To become an expert at playing volleyball, you will have to practice for almost a decade. You can understand the basics after a few years but before you can see all the nuances in the game, you will have to play for a long time. This requires that you repeat the same drills over and over again until you can go through them without thinking. Let’s go over the trajectory that most volleyball players follow:
1/ Becoming great at passing and handling the ball: 1 year
The first step of learning how to play volleyball involves being able to receive and send a pass. This can be trained by passing the ball to yourself or against a wall. You need to get a feel for the ball and this can only be developed by practicing with it for a long time. In general, players are able to radically improve their ball-handling skills after one year. Players often don’t notice this progress as it happens very gradually but coaches can see the improvements.
2/ Getting good at the 5 basic volleyball skills: 1-2 years
Once you have some basic ball-handling skills, it is time to learn the 5 basic skills that are required in volleyball. You can specialize in one of them to pick up a role on the court. These are:
- Spiking: this is attacking. You push the ball over the net and try to evade blocks.
- Serving: this is restarting the game after your team has scored a point. You stand behind your court to do so. There are several types of serves.
- Setting: this is giving an assist to a spiker. In most instances, there are two setters per team and these players pass to the attackers.
- Blocking: This is a defensive move where a player is jumping behind the net to make it harder to spike and score a point.
- Digging: Digging (or bumping) is keeping the ball in the air after the other team has attacked. Sometimes this can be done by standing. In other instances, you have to dive (or slide) to be able to do this. This is often done by the libero.
For each of these, there are specific drills to improve these skills.
3/ Understanding all the rules: 1 year
Can you touch the ball with your feet? (yes) Can you put your feet on the line under the net? (yes). Volleyball has a lot of rules and nuances on these rules. It is easy to make a mistake if you don’t know all of the rules. Given that the other team often gets a point when you make a mistake, it is important that you start to learn these rules quite fast. It can take a while to know them all. Even professional players sometimes have to think about some nuances. For example, it is allowed to cross the line under the net if you do it between the pole and the antenna. This is a situation that almost never happens but that referees and players need to know about. It can take up to one year to learn all of these things.
4/ Being a great team player: 1-2 years
Volleyball is a team sport and without other players, you won’t win. Being able to communicate with other players and knowing how they will act can take a lot of practice. You will make a lot of mistakes along the way and that is OK. Everyone has their own playing style and you need to figure out how you can work together. We discussed the 5 basic skills above and each player has a unique role on the court. Being able to leverage the strengths of each player is essential. You also have to take the positions into account so that you don’t make mistakes there.
There are several drills for this as well:
5/ Understanding strategy: 1-2 years
Teams often play in a 4-2-2, 5-1, or 6-2 strategy. The libero has to be more active in a 5-1 strategy than in a 6-2 strategy. It can take a lot of time before you start to understand these differences. In some instances, coaches spend a full training session per week on this. Everyone knows what is expected of them and can perform the running patterns without thinking. You have to be aware of how the other players in your team are going to react so that you don’t run into them.
6/ Anticipating how the other team is going to attack or defend: 2-3 years
You also have to look at the other team. What is the position of the middle blocker? Where is the setter? Knowing this can help you save valuable seconds when you have to attack or defend. This can only be done if you master ball-handling and team play as you have to spend less energy on it if you master that part of the game. Being able to read the game and see what the other team is doing is something that differentiates beginners from advanced players. Not a lot of players are able to do this and it can take a lot of analysis to be able to do this. A great way to learn this can be to watch volleyball matches on Youtube or TV as you can pause a game and rewind if needed. After a while, you will start to see patterns in the offense and defense of the teams. You can use this knowledge to your advantage when you are playing.
7/ Mastering beach volleyball: 1-2 years
This one is optional but beach volleyball is becoming more popular. A lot of indoor players want to master this as well. Given that beach volleyball has different rules than indoor volleyball, this can take quite a while. The basic skills are the same but there are some differences. For example, the teams have fewer players and the court has smaller as well.
As you can see, all of these require a lot of time. Obviously, you are going to learn things at the same time but players often start out by focussing on the ball, later on, they can learn how the team functions. It is only later that they can anticipate where the ball will land based on how the other team moves. Eventually, you will be able to play volleyball without thinking. You are in the moment and in a flow. This can take close to a decade to achieve but it is how professional athletes are able to play so fast.