The best way to get good at a sport is to practice. However, when playing in a recreational sports league, you’re just showing up to play games – there are no practices. And, many drills require a volleyball court and equipment, and other players, of course. So, how are you supposed to improve, when you’re only playing in games?
Here are some ways that you can practice some of the basic skills of volleyball by yourself, and all you need is a volleyball, some space, and a wall. And, maybe a roof.
The great thing about practicing volleyball by yourself is that you don’t have the distraction of other players, and you can really concentrate on the proper techniques for each of the volleyball skills. So, really focus on getting your hands into the right position, think about your arm swing, and make sure you plant your feet every time you touch the ball.
We recommend this volleyball training aid for both beginners and pros. It’s perfect for practicing both overhand and underhand serves, and spikes. We also like that it’s perfect for when you don’t have a lot of space for practicing.
Many of these drills are also a great way to warmup by yourself before a game if there’s an uneven number of players and you don’t have a partner to pepper with.
Wait, did you just say pepper?
What is peppering in volleyball?
Peppering is when two players play the volleyball between themselves, without a net. The goal is to play in an ongoing bump-set-spike sequence for as long as possible, which will alternate the spiking player with each sequence. Example:
Player 1: Bumps
Player 2: Sets
Player 1: Spikes
Player 2: Bumps
Player 1: Sets
Player 2: Spikes
And so on…
The purpose of peppering is to play with as much control as possible, while still spiking hard enough to get a good warmup. This is a great warmup drill before a game, or as a standalone way of playing some volleyball when there’s only 2 players.
So, if you don’t have a partner to warm up with, or you just want to get in some practice, here are some drills that you can do on your own.
Get to know the volleyball
Many of the skills in volleyball centre around having good ball handling skills. So, get used to handling a volleyball! Spinning it, tossing and bouncing it from hand to hand, and even bouncing it on the ground are great ways to get to know the weight, spin, and feel of a volleyball. Even if you’re just sitting and watching tv, grab a volleyball and just toss it from hand to hand!
Don’t forget to warm up!
Even though you’re practicing these volleyball drills by yourself, you’ll still be using the muscles and joints required for these skills. So, you’ll want to make sure that you warm up properly. The bonus is that even by doing some warmup drills by yourself, you’ll start to get a better feel of playing with the volleyball and improving those ball handling skills.
Bounce the ball against the wall
Stand about 10-15 feet away from the wall. Starting with the ball in both hands over your head, bounce the ball onto the floor about halfway between you and the wall, so that it bounces off the wall back to you. Repeat this 3-5 times. Be sure to use your abdominal muscles, and really give it a good throw – the point is to warm up your abs and shoulders.
Now, alternate throwing the ball with just one arm, 3 – 5 times per each arm.
Pass to yourself
Just as it sounds, pass (or bump) the ball to yourself repeatedly. As you’re doing so, keep the proper passing technique in mind. Keep one foot slightly in front of the other, and bend your knees as the ball contacts your forearms. Keep your arms straight in front of you, clasping your hands together with one set of fingers on top of the other, and your thumbs together.
As you’re passing to yourself, try alternating your feet so that you practice passing with each foot in front. As you feel more comfortable, try taking some steps forward as you continue passing. This will help you feel more comfortable controlling the ball.
Also try experimenting with the height of your pass. Get a feel for how much effort it takes to get the volleyball a certain height.
Count the number of passes you can get without dropping the ball, and then try to beat your record!
If you’re practicing outside, and have a slanted roof nearby, here’s a great drill that helps work on your passing coverage. Start by tossing the ball onto the roof, then keep an eye on where it’s going to come rolling down off the roof. Get into passing position and pass the ball up to a target.
To keep the drill going, pass it straight up to yourself, then volley it back onto the roof.
Challenge yourself a bit with this one, by volleying or tossing it at different angles, so that you have to keep moving into different positions to pass it again.
Volley to yourself
Similar to the passing drill, also try volleying to yourself. Start with small, controlled volleys, focusing on the volley technique. This is not the time to worry about getting called on a ball handing violation, so experiment with different pressures and motions.
Try to get your hands as soft as possible, without actually carrying the volleyball. As the ball drops into your hands, soften your hands to cushion the drop of the ball. Keep your fingers firm, but let them mold to the shape of the volleyball. The majority of the motion should come from your wrists.
Don’t forget your lower body during this drill as well! Keep your feet planted as you contact the volleyball, and then alternate your feet. Alternate the height of your volley.
If your neck starts to get sore from looking up for so long, do a higher volley, let it bounce once in front of you, then get back into position underneath it and volley it again.
Variation – volley to yourself while lying down
Why would you want to volley while lying down? This would never happen in real game! But, this drill isn’t about replicating a real game situation – this drill is about working on your ball handling skills.
Lie down on your back, keeping your knees bent. Volley the ball, starting by keeping the height fairly low. As you feel more confident, start to gradually increase the height of the volley. Try and see how many you can do in a row!
Want a real challenge? Try to continuously volley to yourself while doing crunches! This one takes a lot of practice – and good abs!
Volley against the wall
Volleying against the wall feels a bit more natural than volleying just to yourself, which really doesn’t happen much in a game.
Stand about 10 – 15 feet away from the wall. Start by picking a spot on the wall and aiming your volley at that spot. Do a few continuous volleys, then change things up by letting the ball bounce in front of you, and then work on getting into position underneath the ball. See how many times you can hit that target you’ve identified on the wall.
Experiment with different distances and heights. This is also a great way to challenge yourself to get into the proper positioning.
You don’t even need any equipment for this one! Just lots of space where you can work on your approach and jumping for an attack. Good hitting technique starts with good footwork.
A common hitting technique involves the three-step approach. Start with your arms bent at about a 45-degree angle in front of you. Start your approach by taking a big step with the leg that is opposite your hitting arm. So, if you’re right-handed, start by taking a big step with your left leg. As you take your first step, swing both your arms down and behind you.
Take a second step with your right leg, and start to swing your arms forward (swinging your arms forward gives you added momentum as you jump).
For your third and final step, bring your left foot forward and plant it directly beside your right foot, then jump in the air. The momentum from your swinging arms should help with your jumping motion.
Don’t finish the jump here! Make sure you also bring your hitting arm (in this example, your right arm) backwards like an arrow in a bow, ready to swing at the imaginary volleyball – and then actually swing at an imaginary volleyball! Don’t forget to include the follow through as well.
A common error when hitting is to stop the motion of your arm swing after you make contact with the volleyball. However, if you continue your swinging motion, and do a full follow through, you’ll get much more power and momentum for your serve or hit.
Hit against the wall
Even though the angle of when you’re hitting against the wall isn’t the same as a spike or a serve, again, it’s about how the ball feels against your hand when you’re hitting it. Hitting the ball against the wall gives you the opportunity to control the toss, which helps with your serve. And it also helps you make sure that you work on your swinging follow through.
Stand about 10 – 15 feet away from the wall. Toss the ball and contact it so that you’re aiming at a spot on the floor about halfway between yourself and the wall. Start by catching the ball as it comes back to you. Then, when you feel more comfortable, work on hitting the ball again instead of catching it. Try a few in a row, and once you get the momentum, continue hitting the ball when it comes back to you.
Work on getting your arm back into hitting position after you finish your follow through, and keep your fingers wide so that you get good coverage on the volleyball when you contact it. This is also a great time to work on snapping your wrist when you make contact with the ball.
Serve against the wall
A variation of the above drill helps with working on your serve. Take a few steps back, and instead of hitting the ball on the ground, hit it straight ahead on the wall. Pick a spot on the wall to aim for, and see how many times you can hit it. Really concentrate on your toss, getting it at the right height, speed, and spin, which will really help with your overhand serve.
Once you feel comfortable with using the wall, you can start to combine some of the above drills, and even try to get in some solo peppering! Start about 10 feet away from the wall, and serve the ball at the wall. As it comes back to you, pass the ball straight up in the air, and catch it. Do a few of these, until you feel that you’ve got good control.
Now, instead of just catching the ball, volley it to yourself, then hit it back at the wall. Once you get a good momentum going, the order of your contacts will go: Hit – Pass – Set – Hit – Pass – Set… and so on.
While doing plyometrics training will help you build up your jumping height, you can also practice the proper technique for blocking. You can do this against a wall, or anything actually, where you can measure or reach for something to touch at the peak of your jump.
Start by standing about a foot away from a wall, with your feet shoulder width apart, and your hands a bit higher than 90 degrees in front of you, and fingers wide. Bend your knees, then jump straight up, extending your arms. Make sure that you push your hands forward at the peak of your jump, mimicking the pushing motion of a block.
Add a piece of tape to the wall, at a height that would be a challenge for you to touch. Once you are able to touch that piece, move it an inch higher!
If you play middle, you’ll also want to practice the footwork that gets you the outside blockers, along with jumping straight upwards – so that you aren’t drifting into your teammate as you jump!
To get over to the right outside blocker, start by facing the wall, in the same position as above. Turn your hips, and take a big step to the right. Then take a big step with your left, crossing over your right foot and swinging your arms backwards (which will give you added momentum). Finish the movement by planting your right foot beside your left, then jumping straight up, and swinging your arms up over your head. When you’re at the peak of your jump, push your hands forward, and keep your fingers wide. This mimics a real block, as you want to push against the volleyball that is being spiked onto your side of the net.
Make sure that you reverse this as well, so that you’re practicing the footwork to get you to the left outside blocker as well.
While it’s way more fun to play an actual game of volleyball, practicing these skills when you’re by yourself is a great way to stay connected during the offseason, and to work on some of the smaller details of your techniques. And when you do get back on the court, you’ll find that the skills you’ve polished will probably be noticed – and that you’ll feel more comfortable handling a volleyball, too!