Hi, everyone! While I have been getting settled in the swing of the new spring semester, it has become increasingly unsettling to overhear the misconceptions about our offseason. According to some of my peers, the offseason is a time when I don’t practice, or participate, in any volleyball related activities. Part of me wants to shake these people and say, “Every good athlete is made in the offseason?” I suppose I should thank them. They’ve actually inspired me to take some time to explain what actually happens during this so-called “offseason.”
During the first half of the spring, we have an eight-hour NCAA CARA week. CARA stands for Countable Athletically-Related Activities, so this includes time with coaches and strength trainers. Within this eight-hour CARA week, only two hours with our coaches are allowed to involve volleyballs. That rule, however, does not include the time players practice on our own.
From Monday to Friday, our volleyball time block lasts from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Our actual activities typically start at around 10:15 for those who need 15 minutes to get to the gym from a morning class (me). All activities end by 1:30 and we hit the showers in time to get to 2 p.m. classes. So if you have been doing some simple math, you may be wondering how 10:15-1:30, Monday through Friday, ends up being eight CARA hours. Not included are our personal warm-ups, and any breaks and transitions. It is an understatement to say that our CARA time is constantly micromanaged so that we are always 100 percent NCAA compliant.
So enough about the rules of offseason! Here are some of the things that we do throughout the week!
Prehab is derived from the word rehab, which is short for rehabilitation. Rehab is generally done after an injury to rehabilitate the muscle groups. Prehab, on the other hand, is done pre-workout and pre-injury. During this time block, players are charged with targeting individual muscle groups in order to strengthen them and prevent injury. With the help of our athletic trainer, we all have specialized programs for the muscles we should be targeting to be biomechanically strong. For me, I do extra work on stretching my hip flexors, and foam rolling my hamstrings and calves. I’m also working on strengthening muscle groups around the shoulders for hitting and my ankles for balance.
Once a week, we get to work with the biomechanics department here at USC. We do a variety of volleyball-related activities in order to measure our reactions on force plates and overlay video of our movements from multiple angles. This time is carefully designed to discover what body movements we should work on to make our overall play more efficient. Just having your core on before you move or being in a low balanced plane can make your movements sharper and more efficient. Biomechanics also helps identify what muscles to target in prehab and weight training, and what movements to work on in practice for overall self-improvement.
SAQ stands for speed, agility and quickness. SAQ training is designed to improve all three things. Pretty obvious, right? During our sessions, we do a variety of sprints and agility drills with cones to work on changing directions quickly. Depending what drill we are doing, either a knife-edge push works best, sometimes a pivot or a crossover movement. Biomechanics helps us decide which movement works the best for each person in each drill.
Although we try to make it look effortless whenever we play, there is a lot of footwork required in volleyball: defensive footwork, blocking footwork, passing footwork, setting footwork, hitting approach, and all of the other movements in between. We spend a lot of time, each week, breaking down these movements to make them as fast and efficient as possible.
This is when our coaches can actually hit volleyballs or use them to teach us in order to emphasize the footwork and biomechanics we’ve been so busy working on!
As a team, we play volleyball to kill time before we start weights. No coaches allowed! To keep it competitive, we mix it up and do tall players versus short players in deep court. Go, tall team!
Spring is the time in the weight room where we focus on building strength to become more dynamic with power. We have more time during the offseason to fix individual techniques, improve efficiency and get rid of movement inefficiencies. We consistently lift heavier weight overall, which presents more challenges and means more ice baths. Our offseason lifting program includes more agility, speed, and jumping drills that we cannot do during a regular season without taxing our bodies too much.
In so many ways, the spring is much harder than the fall. It is harder as a student-athlete to have our time so micromanaged and it takes more mental focus to change from non-ball to ball and from skill set to skill set in short amounts of time. Also, our mid-morning time block makes my day go from school, to volleyball, and back to school, all in a short amount of time. It really requires careful planning and focus.
Being out of season also presents more academic challenges. My school course load increases in difficulty because I try to take harder classes that I do not have time for when we’re in season. However, I do get weekends to do homework, without having to worry about doing it while traveling to play Pac-12 teams on the road.
Although we don’t compete against other schools, we still work hard to become better in the offseason. USC women’s volleyball does not take the offseason off. Fight On!