The US Women’s team new training programme gives them a shot at Gold
After falling to China 3-2 in the 2014 World ParaVolley World Championships, the U.S. Women’s Sitting Team coaching staff decided to make some changes to the team’s training to best position the U.S. to win gold in Rio. The U.S. has won silver at the last two Paralympic Games in London and Beijing, falling to China each time. This year, the team hopes to make history and claim its first gold medal.
Head Coach Bill Hamiter introduced sports psychology to the team’s training schedule which has, “helped us immensely.” In-residence athletes at the U.S. Sitting Teams national training site at the University of Central Oklahoma in Edmond, Oklahoma practice five mornings a week, Monday through Friday. Additionally, Hamiter hired a strength training coach to work with the athletes in the weight room on Tuesdays and Thursdays, also introducing yoga once a week to help build flexibility and core strength.
Michelle Schiffler (#4) spikes the ball at the World ParaVolley Inter-Continental Cup in China this year. The training changes have paid off as the U.S. Women’s Sitting Team amassed a perfect 8-0 record at the competition. Michelle Schiffler is one of the current athletes who lives and trains at the U.S. Sitting Team Headquarters in Edmond, Oklahoma.
“I’ll be honest, I probably wouldn’t be in the physical condition I’m in if I didn’t move here,” setter Lexi Shifflett said. “When I came I didn’t have much muscle and I couldn’t really move myself around the court. I’d like to think the strength training is how I’ve gotten fast and have the strength to push through long, hard matches.”
The U.S. Women’s Sitting Team coaching staff also made changes to the team’s defensive technical training, while tweaking the offense.
“We believe those changes have made a significant difference in our play this year,” Hamiter added.
Shifflett said the coaching staff tests the players’ agility and speed quarterly with drills ranging from touching eight corners on the court to blocking from the middle position to a pin position and back across. She has seen improvement in both herself and her teammates, adding, “seeing that in and of itself is a good change. It’s a consistent way in which I’m getting better.”
Also helping the U.S. Women’s Sitting Team? An emphasis on additional competition complemented by proper recovery time for the athletes. Earlier this year the U.S. Women’s Sitting Team won gold at the 2016 World ParaVolley Intercontinental in Anji, China. An eight-week respite from competition was followed by hosting Russia for a five-match domestic series; shortly after the U.S. competed in the Dutch Tournament 1-3 July.
The training changes have helped the U.S. finish 17-2 in competition this calendar year. Team veterans Katie Holloway (#5) and Kaleo Kanahele are among those who hope the training will result in a historic gold medal for the U.S. Women’s Sitting Team.
“These matches were very significant in our Rio preparations,” Hamiter said. “As much as we focus on our training, we also focus on the recovery just as much. Max effort and training requires maximum recovery. We have spaced out our recovery so our players are at their best during the Paralympic Games.”
And while the changes in training are reflected in the team’s 17-2 record this year, the hard work and effort has not been without sacrifice. The in-resident practices are schedule early each morning allowing athletes time to maintain jobs outside of their commitments to the U.S. Sitting Teams. While practicing at 6:30 a.m. each morning may not be a sacrifice for all, Shifflett admits, laughing, that she took for granted sleeping in before she joined the resident training program.
“I’ve also had to choose training over family,” Shifflett said. A native of Waseca, Minnesota – located approximately 10 hours away by car – Shifflett said she has missed out on traditional family holidays such as Thanksgiving and even seeing her younger sister compete in softball and volleyball.
“You don’t always get to choose what sacrifices you make, but bringing home a gold medal will make it all worth it,” she added.
Lexi Shifflett, shown here in competition at the World ParaVolley Intercontinental, says the training changes by the U.S. Women’s Sitting Team coaching staff have provided her the endurance and strength needed to endure long matches.
As the U.S. Sitting Volleyball Teams depart for Rio de Janeiro, it will be with the knowledge they trained as hard and as long as they could to best prepare themselves for the Paralympics.
“Our staff has given significant time to creating a positive learning culture in the gym and the overall program,” Hamiter said. “That culture has been paramount in allowing our players to grow and make improvements to their game. It also has been significant in bringing our players together and forming bonds so that a solid, ‘team’ has emerged.”
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