Every volleyball player wants to jump higher, hit harder, and move faster. We often visually describe athletes who do these skills well as moving efficiently or “smoothly”.
On the other hand, there are those we might describe as awkward or having “two left feet”, and struggle with core physical competencies, such as coordination and balance.
So how do you improve your coordination and balance in volleyball?
You can improve your balance and coordination in volleyball by doing a combination of upper and lower body neuromuscular training drills 2+ times a week. These exercises can be done at home, as a part of warm up before practice, or by incorporating them into your strength and conditioning routine.
Whether you are new to volleyball, play recreationally or competitively, and at any age, coordination and balance training exercises are paramount to improving volleyball performance and preventing injury.
At the end of this article, I’ll give you a complete program that will improve your coordination and balance in volleyball.
Neuromuscular Training & Volleyball
When training for athletic performance, it is far too easy to forget about movement quality and get fixated on how high we can jump, or how many plates we can load the squat rack up with (quantity vs quality). If movement quality is lacking, adding quantity of movement leads to overuse and breakdown as quickly as it creates performance gains.
All your hard work is for nothing if you are sitting on the bench with an injury. It is important to first create a strong foundation of movement patterns.
Fortunately, there is an antidote Neuromuscular Training (NMT)
NMT is a combination of strength, agility and balance exercises focusing on correct movement patterns and strengthening muscles around commonly injured joints. NMT relies on the concept of neuroplasticity, which is the ability of the nervous system to change its structure and function in reaction to cognitive stimulation.
Individuals who complete these types of exercises and programs at least 2x per week for 10-30 min improve in measures of athletic performance including vertical jump, speed, and agility while simultaneously greatly reducing their risk of injury by 30-70%.
The great thing about NMT training is that you need little to no equipment, you can adjust the level of exercise to meet you where you are at, and variety and progressions are easy to implement to keep you challenged.
Everyone can benefit from neuromuscular training from youth to pro level volleyball players! When to start? As young as possible, but it is never too late.
At the end of the next few sections, you’ll know how to implement neuromuscular training, the best exercises for volleyball players. I’ll also give you a sample routine!
Defining Coordination For Volleyball: Why is it Important?
Coordination is the ability of multiple body parts to be able to work together in a controlled way simultaneously to be able to complete an action. It is the ability to move efficiently, carefully, quickly, and purposefully. The main brain structure involved in motor skills such as posture, coordination and balance is called the cerebellum (which is Latin for “little brain”).
The cerebellum helps us with two main categories of movements:
For example, foot-eye coordination requires gross motor skills and refers to the ability to move your feet to respond to what your eyes perceive. In volleyball that would include things like blocking footwork, transition off the net, the spike approach, and playing defence.
2. Fine Motor Skills: these are movements of the small and specific muscle groups (usually used by muscles in the hand). Tasks that require fine motricity will require more precision than power such as hand-eye coordination tasks, the ability to move your hands depending on what the eyes see.
Hand-eye coordination is required for every skill in volleyball whether it be serving, blocking, passing, setting, and attacking.
The gross and fine motor skills work in conjunction with tasks requiring foot-eye coordination (ie. Serving, attacking, setting). If you are not properly positioned when you do these skills and cannot get your feet to the ball, the outcome of the action is unlikely to be successful or efficient.
In summary, as volleyball is a game of speed and powerful efficient movements, every single skill in volleyball requires excellent coordination to succeed in the sport.
Criteria For Improving Coordination In Volleyball
Depending on age, training history, playing level and overall physical health – the pathway to realizing maximizing potential in coordination may require prioritizing different tools at different times. However, there are several main concepts every coach and athlete can focus on to improve coordination and balance in volleyball.
The way that we efficiently develop coordination for volleyball from the ground up is by using the philosophy of the performance pyramid to prioritize exercises that provide a strong base of movement quality. On top of this we can start to layer movement quantity and technical skills.
A common mistake is to only focus on technical skills or physical capacity to improve coordination without building the correct base. To improve fundamental movement patterns, we can access tools from a specific type of training called Neuromuscular training (NMT).
NMT is a type of training that strengthens the connection between the nervous system and muscular systems, thus improving coordination and balance. This type of training prepares athletes for safe movement in sport and activities by improving the circuitry in the body.
Exercises incorporating both gross and fine motor skills are necessary to improve. You will need to train major movements as well as the stabilizers which maintain the posture and balance of the body while other muscles produce big movements
NMT typically consists of 10-14 exercises, conducted in 10-30 min sessions, 2-4 times per week for 6-8 weeks to see improvement. At minimum one set of each exercise will get you results, and then as you improve adding a 2nd and 3rd set will improve strength and physical capacity to resist fatigue.
To improve coordination and balance in volleyball your program should thus include the following categories of exercises:
- Speed and Agility
- Core Endurance and coordination
- Balance (Dynamic Stability)
- Target Exercises (hand-eye coordination)
Coordination Drills for Volleyball
From a global perspective:
- For the coaches out there, during warmup is a great time to work on coordination with your team. You can start off with games like Swedish two ball, “tennis”, mirror games, soccer, or throwing and catching a football or baseball as players complete their dynamic warm up.
- Athletes: you can start with simple things like juggling, video games (yes sometimes a bit is ok!) and cross training in other sports. It is great if you can challenge yourself by trying other activities like baseball and court sports such as tennis, basketball, badminton etc.) during the off season to help improve overall athleticism.
From the strength and conditioning perspective, there are specific drills and exercises we can work on to target the areas most important for balance and coordination in volleyball.
1. Speed and Agility
A. Multidirectional Hops
1-3 sets x 8-16/side, alternate sides with no rest.
Stand on one leg with hips and shoulders even.
Jump forward and backward over a line keeping your heel off the ground and knee in line with the hip. Complete reps then switch legs.
Then jump side to side over a line for the same amount of reps.
Start off with a slower speed to improve balance. To progress, increase the distance of the hop or the speed of the hop.
B. 9 Meter Sprints (half court)
1-3 sets of 6 sprints with 2-3 min rest in between sets.
Start from a defensive ready position and then sprint 9 meters (from the baseline to the center line distance) as fast as you can.
Take lots of space to slow down, walk back to the start and repeat.
Note: Between each set allow yourself 3 minutes of active recovery – walking around, shaking the legs out, and taking deep breaths. The objective of these drills is to improve running coordination, not exhaust you
C. 4 Meter Lateral Shuffles
1-3 sets of 12 touches with 2-3 min rest in between sets.
Set up 2 low objects 4 meters apart from each other.
Start low in a defensive ready position with your hand on the object and then side shuffle between the 2 markers, touching each one with your outside hand.
Stay low the entire time, keeping your hips low to the ground.
2. Plyometrics (Fine and Gross-Motor Coordination)
A key priority is to improve coordination and balance through drills working on proper jump and landing technique as well as single and double leg drills.
A. Skipping (hand-foot-eye coordination)
Reps: 50-100 jumps (or stop at 30-60 seconds) Rest 30 sec = 5-10 sets
This is a great warmup activity or can be put in strength circuits as a low amplitude plyometric.
Keep feet hip distance apart and ensure that your knees bend directly over your feet instead of collapsing together. Gradually build speed as you get the rhythm.
B. Banded Squat Jumps
1-3 sets of 5-12 reps, 30 sec rest
Place a loop resistance band above the knees around your thighs. Stand with feet shoulder-width apart (spike or block approach width).
Lower into a half squat, driving elbows back then bring arms forward and push off through the big toe and middle of the foot to get off the ground.
As you land, lower back into a squat, making sure your feet land gently, both flat on the ground, hold for 2 counts then repeat.
Check your foot alignment after each jump to make sure your feet are even and at shoulder width.
3. Resistance Exercises (Gross-motor coordination)
Strength exercises are important to help build a stronger base to control your body. Improving the squat movement pattern is a priority. The defensive position requires you remain in a squatted position and 4/5 skills in volleyball require jumping off two feet utilizing the squat movement pattern (serve, set, block, spike).
Secondly, shoulder and upper back strength, stability and coordination is required for hitting, serving, setting and blocking.
Recommended exercises to strengthen the legs and shoulders, and even out asymmetries between the left and right leg include:
A. Dumbbell Front Squats
1-3 sets x 10-20 reps, 60-90 sec rest between sets.
With your feet shoulder width apart and turned out slightly, hold a weight close to your chest and sit as low as possible without your heels coming off the ground.
Have the feeling of pushing your knees out to keep them above the outside of your foot and push hard into the ground to come to standing.
B. Forward and Backwards Walking lunges with Torso Rotations Walking Lunge –
forward and back 3 x 10-20 reps, rest 60-90 sec between sets.
Take a big step forward with your feet hip distance apart and lower your hips down until your back knee almost touches the ground.
As you lower, turn your shoulders towards the front leg.
Let the volleyball or medicine ball/dumbbell drop to the hip.
Keep your torso upright and ensure that your knees stay in line with your feet and your hips stay level.
Walk forwards for 10-20 reps, then backwards for the same amount of reps.
C. Bow and Arrow
3 x 8-‐16 reps (alternate sides without rest)
Using a cable system or a band attached to a fixed object or a partner you trust…start by drawing your shoulder back/down.
Pull your arm to your chest and then follow through with arm and trunk rotation.
Slowly return to the starting position.
4. Balance (Dynamic stability) Exercises – Gross and Fine Motor Coordination
A. Single Leg Hip Hinge with Dowel
5/side = 1-3 sets
Standing on one leg, hold a dowel against your back.
Push your hips back towards the wall and reach your heel for the wall. Your heel should touch the wall when your leg is fully outstretched, and you’ve hinged forward as much as possible without the dowel coming off your head or tailbone.
Push through the heel of your stance leg to stand up (keep big toe pressed into the ground.
Progression: Try standing on a foam balance pad or closing your eyes to remove the visual cues for balance and strengthen your proprioceptive system!
B. Quadruped Trunk Rotation Coordination
1-3 sets x 8-16/side, alternate sides without rest.
Rotate the upper body with the arm extended, can do this holding a lacrosse or weighted ball.
Let your eyes follow the ball, keep hips square to the ground.
Progression: Do this in a full plank position, alternating sides. This will combine core strengthening with shoulder stability and coordination.
5. Core Strengthening and Coordination
This is required for serving, passing, hitting and blocking. A strong core is needed to maintain control over your limbs as you move
A. Multidirectional Bear Crawling
10 crawls each direction = 1 set
Set up on your hands and knees with a water bottle or foam roller on your lower back. Try to create your best “neutral” spine by reaching your head as long as possible away from your tailbone.
Bring knees off the ground so you are supporting only on your hands and toes.
Lift your opposite hand and knee without knocking the water bottle off, and begin to crawl forward, sideways, and backwards, always moving the opposite hand and knee at the same time.
Try to keep your knees right beneath your hips and maintain your posture and breathing!
B. Turkish Get Up
5/side = 1 set
Start lying on your back with one arm and the same knee up, balancing a shoe on your fist. Pull yourself up to rest on your elbow, creating a straight line between your two elbows.
Push up to your hand, now creating a long, straight line between your two hands. Push off your heel and lift your hips as high as possible.
Bring your straight leg underneath your body, pivoting your hips to put it down so that you can put your entire body weight onto that knee.
Bring your torso to vertical and your arm straight overhead. Step your foot into a comfortable lunge position.
Stand up. Repeat the same sequence going back down.
Progression: Add weight (approx. 5-10lbs to start)
6. Target Exercises to Improve Hand-eye Coordination (fine-motor coordination)
A. Medicine Ball
¼ Squat and Chest Pass 3 x 10-20 reps, 60 sec rest.
Starting in a blocking ready position holding the ball at your chest, load into a slight squat and explosively push the ball forward into a wall or to a partner.
B. Drop and Catch
1-3 sets x 10-20 reps, alternate sides without rest.
Keep the elbow and shoulder at 90°.
Drop the ball and catch it quickly.
Return to start position.
Use a ball or small weight as resistance.
Below is the recommended order for the exercises if done in a full program, using skipping and progressive accelerations as the warmup:
Volleyball Coordination and Balance Program
|Skipping||5||50 jumps or 30 sec||20-30|
|9 m Sprints||1-3||6||180|
|4M lateral shuffles||1-3||12 touches||180|
|Jump Squats (with band option)||1-3||5-12||30|
|Multidirectional Hops||1-3||8-16||Alternate Sides, no rest|
|Dumbbell Front Squat||1-3||10-20||60-90|
|Lunge with Twist (FWD/BKWD)||1-3||10-20||60-90|
|Bow and Arrow||1-3||8-16||Alternate Sides, no rest|
|Single leg Hip Hinge with Dowel||1-3||5-10 reps per side||Alternate Sides, no rest|
|Quadruped Trunk Rotations||1-3||8-16||Alternate Sides, no rest|
|Bear Crawling||1-3||10 crawls in each direction (front, back, left, right).||30-60|
|Turkish Get up||1-3||5/side||30-60|
|Medicine Ball Squat and Chest Pass||1-3||10-20||30-60|
|Drop and Catch||3||10-20||Alternate Sides, no rest|
Related Article: Reaction Time in Volleyball: 4 Specific Drills To Master
A Note on Imbalances/Asymmetries:
Since volleyball is a one-sided sport, it’s likely that you’ll notice some differences in how well you can perform these exercises when comparing sides. If you’ve made sure that you have the same range of motion (mobility) on each side, then keep working the harder side until it starts to catch up. Work the strong side as well but do 2x the amount on the harder side (weaker side).
If this doesn’t change after 6 weeks of consistent training, check in with a Strength & Conditioning Specialist or any sort of clinician (physiotherapist, chiropractor, etc.) and get their input on how to correct the imbalance.
More Strength & Conditioning Resources
- 13 Best Leg Exercises For Volleyball (Sample Program)
- 5 Best Ab Exercises for Volleyball Players (Sample Workout)
- Muscles Used In Volleyball (Broken Down By Skill & Position)
- 11 Exercises To Improve Your Volleyball Spike
- 12 Best Volleyball Upper Body Exercises & Workouts
- 5 Shoulder Exercises for Volleyball Players
- 9 Power Exercises For Volleyball Players (Sample Program)
- 7 Best Arm Workouts For Volleyball Players
- How To Jump Higher in Volleyball (Science-Backed)
- Should Volleyball Players Lift Weights (Yes, Here’s Why)
About The Author
Carlyn Stilling is a sports performance scientist who completed her BKin in Exercise physiology at the University of Calgary.
She has continued her studies at U of C and is currently completing her MSc in Sports Medicine using wearable technology to examine the effects of athlete training loads on injury in youth athletes. Her research experience includes working with players from Volleyball Canada, the NBA, and the NFL.
Carlyn is a former club and varsity volleyball player who has been coaching volleyball at the high school, club, varsity, and national levels for 20 years. She has been an assistant coach and strength coach for the Canadian Women’s and Men’s Youth National Volleyball teams.