Cognitive Biases in Volleyball – Training and Recovery

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In my previous post I looked at how cognitive biases lead us to misinterpret the value of risk in volleyball. A completely different conversation I had today, brought to mind another of the biases that I saw on the list. The conversation brought up the concept of athlete ‘wellness’. Essentially that means treating the athlete as a person and considering all parts of their life as important and not only the part that directly relates to sport. My throw away line was that coaches will now be able to employ a wellness consultant and by doing that ‘prove’ they are concerned about their athletes without having to reflect on their own role. Obviously, this is a little harsh, and I meant it slightly tongue in cheek, but…

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The area of recovery has become one of the most important areas of the overall training program. At this point, virtually every coach includes at least some recovery modalities in their program. But as we know most recovery modalities (excluding sleep) have little or no actual effect on recovery. From the same research, we know that the only way to avoid overtraining (and the injuries that it inevitably leads to) is to train less. If you were to ask a coach how they avoid overtraining in their players I wonder what would be the proportion who answer “I program recovery into my training plan” compared with how many would answer “I train less”. I suspect there would be a large number (a majority?) who answered the first way, and many of those who would actual train more, because they use recovery.

This seems to be a textbook case of Licencing Effect, when people allow themselves to indulge after doing something positive first, the classic example of which is drinking a diet soft drink with a hamburger. Or eating an extra desert after going to the gym. Or training extra because the players have ‘recovery’ tomorrow.

A very prominent team / coach decided to start their preparation period early to make up for long COVID break caused by the early finish to the previous season and no national teams activity. The plan was to begin slowly and ramp up training as the players readapted to their normal load. However, after the first week of training without jumping at all, and presumably with no injury mishaps, the coach felt he had a licence to go straight into normal 6 v 6 training. Hardly surprisingly, that team suffered from injury problems for the whole season and barely limped to the end of the season, dare I saw below expectations.

Employing a wellness specialist, or buying team foam rollers, or having a few days without jumping doesn’t give the coach the licence to ignore their own impact towards overtraining, fatigue and injuries.

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  1. Great article as usual mate. Long time reader first time poster….

    Interesting Mark, “no effect” or “no demonstrable effect” on recovery with respect to recovery modalities. Or from a research perspective what is the mechanism that demonstrates an effect. The other argument that is used on the efficacy of recovery modalities is that they facilitate sleep I.e. ice baths reduce core temperature which in term makes sleep easier.

    The biggest issue with research on recovery modalities though is controlling for the placebo effect.

    The other issue is training to train. By modifying (reducing) training loads does that also predispose individuals to injury as when intensity is increased they haven’t got the training adaptations to cope.

    It’s a complex issue and this is when the “art” of coaching/training becomes as important as the “science”. We haven’t even touched on the individual athlete variability in teams sport. Comes back to the old adage of “You must know athlete” as Bundachuck (sp) the throws coach at the AIS in the 80s used to say.


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