Are Volleyball Ankle Guards Necessary?

Volleyball ankle guards are a controversial subject. The following page discusses the importance of balance training (proprioception) and whether you should or shouldn't be using volleyball ankle guards with the hope of preventing ankle injuries.

Proprioception in Volleyball Passing and Serving

Have you ever noticed that quite often while you pass, you aren't watching the ball hit your arms? And when you serve a volleyball, you aren't actually watching your hand contact the ball?

This is because you have developed proprioception.

Proprioception means "sense of self".

With many repetitions and practice, you're able to sense the position and orientation of your body. This makes it a lot easier to perform various skills in volleyball.

Proprioception Improves Strength and Balance

Example of Proprioception

To demonstrate your own proprioceptive skills, simply shut your eyes and bend your right elbow to a 90 degree angle. 

Without looking at the elbow you should be able to identify that your elbow is actually in the 90 degree position.  Now keeping your eyes closed, straighten your elbow and raise your arm above your head. Again you should be able to identify that your arm is straight and that it is above your head.

This non visual body awareness is an example of proprioception.

See my Stability Ball Review and Ball I Recommend

Defining Proprioception

Proprioception refers to the body's ability to sense movement within joints and joint position. This ability enables us to know where our limbs are in space without having to look. It is important in all everyday movements but especially so in complicated sporting movements, where precise coordination is essential. This coordinated movement is a result of the normal functioning of the proprioceptive system.

Proprioception is "the physical feeling of your moving body"

Examples of Proprioception in Volleyball

Volleyball Examples...

  • Passing a volleyball without watching the ball contact your arms.
  • Taking an approach to spike without looking at your feet.
  • When serving, being aware of hand and arm position when contacting the ball.

Examples of Proprioception in Other Sports

Dancers know how to move smoothly while standing, sliding, and turning without bumping into other dancers.

In gymnastics, a gymnast can't land a back flip onto a balance beam without knowing exactly what their body is doing at all times.

This cool video explains how gymnasts display impressive levels of proprioception and kinesthetic awareness.

Living Dangerously at the Net

Proprioceptive training helps to improve strength, coordination, balance, and reaction time.

If you lack proprioception, you may be putting yourself at risk when making aggressive plays at the net.

While blocking and hitting, perhaps the most important thing is knowing where your feet are when landing.

Many players often think you can avoid ankle injuries by using ankle braces. If you play volleyball unaware of your body, you're at risk for injury.

Are you aware of how and where you land after hitting or blocking?

Importance of Training Proprioception for Volleyball

It is often said, "one of the best predictors of future injury is past injury."

Proprioception can be lost when an athlete sustains an injury.

It isn't a coincidence that people at highest risk for sprained ankles are the ones who've previously suffered sprained ankles.

Proprioception (balance) can be learned, challenged, and improved.

Volleyball Injury Prevention and Proprioception

Ankle sprains are most often caused by a lack of balance, or proprioception.

Proprioception helps us perform better in volleyball and avoid injuries. Receptor nerves called proprioceptors are located in the muscles, joints, and ligaments.

Balance and Proprioception exercises help prevent ankle sprains.

Avoiding Volleyball Ankle Injuries by Improving Proprioception

If a volleyball player is moving into a position that could sprain his or her ankle, increased proprioception can decrease the risk by alerting the athlete to the danger.

Are Volleyball Ankle Guards Right for You?

There are mixed opinions out there on whether or not wearing volleyball ankle guards such as braces or wraps are a good idea.

Most studies show ankle braces help prevent injury.

However, many players complain about the volleyball ankle guards slowing them down. Trainers often worry that the ankle will be weakened by the brace.

Most are in agreement that you'll get the most out of your strength training when not wearing unnecessary braces. You want to be able to move your ankle through the full range of motion while training. Braces can prevent movement.

Volleyball Ankle Guards

Volleyball Ankle Guards can Prevent Strength

Since braces provide support making ankles more stable, it's even more important to do proprioceptive training.

Single leg exercises on unstable surfaces will help strengthen the ankle.

Proprioception and Kinesthetic Awareness

Proprioception and kinesthetic awareness aren't exactly the same thing.

Kinesthetic aware is a conscious effort to react to the situation, while proprioception is an unconscious or subconscious process.

These two mechanisms work together.

For example, in volleyball your body acts subconsciously (proprioception) to stay ready to move quickly and athletically while the mind (kinesthetic awareness) processes data regarding things such as positions of teammates, the opposition, and anything else he or she needs to make necessary adjustments.

Examples of Kinetic Awareness in Volleyball

  • When blocking, reading the hitter and recognizing a hard cross-court spike.
  • While hitting, seeing the blocker and determining where to spike the ball.
  • On defense, recognizing the offensive play the opposing setter is about run.
  • In serve receive, reading the server and preparing to get in position to pass.

Feel and Become Aware

Feeling and becoming aware of the sensations of movement, helps with learning to play volleyball, even when you're just watching someone else play.  You learn not only by feeling your own movement while playing, but by watching others move when they play.

Tools to Improve Proprioception

The following are popular tools used to improve stability and balance.

  • Balance Boards
  • BOSU
  • FREE Form Boards
  • Wobble Boards
  • Airex Pad

Drills in Practice

Here's your chance to get creative at volleyball practice.

Create volleyball drills in practice that work proprioception.

Here are a few ideas...

  • Serve while standing on 1 foot
  • Pass or set will standing on 1 foot
  • One arm partner passing drills
  • Make players get to their feet to pass by first starting the passing drill with each player lying on the stomach

Exercises to Improve Proprioception

The following are exercises to improve ankle proprioception.

  • Exercises performed while standing on one foot
  • Catching or throwing a medicine ball while standing on one foot
  • Single leg squat variations
  • Single leg deadlift variations
  • Playing sand volleyball

› Ankle Guards