Volley-ball and technique

Volley-ball is reputedly a "technical" sport. What does this statement mean?

What is a technical sport?

When looking in detail, we find that the use of this term refers to the fact that the skills used in volley-ball are very specific to this game. In other words, the skills acquired in everyday life or in other sports are not very useful to volleyball. To put it simply, in order to play in a satisfactory manner you must learn some techniques.

We agree with this statement but would like to add that, beyond novice level, it is the case in every sport and there resides their educational interest.

If the skills used in volley-ball are specific it is because the sport presents specific constraints. The first one is the time constraint linked to the ban on holding the ball. We insist heavily on this as it seems to us to be at the heart of the game and this is an essential challenge in the training of players.

All volley-ball techniques, except the service, are aimed at responding to this time constraint and are only valid in this context.

Experience shows us that players who have a solid expertise in 'live ball" games (racket sports in particular) adapt more quickly and better to this dimension.

What is a technique?

We can say someone is able when he is efficient at a given task.

Abilities in volley-ball, as in other sports and other human activities, have been elaborated, modified and selected throughout the history of practice.

It is reasonable to think that a player who begins volley-ball and has never seen it played, uses the same paths to solve problems as the first players in the history of volley-ball.

Should we ask him to reinvent the solutions produced through over a century of practice? Of course not. He would reach retirement before becoming an efficient volley-ball player or even get bores long before.

Efficient solutions invented by players have been either forbidden when they seemed to threaten game development (for example the direct block of a serve) or modelled for transmission in the shape of techniques. C'est bien la définition même de la technique : une habileté transmise. This is the very definition of the technique: a transmitted ability. An efficient, reliable, economical way of doing that can be taught.

Teaching the perfect gesture?

This may sound shocking but in practices containing as much uncertainty as in volley-ball the perfect gesture does not exist!

That is to say it does not exist in absolute as a ready-made solution to be copied. Again we will make an exception for the service, but we can claim with certainty that during a match no player will do the same thing twice, for the simple reason that he is never twice under the same constraints of time, space and tactical opportunity.

Therefore in sport, we can observe or even measure some physical action parameters which will never be of identical value but their combination, different every time, follows stable principles.

Very good players stand out thanks to their ability to produce with regularity the most efficient gesture in the present situation. This means that they achieve almost every time the best possible compromise in a particular situation based on the permanent principles that found efficiency.

Teaching the technique means:

  • Enabling the pupils to access the efficient solutions accumulated through the game's history.
  • Drawing out the principles which found efficiency and the parameters they can play with depending on conditions.
  • Associating any technique to the goal (reason for the action, what I'm looking to achieve) and to the conditions we are acting under.

We have endeavoured to single out these principles and parameters under the form of "markers" in the learning situations and observation cards. It is by knowing these markers that players will become able to adapt. Rather that isolating a gesture, it is necessary to consider the whole action.

For example for a service reception the analysis is as follows:

  • What was I trying to do (target, trajectory height)? (is the goal clear?)
  • what did I do? (result of the action)
  • where was I at the beginning of the action? (placement)
  • At which moment did I start to move? (attention, vigilance, reaction time)
  • How were my feet at the moment of the hit? (orientation, stability)
  • Where did I touch the ball relative to my weight distribution? (balance, distance)
  • On which part of my body? (surface of contact and control)

We single out some principles:

  • If I hit the ball slightly to the right of its vertical axis the trajectory is deviated to the left.
  • For a bump, If I give some speed with the arms I change the orientation of the contact surface and I lose precision.
  • If I give some speed with my legs I can control the orientation of this surface and be accurate

One of the most interesting issues from a teaching point of view is making the player conduct a spontaneous analysis of his action. We see this behaviour appear very early on, including with the youngest players when we encourage this questions and feedback approach with the pupils. They talk to themselves or to each other, they mimic: "I could have done more like this or less of that".

Actions are rarely completely successful or failed. In an analysis such as the one we try to illustrate above, we can often observe some well managed aspects and others that are missed. Looking for the perfect reproduction of a perfect move, apart from the fact that it is generally out of context, refers the pupil back to his failure. Conversely, analysing the factors of relative success or failure engages him in a much more gratifying process of progressive mastery.

Technique or tactics?

Tactics are present from the start of the game with the novice under elementary form. "Stopping the ball from falling inside the court and sending back the problem (the ball) in the opposing court hoping for a "fault" is a strategy that pays in the beginning. The tactics answer the question: what to do? It is therefore an identification of the aims and their differentiation (counterattack or pass, spike or lob).

The technique answers the question: how to do it? It is therefore the inseparable other side of the action in the game. As tactics get more complex, they call for the learning of new abilities, the acquisition of new techniques. This learning opens to new tactical ambitions.

Does "technical sport" mean "difficult sport reserved to older players"?

In a first document with pupils aged 7 to 10 (BEVON - BIRONNEAU 1986 - Volley-ball at school) we have shown that this is not the case. If there is a difference it is between our representation of expert adult volley-ball and what can be produced by primary or secondary school children.

In reality, if we don't try and copy the expert model onto beginner children or teenagers, volley-ball is very accessible in its forms of practice adapted to ages and circumstances.

Nevertheless, we keep in these forms of practice which appear different from the standard of reference (adult competition volley-ball the essence of the game logic and game problems. This way, learning opens seamlessly towards a high level specialised practice.

It is important to stress that even if the forms change during the evolution of the game and of the player, in its basic principles "none of what was true in the beginning of the learning becomes false if we continue to practice". For example, some solutions such as the direct send back, very effective with beginners under conditions of bad player placement and/or absence of server replacement are little used in the evolved form of the game because these conditions are no longer present. However, if they occur , this becomes again an efficient solution.

Should we be a technical expert at volley-ball to teach it?

In the teaching method we offer the essential problems of volley-ball are approached and the basic technical and tactical principles derive from solving these problems.

The markers we give can be observed by any teacher or coach with a practised eye. This is the reason why we have selected, for each exercise card, a range of body movements and actions that are more or less successful or missed.

This is your own training! Watch the learning situations videos, then read the observation and analysis cards. Watch again the previous videos. What do you see? Can you tell the responses apart based on the proposed criteria? If ypou can bravo! You are becoming a volley-ball technician. If you know why an action succeeds or fails your pupils will know soon.

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