When I was fourteen, I used to tape my fingers for one obvious reason:
The best players did it, which must mean it works.
What it was supposedly doing, however: I didn't really understand.
It wasn’t until I started playing more frequently, got a little bit older, and signed my first contract in a country with freezing cold gyms that I learned the true reason behind this volleyball fashion statement.
Why do volleyball players tape their fingers? Volleyball players mostly wear tape to stop their fingertips from cracking and bleeding. While theories on this topic range from ‘distracting the spiker’ to ‘getting more grip’, the truth is that it’s a protective measure, much like wearing a knee brace.
This post will talk about: 1) why volleyball players tape their fingers; 2) recommend the volleyball finger tape used by professionals; and 3) dismantle a couple of myths that you may have heard.
Of course, there might be volleyball players out there who tape their fingers for different reasons than the ones listed in this post. If so, leave a comment below telling me why you tape your fingers, and I’ll add it into the article.
These are the three myths I’d like to dispose of today:
#1: White tape distracts the spiker;
#2: Wearing tape increases grip on the ball, and therefore topspin; and
#3: Wearing tape lets you hit the ball harder.
If we can put these to bed by the end of this post, I’ll consider it a good day’s work.
What’s the real reason that volleyball players wear tape on their fingers?
The real reason is dry, cracking skin.
Some players suffer from this more than others. In my career, I’ve come across a few players who couldn’t go a single month without taping their fingers before every training.
How does it happen?
When you are playing volleyball every day, your palms and fingers undergo a great deal of stress.
As you play more, you may become used to it, but you don’t notice the toll that those thousands of reps are taking on your skin.
Creating topspin on the ball might be an important skill in volleyball: but it’s also the number one way to irritate your fingertips.
To create topspin, there needs to be friction between your hand and the ball. Specifically, you need to be pulling up and over the ball with your hand and fingers.
If you had no friction, the ball would slide off your hand without spin (like passing with an incredibly sweaty platform!).
*Wanna try this out for yourself. Try hitting a few balls against the wall with topspin normally. Then cover your hand in something oily (sunscreen, butter, etc.) and try creating topspin. If you make a video doing it, I’ll feature it on the Volley-Pedia page!
Needless to say, each time you create good topsin, the skin of your fingers and fingertips are being stretched and pulled.
In cold environments, this stretching can be a real problem.
Without going too deeply into the science of it, colder environment draw moisture from your skin more so than warm (and obviously humid) environments.
So this is the situation:
Thousands of pulling and stretching repetitions;
No opportunity for your body to repair or heal.
That’s the cycle which every professional volleyball player will probably face at one point (especially if they are an attacker) in their career. The result is cracked fingertips or cracks in the pads of your fingers, which can take some time to heal. And...
It can be quite painful.
While moisturizing and staying hydrated are great preventative measures, once you reach the cracking stage:
Taping your fingers is about your only option.
How to tape jammed or cracked fingers for volleyball
I’m sure there are as many techniques as there are individual players with this problem, but here’s how I always went about it:
Step 1: Measure how far down your finger you'd like your volleyball finger tape to run. If you only need to cover split finger tips, I'd suggest covering just the top section of your finger like so:
Step 2: Cut the tape and connect it to the other side of your finger--roughly at the same length as on the palm side. Be sure to pull up on the tape, tightly, so that it brings the crack in your fingertip closed.
Step 3: Start a new strap. This will lock your base strap in place. Simply wind this around your finger until you reach the tip.
Step 4: Tuck in the edges, and repeat on any other fingers you need.
Which volleyball finger tape should you use?
Unlike my impromptu how-to section above, white electrical tape is actually not ideal.
In fact, when I was a junior doing this for the wrong reasons I never actually used proper athletic tape.
Since playing professionally and living through the real pain of cracked fingertips though, I've always used professional quality athletic tape.
It also took me a long time to realize that some of these rolls were incredibly overpriced: at more than $20 for just one roll of tape. It wasn't until my final year in college that I realized you could buy Mueller Athletic Tape on Amazon for roughly half that price--which is exactly what I still use to this day.
While kinesio tape is a hot topic in volleyball circles these days, don’t spend your money on it if you only plan on taping your fingers--just stick with some plain white athletic tape and it will get the job done.
Okay, time to bust some myths.
Some reasons that people THINK volleyball players wear tape on their fingers
I'm not excluding myself, either. I was one of these people, too--so I know how believable these myths can sound!
#1: White tape distracts the spiker’s attention.
As a young player, this was a popular belief among my volleyball circle.
The idea went like this:
Humans have a whole set of unconscious processes that guide their behavior. Our visual circuits being attracted to the color white, supposedly, was one such process.
Therefore, if you wear white tape on your fingertips as a blocker, you might just take the spiker’s attention away for a split-second.
They won’t make a good contact on the ball, or they will make the wrong choice of attack.
*That's how I always understood it, at least, but this myth was busted long ago for me, so maybe I'm not representing it perfectly. Am I missing something here? Let me know in the comments below if you think this myth deserves a better run!
Unfortunately, in all my volleyball experience I have never witnessed an attacker being distracted by the opposing blocker’s white finger tape.
Realistically, in most situations, the spiker will not have a chance to see fine details of the block (such as the color of their fingertips). Generally speaking, an impression of the blockers’ bodies, arms and the court are enough to make a good choice in attack, anyway.
#2: Wearing athletic tape increases grip on the ball, allowing for more topspin.
At first, this one sounds slightly more credible.
If you actually tried the experiment I suggested above (with the butter, etc.), you might reason that the opposite is true, and tape could have a ‘gripping effect’ on the ball.
If this were true, I’d agree that this could indeed create more topspin.
However, in my experience, athletic tape is quick to become dirty and smooth.
It’s true that, at first, your contacts might feel a little crisper to the touch.
However, as the tape itself begins to stretch and wear with a few downballs in warm-up, dirt will begin to smooth out the micro-gaps that are part of the tapes sticky surface.
By the time hitting warm-up is through (in my experience, at least) any kind of noticeable difference has completely disappeared.
*I’m hesitant to completely bust this myth, since I was never someone to tape the entire lengths of all my fingers. My main concern was taping my fingertips when the cracks were persistent. Stay tuned for an update on this myth: I’ll come back with reports from other players who tape their fingers Zaytsev-style.
#3: Wearing tape lets you hit the ball harder
Now, unless you’re strapping a new paw to your hand in excess tape:
Wearing tape on your fingers will not make the ball go any faster.
What I will say is that, when your fingertips are already cracked, tape is about the only thing that will let you feel comfortable attacking the ball at your normal power.
Unfortunately, the added layer doesn’t really help you generate any more power on its own: for that, you’ll need to work on speeding up your arm swing or strengthening your shoulder.
For more info on how to speed up your arm swing, feel free to read my post here. (Coming soon)
Don’t volleyball players also wear tape for blocking?
One of the more common (and annoying) injuries in volleyball comes when your finger gets jammed from blocking.
If you are a middle blocker, bad luck: over the course of your volleyball journey, you’re bound to take a few hard hits on the tip of the finger.
When you have jammed your finger by blocking, or you have an existing injury (even just some swelling) to your fingers, it’s also a good idea to use athletic tape.
It’s not quite the same thing as taping your fingers in the usual way that volleyball players tape their fingers.
This is more about providing support for the jammed finger, so that it can’t bend backward, sideways or pop out during the course of practice or a game.
In serious cases, it can be a good idea to strap the damaged finger to its neighboring finger.
*Of course, this information is just what I have gathered from my own volleyball career. I didn’t study as a physiotherapist or medical practitioner, so take these tips with a grain of salt.
So… should I tape my fingers or not?
If you’re a beginner and your fingers aren’t suffering from any cracks or cuts, you probably won’t see much benefit from taping your fingers.
While it might provide some support when you’re blocking, it won’t really serve as a protective measure on its own.
Then again, it never hurts to have a spare roll of athletic tape--if you don't need it, someone on your team is bound to ask for it at one stage or another!
So there you have it. Volleyball players wear tape mostly to protect their fingertips and pads from cracking, but also as a protective measure for blocking.
Did I miss anything?
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