Safety Tips: Volleyball

Volleyball is among the safest sports out there, but injuries can happen. To keep things as safe as possible while playing volleyball, follow these tips.

Why Is Volleyball Safety Important?

More people worldwide play volleyball than any other sport except soccer. While the rate of injuries in volleyball is low, thousands do happen every year, from things like diving in the sand or on a gym floor, twisting an ankle, or hitting too many spikes.

The most common injuries are sprains and strains, mostly to the ankle. Other common injuries include repetitive stress injuries (RSIs) (also called overuse injuries) of the shoulders and knees, as well as finger injuries, such as jammed fingers, broken bones, dislocations, and torn tendons.

Falling on the floor can leave you with a bump or a bruise, or even a concussion. So can colliding with a teammate, opponent, or net post or getting hit with the ball. And diving in the sand could leave you with a scratched cornea if sand gets in your eye.

Gearing Up

Other than a ball and a net, you don’t need a lot of gear to play volleyball. This is especially true for beach volleyball, which doesn’t require much more than a bathing suit. Even so, there are a few things to consider when it comes to volleyball gear:

  • Knee pads. If you’re playing indoor volleyball, a pair of knee pads can protect your knees when you hit the floor to make a play. If you’re new to the sport, you might dive or slide awkwardly, and you’ll appreciate the protection. As your skills progress, you may learn how to play without banging your knees, but knee pads are still a good idea.
  • Padded shorts. Indoor volleyball players can get bruised hips when they dive for a ball. Some players choose to wear shorts with hip pads in them for protection.
  • Other pads and braces. Depending on their own preferences or past injuries, some volleyball players wear elbow or forearm pads, ankle or wrist braces, or thumb splints.
  • Shoes. Volleyball shoes have gummy rubber souls for better traction on gym floors. They also have extra padding to absorb shocks from all the running and jumping. Choose a pair that fits correctly, and keep them tied securely when you play.
  • Mouthguards. Mouthguards are a low-cost way to protect the teeth, lips, cheeks, and tongue. Players in all active sports should consider using mouthguards.
  • Goggles and sunglasses. If you wear glasses, consider getting prescription goggles for volleyball. If you play beach volleyball in the sun, wear shatterproof sunglasses to protect your eyes from the glare.
  • Athletic support. If you’re a guy, you’ll appreciate having a good athletic supporter when you’re running around or jumping. Girls might consider wearing a good sports bra.

Before You Play

Getting yourself in shape before volleyball season starts will help make you a better player and go a long way toward preventing injuries. Start working out and eating right a few months before the season begins. Better yet, exercise regularly and eat a healthy diet year-round, and you won’t need to worry about getting in shape for the season.

Here are some other things to keep in mind before you start practicing or playing:

  • Inspect sand courts to make sure that the sand isn’t too hot and there’s no broken glass or anything else that could cut you. Store extra balls and other equipment well off to the sides of the court so no one trips on them.
  • Warm up and stretch before you start practicing or playing. This doesn’t mean just hitting a couple of spikes or serves. Do some jumping jacks or run in place for a couple of minutes to warm up your muscles before stretching. Dynamic stretching uses many muscle groups in a sport-specific way, so ask your coach about stretches to add to your warm-up. It’s a good idea to stretch after a game or practice, too.
  • Get a sports physical. Many schools won’t let athletes play unless they’ve had a sports physical. If your school doesn’t require or schedule an exam for you, have your parents take you to your own doctor. He or she will make sure you’re physically able to play and can review sports safety with you.

While You Play

During play at the net, try not to step across the center line into your opponent’s side of the court. Many ankle sprains happen during play at the net, and a lot of them involve someone landing on an opponent’s foot and twisting an ankle.

Don’t hang or pull on the net or net posts. You could bring the net down on someone.

Keep an eye out for your teammates, and “call” the ball when you go to make a play to reduce the chances of colliding with another player.

Use proper techniques. Studies show that players who practice and use the right technique when spiking or blocking step on fewer feet and get fewer sprained ankles.

If you get a cramp or feel pain while playing, ask to come out of the game and don’t start playing again until the pain goes away. Playing through pain might seem brave, but it can make an injury worse and possibly keep you on the sidelines for longer stretches of time.

A Few Other Reminders

  • Stay hydrated, particularly on hot, sunny days, by drinking plenty of water before, during, and after practices and games.
  • If you play outdoors, use high-SPF sunscreen on any exposed skin, and reapply it every few hours.
  • Don’t chew gum or have anything in your mouth other than a mouthguard while playing volleyball.
  • If an opposing player does something you disagree with, don’t take it personally, and never start a fight with another player.

Chances are, you’re not going to get hurt playing volleyball, and if you do, it probably won’t be a very serious injury. But you can make the chances of an injury even slimmer by using the right technique, being in shape, and taking a few simple precautions.

Reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD
Date reviewed: June 2015