5 Tips to Become a Better Libero!
Pro tip: In my second year, I was struggling on defense, so I created a game to hold my defensive effort to a high standard. If I didn’t go for a ball in training, I ran a set of lines after practice. My teammates were confused, watching me run and dive for balls that were 30 feet away from me. But, it worked. I started to hesitate less and most importantly, dig MORE balls.
2. Play beach
This is my No. 1 recommendation if you want to improve your game. Playing beach can prevent burnout, as athletes can go from 6x6 indoor to 2x2 beach. Playing on the sand challenges you to cover the whole court. The same “NOEZYBUCKET” rules apply: go for every ball. Are you lined up in the sharp angle and the opposing attacker hits an impossible shot to the line? GO! Drive those legs and don’t let any ball hit the sand without you getting sandy.
Pro tip: My first beach partner was my dad, and after too many balls falling and recognizing my fatalistic effort for the attacks, my dad hit me with a mantra that has stuck with me: “you never know if you don’t go.” Go for everything. You’ll be surprised by the spectacular defensive plays you’ll make. By pushing on the sand, you’ll have an even more powerful first step when you transition back indoors.
3. Watch Video
Before you step on the court, you must understand the game. Learn from the best players in the world by watching them and using their techniques. Absorb what they have learned and bring that back to your game. Don’t leave your growth up to chance. According to Timothy Gallwey, author of the ‘Inner Game of Tennis,’ your subconscious will automatically pick up elements of the stroke that are useful to it and discard what is not useful.
Pro Tip: My favorite defensive liberos to watch are Poland’s Pawel Zatorski, France’s Jenia Grebennikov and Brazil’s Sergio.
4. Get Extra Reps
Working hard, competing and giving it your all during practice is the minimum for a great defender. The real work begins the moment you wake up, and it will pick up the moment your team training ends. It’s up to you as a high performing athlete to learn about better ways to train, to have an intention each day and to put in the extra work. This is the time when you use your will and passion and funnel it into more purposeful and intentional work.
Pro tip: There isn’t a perfect drill, but I do love the coach x one style, where a teammate or coach just tosses me tips, and I must figure out creative ways with my hand to get each ball up. I talk more about this “Defensive Toolbox” in the 7 Day Digging Course on Day 7.
5. Develop a split step
The split step is a hop players take right before they go to hit the ball in tennis, whether it be on serve receive or during the rally. You will notice it before almost every shot a tennis player hits. Tennis players don’t stop split stepping, either; they are consistently resetting themselves during a rally to prime their body and legs to be balanced and in a position to explode left, right or forward. If you time the split step well, you move quicker off the mark because your legs will already be bent and loaded at the moment you recognize the direction of the ball, giving you the best opportunity to make the most of your first step. The split step is advantageous because it's a way to keep your momentum when you don’t know which way you must head to retrieve the ball. It prevents you from being flat-footed and gives you an extra spring for pursuing a ball off the block, tip or cut shot.
In contrast to serve receive, liberos take multiple split steps as a defender. Hypothetically, if the setter takes the ball in a perfect situation, you should initiate the split step as the ball leaves their hands, timing the landing just as the middle may contact the ball. If the setter sets to the pins, use this initial split step to propel your first step toward your next defensive position. Initiate another split step as the hitter is about to come through the ball. Time your landing as the hitter is contacting the ball. Some athletes are constantly hopping, resetting and re-balancing themselves, some are constantly moving and stepping independently with each foot, and some split step only upon the perceived contact.
Pro tip: Try which style works for you. This has been a big area of focus currently with Team USA, making sure players are consciously split stepping and priming their legs on defense to be as explosive and responsive as possible.
Want to go deeper? Check out the 7 Day Passing Course, or the 7 Day Digging Course where you'll study, analyze and learn from the best diggers and receivers in the world, so you can be have more clarity and confidence when you step on the court.