlikely that we’ll see entire teams with an average height that is lower than they are now. I’m sure we can all agree on that? I”m sure we can also agree on the point that IF you are a 200 cm middle, and you are successful against the Russian middle block, its because you are much better in other areas that are important (hence my statement that skill is imperative…)? So yes, to be tall is an asset, but i didn’t assess skill in the study-and no one said that height was ‘most important’…so as my wife would say ‘what are we debating again’?

    Also, the jumping loads of the players are worth considering. This is what i help coaches with too, looking at load-response, management, etc. Along with medical staff, this is important. That’s what i got out of the process. As a near-midget, i didn’t set out to eliminate my brothers and sisters from our great game.

    And Troy, sorry about the spelling. I’m just doing what my Brasilian colleague told me to do. I’ve never been accused of being smart. But good point, its not like you’d say ‘I speak espanol (can’t find the accent function on this imac).

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