Best and Worst Sports to Use as Cross-Training for Volleyball Players

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How do you get to be a better volleyball player? If you're thinking that you just need to play more volleyball, well you're only half right. Becoming a better volleyball player is partly due to repetition and mastery of skills, but its also about making sure that your muscles are trained to handle the unexpected situations that come up in match play. What's the best (and worst) way to do that? Strength Coach Curtis Jackson shares his tips on which sports you should incorporate and avoid in your cross-training plans.


"A topic that has come up many times recently has to do with which sports translate best into performance on the volleyball court. I have a unique perspective into this due to the amount of youth athletes that play multiple sports and also worked out at Jackson Strength over the years.


We know that playing the same sport year around is a recipe for injury and burnout so I thought it would be appropriate to breach the topic of which sports would best for the youth volleyball athlete to play when they are not playing volleyball

Top 2 Best Sports to Play:

  1. Soccer: Soccer is basically the opposite of volleyball yet the same in a lot of ways. It is opposite because the muscles and patterns used. It is a great sport to rest the shoulder and there is very minimal jumping which gives the knees a break. Another cool thing about soccer is the variety of movements as soccer players are forced to accelerate, decelerate, backpedal, lunge, turn and sprint, etc. - all of which help to create a more athletic volleyball player. Do keep in mind the high number of ACL injuries that happen in soccer (so play smart!), so a local rec league or the junior high team would be perfect.  
  1. Short Distance Track and Field: This sport is great because the season is very short. At many high schools it's also a sport where the coaches have to recruit players from other sports. They do this by making some or all practices optional. But the main reason I love short distance track and field is because it gets athlete practicing being fast, over and over. Volleyball is a classic power sport so anything that reinforces being powerful while also building up the hamstrings and glutes is a major win-win. Like soccer, it also gives the athlete's shoulder and knees a rest.

    Top 2 Worst Sports to Play:

    1. Swimming: Experience has taught me a few things over the years. One thing that seems to ring true nearly all the time is that more time an athlete spends in the pool, the less coordinated they are on land. In fact, I would even go as far to say that swimming makes land mammals even less coordinated. You could possibly reduce the damage by sticking to short sprint distances, but overall swimming and volleyball mix like oil and water. This doesn't even take into account what swimming does to the shoulders. 
    2. Cross-Country: If there is one huge mistake that well-meaning volleyball coaches do all the time is having their athletes run mile after mile to get their conditioning up. The same concept of practicing being fast in short distance track and field applies the other way to cross-country. You are literally practicing being slow. In response your body develops more slow-twitch muscle, thereby reducing your power and vertical jump. I always knew the science of this but recently experienced it myself when I trained for a 9 mile Spartan Race. My power noticeably decreased as my endurance improved.

    Now, I'm not saying you can't go for a jog every now and then or get some additional exercise by swimming.

    I'm just saying that you really don't want to join a team.

    Now that you know how to increase athleticism and reduce injury using other sports, get out there and do it!"

    Curtis Jackson is the Founder, Head Strength Coach and Co-Owner of Jackson Strength. He is also the current fitness expert for DiG Magazine, the leading beach volleyball magazine in the country. A notable volleyball player himself at Long Beach State, Curtis also holds a degree in Kinesiology and certifications from The National Association of Sports MedicineThe Poliquin International Certification Program, USA Weightlifting, The CHEK Institute, and has completed the Elite Baseball Mentorship at Cressey Performance.