The human brain is a remarkable piece of equipment. It's an advanced computer: much more complicated than anything we might build in the 20th century. I've come to this conclusion from the results I've seen after training athletes from all around the country. Somewhat similar to the emergency rescue, something recently happened to one of my athletes in a girl's high school basketball game.
She trained extensively on quick foot speed, agility, balance and coordination in the off-season. We systemically trained her brain to move at a faster speed than she ever had through various drills and equipment. During a game she dove out of bounds to retrieve a ball going out of play. She jumped into the stands to get it.
After the game I asked her what went through her mind when she had gone for the ball. She couldn't answer the question but replied, "Coach I got it!" She had made the save to perfectly pass it to one of her teammates to finish the play and make the basket! She didn't think she could retrieve it, but her quick-reacting brain couldn't wait for her to think about the situation. It remembered the faster speed she had practiced this past year through the speed and agility training. It quickly fired her muscles to react to the situation at hand. Scientists today believe that the subconscious mind is responsible for these speedy reactions. These reactions are triggered by the 85 percent of the brain we don't use. The 90s explanation calls it "neuromuscular recruitment of the brain."
Let's try another example. Say we have an athlete who moves laterally at five mph. We have the athlete practice at a higher speed than the body is used to - about seven mph. When the brain is put in a difficult situation it becomes frightened that the body is in danger of being hurt. It then immediately reacts as a last-ditch effort to save its own life. It quickly remembers the faster speed it had been practicing during training and ... voila! The athlete moves faster than he or she thought they ever could. At this point the athlete believes this stuff really works. It's new and it's fun for training.
It's a proven fact that we only use 11% of our brain's capacity. So let's give the benefit of the doubt and say we don't use 85% of our brain. That means we need to get this 85% working. We have tools and the knowledge to do this. We create a way to move the body at a speed faster than it can achieve on its own (let's say 20-30% faster than it usually moves). By educating the brain and muscles to move faster, it chooses this faster speed to protect itself from bodily harm.
First, I will give an example. It's agreed that a volleyball player doesn't move more than 30 feet in game movement. To teach our players this new concept of neuromuscular training, we strap a belt around the player's waist with an 8-ft. stretch cord attached. Next, line the player up toward the net. He/she will move up and back between the net and end line in the form of a "W". Behind this person will be a coach who will pull the opposite end of the stretch cord in order to give the player assistance and resistance. As a result, the player will be pulled about 20% faster than their body normally moves. Other moves or passing drills can also be used with this equipment. Now we have created a faster thought pattern to be stored in the brain for use when it's under pressure.
After we force the body into this faster speed, the player will immediately contrast this speed by doing the same drill without the assistance of the stretch cord and belt. The brain has now been taught two speeds. In competition, it will remember the faster speed. We can train the brain to do this in many ways in order to improve the athlete's speed and agility.
Specific Drills For Volleyball Players
1. We do passing drills with a tennis ball. The coach tosses the ball over the net to the player to pass to the target like normal passing drill about 3-5 reps. Then immediately contrasts with the volleyball in the same way. It seems silly but it teaches the regular speed now and a faster speed, which you normally don't do in practice. It doesn't take much time but it really helps.
2. Another way is to use a resistance belt to make it harder for the player to move. Just a few reps, then do it without the belt. The body moves much easier and learns a lighter movement like Peter Pan. This gives the brain two choices while you're still practicing specific moves.
3. Everyone wants to improve his or her jump. Usually we do plyometrics off the court. Let's be more court specific. What we do is overload the body with no more than 10% of the athlete's body weight. Or sometimes we'll use stretch cords held to the ground to create the same effect. This teaches the body a (loaded down) speed. After a few reps we immediately remove them to contrast. The athlete's brain feels this light feeling it's not used to and uses it in completion when it needs to perform. This really forces the body to move faster and jump higher. Remember the body doesn't know the difference between jumping and running, so it improves both. All it understands is the two speeds it has just learned. So again it chooses the faster one.
4. How about a simple game such as dodgeball. We put an athlete about three feet from a wall. Another one faces the other one about 15-20 feet away. For about 10 seconds she continuously throws the balls at the player next to the wall trying to hit her below the waist. The player being attacked quickly moves side to side avoiding being hit by the ball. It forces quick ballistic movements just like volleyball.
These drills are really fun and are a short break in a slow-moving practice. They're used every once in awhile to train faster speeds specific to volleyball. I believe this is the most important new concept of the 90s. In all our quickness camps and clinics I see that most coaches and players really don't understand the importance of this concept and the impact it will have on their players if done often and in low reps.
Flooding The Brain
After studying athletes for many years, it really relates to life. In order to create ideas you must flood the brain with lots of relevant information about the sport or subject. You always want to train in as many areas as possible to see where weaknesses are. Whatever drill the athlete has difficulty with, is the one he/she works on to improve. Try to film their movement. You will find that they probably know what mistakes they make. Get them involved with their improvements - your athletes will be more apt to correct problems knowing that you both have agreed to correct the situation.
The idea is to give the brain a lot of information relative to volleyball only, and to use as its needed during play. After studying athletes for years, it relates to life. In order to create ideas you must flood the brain with a lot of relevant information about the sport or subject. You always want to train in as many areas as possible to see what the athletes' weaknesses are. Whatever drill the athlete has difficulty with is the one they works on.