Above: Image © masaccio, FreeImages.com

June 28, 2008

The suns finally out; you and your crew decide to hit the beach for some summer time fun. At the beach, your friends have already joined in a game of volleyball, so you slap on the sun block and rotate in the next match. If you've ever watched professional volleyball players on the court, you've probably been amazed by the control they have making all those incredible plays and of course their ability to make those awesome killer spikes. Wanna learn some tricks to help improve your game? Read on.

Did you know? 1 in 6 people either play or watch volleyball around the world.

Playing by the rules

Because it can take as little as 0.3sec for a volleyball to go from one player to an opponent, volleyball is all about anticipation. Whether you know it or not, your brain uses a lot of physics to anticipate the location, speed and trajectory of the ball. A trajectory is the path that a moving object makes in space. When the volleyball is being passed from one player to another, it usually travels in an arch-like trajectory.

Did you know? William Morgan, who is credited with the invention of volleyball in 1895 in Massachusetts, USA was the friend of James Naismith, the inventor of basketball.

The right approach

When a player runs up to hit the ball (known as an approach) his or her kinetic energy, or energy of motion, is transferred to potential energy as the player jumps. Potential energy is energy that has the capability or 'potential' to be converted to kinetic energy. Things like stretching a spring, lifting a weight or in this case, jumping in the air, all contain stored energy that can later be converted to kinetic energy. When the spring is released, the weight is dropped or the ball is hit this energy is released. So here's a tip: the quicker you can plant your feet and take off to jump without stopping during your approach the more likely you will be able to hit the ball harder. Why? Less kinetic energy will be lost by stopping meaning you have more kinetic energy to transfer into jumping higher and hitting harder!

May the Force be with you....and then with the ball

Ok, so what about contact with the ball? Contact should be made with the palm of an open hand with the fingers wrapping around the ball. As you hit the ball, snap your wrist, like the action of a whip. The energy of your body is transferred to the ball through momentum—Momentum is a term physicists use to describe the amount of motion an object in motion has. It depends on the mass and speed of the object. It also relates to the force and time that you apply that force. So if you want to transfer more force i.e. power! when you hit the ball, you should try to reduce the time your hand is in contact with the ball. Shorter contact time = greater force on the ball.

Did you know? The whip was the first man made object to break the sound barrier. The "crack" is actually a small sonic boom—like the shock that an aircraft reaching supersonic speeds produce.

So to summarize, to get that impossible-to-return spike, remember to transition into your jump as fast as you can during your approach and swing though the ball, snapping the wrist with as least amount of contact time as possible. Keeping these points in mind and practicing is sure to improve your game, and maybe even intimidate your opponents the next time you end up playing volleyball!

Learn more!

the physics of volleyball

how to play volleyball

federation internationale de volleyball

Christine is a native Vancouverite with a B.Sc. in Biophysics from UBC. She is currently working towards a PhD in biochemistry at McGill, in a lab that focuses on cancer research. Christine is also learning what ‘wind chill factor’ and 'humidity' is since moving out east. When she’s not slaving away in the lab, she can usually be found spiking volleyballs into opponents’ courts.

Christine Parachoniak

I am a native Vancouverite with a BSc in biophysics from UBC. I am currently working towards a PhD in biochemistry at McGill, in a lab that focuses on cancer research. I am also learning what ‘windchill factor’ and 'humidity' is since moving out east. When I'm not slaving away in the lab, I can usually be found spiking volleyballs into opponents’ courts.


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