Enabling upper limb disability athletes to excel in sitting volleyball

Despite the inherent challenges posed by upper limb disabilities in sitting volleyball, Slovenia’s team has defied expectations, currently ranking sixth in the world standings.

Their remarkable journey to the top of the world rankings is a testament to the dedication and expertise of coach Simon Bozic and his athletes.

As they continue to strive for excellence, the Slovenian team finds itself on the cusp of a significant milestone, competing at the 2024 WPV Final Paralympics Qualifier in Dali, China. With their eyes set on securing their spot on the Paralympic stage, coach Bozic and his players are poised to showcase their talents.

Team Slovenia at the 2024 WPV Final Paralympics Qualifier in Dali, China

Bozic’s coaching philosophy is rooted in the principle of adaptation, understanding the unique challenges faced by athletes with upper limb disabilities or amputations and tailor-fitting his training drills and strategies accordingly.

“Similarly, as in able-bodied volleyball, I also adjust exercises in sitting volleyball according to the skills and knowledge of the players,” he explained.

“The main difference is that I ensure that the exercises are adapted to the specific characteristics of individuals, which are associated with their type of disability.”

For him, skill development is a meticulous process that demands attention to detail. He employs specialised techniques to enhance the abilities of players with upper limb disabilities, ensuring that each exercise is tailored to their specific needs.

“I use the exercises to improve the technique from able-bodied volleyball, but I adapt them so that they are suitable for performing in a sitting position,” he said.

One of the key challenges in sitting volleyball lies in adapting traditional techniques to accommodate players with upper limb impairments, and this is where Bozic navigates this challenge with ingenuity and insight.

Slovenia mounts a a triple block against Germany

“When it comes to blocking, we are aware that it is more difficult to control, especially for players who wear prostheses,” he acknowledges.

His approach extends to every aspect of the game, including setting skills and serving abilities. He emphasises individualised training methods that enable each player to discover their strengths and refine their techniques.

Slovenia captain Lena Gabrscek prepares to serve at the 2024 WPV Final Paralympics Qualifier in Dali, China

“We have four players with upper limb amputation in the team and each one is special in terms of setting skills,” he noted.

“Again, the most important in thing here is the level of amputation and wearing a prosthesis.”

Despite the physical limitations imposed by upper limb disabilities, he remains dedicated in his belief that every player has the potential to excel.

“I don’t make any differences,” he asserted when asked about serving abilities.

“We know several hitting techniques and every player, regardless of the type of injury, finds her own technique that suits her best while serving.”

Tija Vrhovnik play defence in their match against Ukraine at the 2023 WPV Sitting Volleyball World Cup in Cairo.

On defence, he recognises the importance of adaptation in helping players overcome traditional barriers.

“The only difference is that it is more difficult for them to defend the ball with the overhead reception,” he acknowledged.

“Here we adjust the sitting position, which is slightly back, so that they can defend the ball with digging.”

Slovenia coach Simon Bozic at the 2023 WPV Sitting Volleyball World Cup in Cairo, Egypt

Looking to the future, the coach sees boundless opportunities for advancement in adaptive equipment and technologies. He highlights the potential of specially adapted prostheses to enhance players’ performance on the court.

“I see the biggest advantage in prostheses that are specially adapted for playing volleyball,” he observed.

“They make it easier for players to hit the ball not only with the lower reception but for some, it also makes it easier and enables them to play well with the overhead reception, which is a huge advantage.”

Under Bozic’s guidance, his athletes have risen to achieve remarkable success in sitting volleyball, among the foremost competitors in the discipline. With him leading the way, their journey toward greatness knows no limits.