Volleyball Strategy - Practical Power Play

Many millions of people play volleyball. It is played at all levels from picnic ball to the Olympics, and different strategic approaches are appropriate for the various levels. The majority of people who play "serious" volleyball, play in Industrial Leagues and in local Tournaments, at levels normally described as "B", "C" or the best at "BB". This presentation is primarily intended for such players, and it includes many ideas and suggestions which should greatly improve enjoyment and success. There is virtually no reference to having to jump a mile high or hit so hard to vaporize a ball! These are "practical" discussions that should be able to benefit players of all heights, strengths, experience, and ability.

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As both a Coach and a Player, I always considered volleyball to be far more mental and intellectual than physically demanding. When competitively playing, I could sometimes be extremely alert to tiny details of the movements of a specific hitter where I felt I had a 99% chance of knowing WHAT he was ABOUT to try to do, and defending then becomes FAR easier to do! When I could see where the six defenders were (indoors) just before hitting, I sometimes realized that I was about to get blocked or dug, so I hit the ball left-handed instead of right. Virtually 100% of those plays put the ball on the floor, as any organized defense cannot be ready for both a right-handed and left-handed hit at the same time! If one (strong) opponent just messed up a serve reception, I zoned in on trying to serve to that same player to give him another chance! Yes, it happened that I could jump rather high, and could put a lot of smoke on the ball in hits. But as both attacker and defender, I learned early in my VB career that there is usually more merit in finding an empty spot on the opponent's court to put the ball, rather than ferociously hitting a ball directly to a defender to be able to up! Duh!

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It is interesting to note that many B and C level players seriously think of themselves as A players (or better!) They have never SEEN A level play! I am going to insert a couple anecdotes here, because I think they might be insightful.

I had once been told that if I wanted "really" good volleyball (in northern Indiana) I should go to the YMCA in Chesterton on a particular day. (I had already played in the USVBA Nationals twice.) Never wanting to pass up good competition, I obviously went! The men set up the net, but I noticed that they did it around 4" low. Being a guest and a visitor, I did not ask. But as people started to warm up, I noticed that no one seemed to have very good warm up drills (just the generic ones) and when they got hitting lines going, the setters did not know any set designations, only instead trying to set high ball sets (which turned out to be of rather differing heights, distances from the net and locations along the net). When the "strong player" men hit, they would hit hard (over the very low net) but always very horizontally, where the ball would hit near a back corner.

I asked if I could come again the next week, and if I could bring a friend. So the following week, my beach doubles partner showed up with me (we also always played on Tournament teams together, and we had each played for Purdue University but at different times). After we got warmed I offered to be the setter for one of the hitting lines. They didn't understand that because my partner and I were by far the tallest people there, both 6'1". But they let me set. I had previously told my partner that I would set him VERY close to the net, because I wanted him to hit nearly straight down, what we often called a "ceiling shot" when we did it right. When I gave him the set, he hit it down, and hard enough to bounce up to hit the ceiling, but at too much of an angle, so it didn't quite hit the ceiling. We would always consider that a failure. But immediately, everyone from both teams came up to him like he was a rock star! He probably could have given out autographs! The next time he was to hit, after things settled down, I asked him if he was ready to do it right this time! And this time he did hit it nearly straight down and it did bounce back up hard enough to hit the ceiling/roof hard enough to possibly put a small dent in the metal YMCA building roof. (Later, he said he was ashamed at having hit that first ball so poorly where it was not a ceiling shot, especially on such a low net!)

Since we pretty much had the attention of everyone, I then told the men there that I brought him to show them the advantage of hitting DOWN. Since they always tried to hit hard but nearly horizontally, so the ball always went fully across the court, I told them (and we later demonstrated by many digs) that THEIR hits were very easy to dig (from the back row), that they only were of any benefit at all if the receiver was intimidated, and that the only reason they were working was because some of the players were scared because of the speed. I mentioned that I intended to help all the players there to have enough confidence to dig anything like that, so the value of those kinds of hits were minimal, and were going to get less.

I chose to never point out that they had intentionally put their net 4" low! But my partner and I demonstrated far faster hitting speed, and I tried to get the other players to not be afraid, and we both helped coach individuals to dig hits. We assured the women and some others that we would never hit at them, unless they asked, and even then the hits would be gentler! I also told them that we were accurate enough hitters that NO ball should ever be toward their face or head, that we intended to spike to a point on the floor just in front of them. But, only to the better hitters/players. I asked them who could dig those balls that we were hitting nearly straight down! They saw the point. But mostly, I just wanted them to realize that they really were nowhere near good enough to talk and act as arrogantly as they had done before!

Over the following weeks, those players also certainly saw the value in being able to be accurate about where you were hitting the ball. Even the very weak players realized that they were never in any danger of being hit because we simply just put the ball down in an empty spot on the floor! I can assure you that in my long career at playing competitive volleyball, it is immensely valuable to be able to know an exact spot where I wanted to put the ball down, as if I selected well, the chance of anyone upping my hit was usually slim. I had been on many teams where at least one of my teammates could hit harder than I did (a guy we called Killer stands out, on the Purdue team), but commonly, those hits of his were still dug in the back row. By simply adding one more step of logic in my VB, of trying to find a spot where no one should be able to get to dig it, I often had the highest kill percentage on the teams. NOT always from brute force but just some thinking!

A variant anecdote comes to mind here. This one is regarding situations where less experienced players were on opposing teams, including many years of Spring Breaks in Fort Lauderdale and elsewhere, I would generally try to quietly mention to girls who might be on the opposing court that they were safe, that I would never hit any ball that might hit them, but that if they had that concern, I asked that they not move around too much while I was hitting. As long as I knew (and remembered) where such girls were, not one was ever hit by a ball I hit. In contrast, especially each afternoon on each day of Spring Break each year, there were generally a few of the guys who considered themselves to be impressive players. (During each morning, we stronger players would play Beach Doubles, because the College kids were still sleeping after the previous night of drinking and partying, so we got to have two or three hours of good games, from about 10 am to noon or 1 pm when the college students would start showing up. This often resulted in some interesting applications of my strange sense of humor! When the College students would show up, as a "pack" they often would "order" us doubles players to get off the court so that "good" games of full teams could play, meaning them. I guess I have never been impressed by arrogance, but that seems to be part of a lot of college men. So I came up with a response! I would tell them that there were "beach rules" where winners stayed on the court (which they were familiar with) but I would say it also had to apply regarding different numbers of players on teams. Often, they would insist that it would not be fair, as six players obviously were going to beat two players. I would often say that they were probably right, but that rules were rules.

So the college sixes guys would clearly not be trying to play very hard, to not hurt us, but to simply comply with that beach rule. You probably already know the next part of the scene, where the six of them did not even get a single point in the first game, while we would win 15-0. A different group of college guys was always waiting by then and laughing at their college friends regarding having lost a game to TWO people! So this second group would immediately get on the court, to immediately get rid of the two so that they could play their sixes volleyball. But of course, they lost 15-0 also. (I'm getting to the anecdote!) We were always very nice and very friendly, and none of the college guys ever got any impression that we were making them look bad, but most of them were probably learning that good volleyball players were simply a whole lot better than they had realized. After about half a dozen games of Doubles against Sixes, all of which ended with the usual 15-0 score, there were usually a LOT of college guys around the court, and they often started trying to form all-star teams among them to try to beat us. In any case, my partner and I would always hold the court for three or five hours until we would get hungry and thirsty, and we would leave (without having lost any games). (Finally the anecdote). Some of the groups of college guys got into the spirit of having fun on the beach, and so some of them would come up with different ideas, such as grouping all six players right at the net to block my hit (since they realized that with doubles, they KNEW who was going to hit the ball, and it was often me!) The whole court was then empty of players except for a tightly packed group right in front of me. Of course, again in the spirit of having fun, I would call for a SLIDE set or a SOFT SHOOT, where at the last moment, I would need to run sideways several steps to get to the ball. If we did it well, the group of six guys would fall all over each other as each of them separately realized they had to run sideways. As the six guys were lying on the sand, and I had just buried a spike in the open court's sand, I would tend to offer a comment, such as That plan did not seem to work too well!

Finally this anecdote! There were sometimes one or two guys who got in the spirit of the fun where they told me that my hits only worked because I avoided hitting to HIM. I would then generally look at all his friends and ask whether he just WANTED me to hit the ball at him? By then, they all had already seen that I could hit the ball a lot faster than they had ever seen before, but I had carefully aimed at empty areas of sand for the ball to go. I would ask the guy's friends whether he often asked to be a victim, and we would all laugh. I DID point out that I had the capability of clipping his left ear or his right ear if I had wanted, but that I rarely see cause to actually scare anyone. So I would describe to the target guy that I would hit the ball DOWN where if he did not dig it, it would hit the sand about three feet in front of him, that he did not have to worry about being hit in the face. Often, there were many guys who quickly volunteered to try to dig such hits, and whenever any of them upped a ball, a big cheer would go up among all his friends. You probably have already figured out that there were generally a bunch of very cute college girls watching the games, and I would (selfishly!) talk to the girls about joining a team to win since the guys clearly were not ever winning a game. I would explain that I would remember each players regarding whether they would want not to receive any hits or to only receive gentle hits, and that some of the girls would ask for more of a challege. Now, the result of this was that the college guys rarely even upped any ball we hit, so they never earned any points, but since the girls were getting easier hits to dig, they often got plays going and they earned some points (or at least side-outs). The girls liked that I was giving them a chance to be the stars!

The other main anecdote is similar to the YMCA one. I had heard of alleged "A-level volleyball" in a Church gym in Valparaiso, Indiana. When I arrived, a little early, I noticed that rather low roof of the building and immediately thought of how easy ceiling shots would be there! There was a young girl, Colleen, there who was loosening up, and we soon started peppering together. She was clearly good at passing, and was very consistent at setting, although her sets were not very high (around 3 high, but extremely consistent). As guys showed up, they insisted on playing doubles for the first couple hours, which was fine with me. Of course, they had never seen me before and didn't realize that I somewhat understood the game. But as they decided that they were warmed up, they ORDERED that girl off the court, telling her that it was time for the GOOD players to play! I politely asked about playing, noting that I had gotten there before any of them, but they felt they were in charge and the four of them automatically always played the first game each week, but they DID agree to let ME play "winners" where I would need to pick my partner from the team that just lost. I was VERY upset that that girl was so totally disrespected! So I called her off to the side and learned that she had NEVER played doubles before, that she just loved volleyball so much that she would always come really early before the rest of the players would arrive for the sixes. So I taught her a five-minute version of doubles! Specifically, that if I received a serve or a hit, where she was supposed to go and that she should just set her standard set. And that if a hit came to her, she was going to be the spiker (at 5'3")!

When it was my turn to play, the "strong players" didn't want to let her play. They told me I was guaranteed to lose. I said that would be fine if it happened. So they finally relented and let her be my doubles partner. (They also had their net around 4" low, which must be a disease around there!) I was pretty motivated, so I was really hustling and making sure I gave her the best passes I could. The very, very first play (they got to serve, of course!) they served to me. She gave me a cherry set, and I hit it down hard enough for it to be a ceiling shot. The men just stopped! They later told me that they had not only never SEEN a ceiling shot before, but none of them even realized it was possible! During that first doubles game of her life, I believe we had at least five ceiling shots, and more that were close. The alleged A-players never once even touched any ball I hit in that game, and we won 15-1. Interestingly, I was the one to shank off a serve and give up the one point!

Since we were winners, we had the court, and we won succeeding games 15-0, 15-0, and maybe a couple more 15-1s. The girl who had never even played doubles before, and who was chased off the court so that the GOOD players could play, never came close to losing any doubles game that night! I LIKED that! She is 5'3" and had not ever thought of herself as very good at volleyball. But in following weeks, I taught her how to soft-set and all the numbering system for sets, and she was soon one of the players in highest demand of any player anywhere! What I loved best was when THOSE SAME hot-shot men would call her to be the setter for some Coed OR MENS tournament team (she had gotten so good that she sometimes was the only woman in a Mens Tournament!) they were making. They (and lots of other Tournament teams) had come to realize that she was SUCH a good and consistent setter that she was a better choice than any man that might have been willing to play on a team with them! As far as I know, she always turned that group down, because there were so many other teams that also wanted her to play in every Tournament!

The point of these anecdotes is that no matter how incredible you think you are as a volleyball player, unless you are ranked among the top hundred players in the world, you may just not be as incredible as you think you are! And, if you don't know how to run Slides, Tandems, Back-Xes, Cs, Ds, 9s, or the more complex plays, try to control your ego! There might be someone around who might be able to put you in your place! On the converse, if you believe you are a weak player, or a short player, or both, BUT YOU LOVE VOLLEYBALL, you may not be nearly as weak as you might think! (Remember that girl who, in a matter of two months, became one of the most in-demand setters in northern Indiana!)

I guess this qualifies as yet another anecdote, but it is actually something that I sometimes wonder if I should be ashamed about! In 1972, my ex-wife got a job as a Gym Teacher in the high school in Knox, Indiana. As the only girl's gym teacher in a rather small school, she was expected to also Coach basketball, tennis, golf, etc, including volleyball. She was inexperienced and incapable as a coach of ANY of those sports. Apparently, she met the girls who wanted to play volleyball and watched them try to practice. It was a lot like the blind leading the blind, I imagine! Apparently, she mentioned to the girls that her husband, me, had played VB for the Purdue University men's volleyball team, and they apparently begged my ex-wife to try to convince me to come to their second scheduled practice. So I showed up, simply to sit in the stands near where they were practicing. They were BBAAAAAAAAAAAADDDD. I thought it was great that none of them got seriously hurt, as the only positive of what I had seen.

Then the ten girls came charging up into the stands to ask me to help Coach them. I declined answering but I promised to come back a couple days later when they had their next practice. In the meantime, I learned a lot about Knox High School from my ex-wife. Every year for many years, the boys basketball team would hope to win ONE game, to avoid going winless. The boys football team was the same. In fact, my wife was not aware of ANY boys team that had every won more than one or two games or track meets or anything else, for quite a few years. I thought about what I had seen among the girls and volleyball, and I smiled as I came up with a strange idea! (I DO have a peculiar sense of humor!)

When I met them again, after their second practice, they all came over to listen to me. I offered them a choice, which I insisted that they all vote on! Choice one was that I would teach them what I called 'actual volleyball', where they would learn some basic skills of the game. But I told them that I doubted that they would be able to ever win any game against any other girls high school volleyball team in the area. Choice two was very different! I told them that I would NOT teach them most of the skills of actual volleyball, but that I thought I could make sure they could win several games and even matches. When they came back to me a few minutes later, after voting, they pointed out that the girls volleyball team had NEVER won a game against any other school, and virtually all sports were also generally goose-eggs for both boys and girls teams. (At that time, 1972, there were extremely few boys volleyball teams, only girls.) So they said that they did not care very much about actually learning much, if they thought I thought they might win ONE GAME during the season. For them, that would have meant a successful season!

I only actually taught them about underhand serving and the most basic of serve-reception. I told them that we would have TWO PLAYS. One would be called ZERO, where whoever received a serve would simply pass the ball back over the net to the opponents. The other would be called ONE, where we tried to use three hits of the ball. In that first meeting with them, I explained my thinking to them, that if each play needed to have three successful plays on the ball, that meant that three different things could go wrong. But simply lobbing the ball back over the net to the opponents, I thought we had a chance to let the OTHER TEAM have three chances to foul something up. I was actually rather shocked when they WON their first Match, and even having won both games of it. And Match after match, they won them all! A team that had gone winless in each of the previous four years, was now unbeaten during their entire season, something like 12 wins and zero losses!

I had created a monster! I would try to remind them that I had never actually taught them real volleyball, but just a simplified version that relied on competing teams making lots of mistakes. But they clearly thought they were ready for the Olympics! So after the unbeaten season (where they became BWOCs far above the boy's basketball team players and football team players and everyone else), they traveled to the Sectionals or Regionals or whatever, and they won that Match as well. So now they insisted that I come to watch them play in the next competition, where if they would win they would have gone to Indianapolis to play for the State Championship! So I am back up in the stands again and they are warming up on the floor. But when they saw the opposing team come out, all ten of them came up into the stands to ask me what they should do! I guess it was due to Title Eight regulations, but the opposing girls team (from South Bend) had a boy playing on it, and not just a boy, but a very tall boy, who was fairly good at volleyball. The fact that he was allowed to spike over a net that was 8 inches low, clearly changed everything about high school girls volleyball. The Coach of that team had taught the five girls to all be Setters, where every play resulted in the boy spiking from either the front row or the back row. The Knox girls knew that this had no good end!

I suspect that even today, 40 years later, those Knox girls probably still believe that they might have been able to play for the State Championships, if it had not been for an unfair and bizarre rule which allowed that boy to have become the center of that opposing team. But they lost both games of the Match rather badly, partly due to them all being terrified!

OK. I admit that with what the Knox girls brought to the table, it was probably wrong for me to have enabled them to win so many games, but they were certainly the happiest group of young girls I had ever seen! But if I had displayed more ethics at the time, of actually teaching them good skills, and they then lost every game and match as had happened in every previous year and in every other sport, would that have actually been better? I wonder!

OK! It is not clear to me WHERE the following might rightly fit in this presentation, so I'm putting it HERE! This might represent the majority of what I have brought TO volleyball in my olderr years while I have been a Setter. Hopefully, you have read enough of this to realize that I am very convinced that INTELLIGENCE is more important than raw physical ability, AND that being on the same page as teammates is wonderfully valuable. I have been on a LOT of teams during my long career. Primarily as a hitter in my younger days. SOME Setters decide WHAT SET is to be given to each of the three hitters, and on very strong teams, there is a benefit to this, as two out of the three hitters commonly are set ones or twos, very fast sets, such that the Setter can then make sure that the third hitter is to get a five high set, for the situation when the pass is not very good. However, nearly all intermediate teams are different in that each Hitter determines the set HE WANTS. So, before a play begins, each of the three holds a hand BEHIND his back (hidden from the opponents) which identifies the expected set. Unfortunately, there are times when there is a failure to communicate! Specifically, I may have called for a hard shoot as a Strong Side hitter. Assuming that the Setter saw my hand signal for that set, I would make the fast approach necessary for that fast set. So it really would look bad when I had already jumped and was nearly back on the floor as I would see a much different and slower set passing over my head!

Once I started being a regular Setter, I ADDED something! I consider it to be VERY IMPORTANT! AS the three Hitters are showing their hand signals, as Setter, I would say "Yes, yes, yes" to confirm that I was able to SEE a total of THREE hand signals. IF the hitters only heard "Yes, yes", that informed them that I had not seen or could not understand one of the three hand signals and I was requesting them to show me again. We almost never had failures to communicate, but I DO admit to rarely forgetting one of the three signals and sending a wrong set to somebody, but that was VERY rare. This "audio feedback" also allowed me to say "No!" if all three were requesting quick sets or where two players were expecting to cross behind each other where it was impossible. The NO also requested a repeat of the hand signals, but now where I was expecting at least one of them to change his request into a FIVE, as an escape for if I got a bad pass.

In my opinion, this rather simple modification probably saved us an average of four points per match, due to better communications, and certainly getting our team a win sometimes when the games were very close.

I STRONGLY suggest your Setters adding this audible confirmation of hits.

How to become a STAR!

Usually, that involves massive ego and self-centeredness! But my suggestions do NOT involve anything like that!

It is actually very simple to state, "Be more observant and focused than anyone else."

If you watched the Olympic Men's Team win Gold in Beijing, you know that they are all 6'8" or 6'9" or so tall. I am just a little guy, around 6'1". But I have always been able to really jump, usually nearly a foot higher than any usual teammate in the Sergeant's Jump. So I was often used as Middle Blocker between two much taller guys! Sort of funny looking, since the Middle Blocker on the other side was usually at least six inches taller than me!

Yes, being able to jump was helpful. But I really believe that my REAL strength was in being extremely observant! BEFORE each match, while teammates were warming up or whatever, I would ALWAYS watch the other team's hitting line. I would study each hitter to see if there were any patterns to where he wanted to hit, or if he moved his shoulder or body in specific ways when he was approaching for a specific hit. So during the Match, I would often SEE such cues, and I would KNOW where he intended to hit the ball! (It is quite an advantage!) So even though I am not very tall, I became nearly universally known as one of the very best blockers around!

There are various anecdotes in the following text regarding being observant and thoughtful. But there is one anecdote that stands out beyond all the others. It is not even about me but instead a (different) 5'3" setter (Sherry)! She was the most observant volleyball player I have ever been around. She was also an extremely good setter, but her short height seemed to limit what she might ever be able to do. But, no!

She was still in High School when this anecdote occurred. I had been on many very strong teams before that but always as a Strong Side Hitter and never as Middle. So I had never needed to try to hit a Middle One set. SHE taught me what I needed to know! She had WATCHED and knew how high I could jump, and she told me to jump just BEFORE she received the pass, and start to swing. She was such a remarkable setter that she would then simply PLACE the ball exactly where my hand would hit it. I even closed my eyes once to confirm that and still buried the ball!

I'm getting to this anecdote! So, over a period of maybe an hour, I must have hit 50 Middle One sets during our scrimmage. I was getting incredibly spoiled, and was just flailing away and she always put the ball exactly where I would hit it. SO! About this time, I am merrily swinging away and one time I discover that the ball is about 4" to the left of where it should have been! I made the adjustment and still buried the ball. So I looked at her and smiled and said "you messed that one up, it was several inches off!" Her response boggled my mind! She said "the blocker was going to block you, so I had to adjust it to where you could hit it through!"

HOW could a Setter KNOW such things? Even I, the hitter, did not realize that! She not only knew exactly where the ball was, and I was, and my arm and hand were, but she also knew where the defenders were!

I had always thought that I was really aware of things on a volleyball court, but that really astounded me!

And even being so tiny, when she then went to the small and insignificant St. Joseph's College (in Indiana), she was their starting setter for all four years and they were essentially unbeatable! She had her three hitters ready for her sets, and since she was constantly aware of what the defending team was doing, she would virtually always set the one teammate who had only a single block or often no block at all. Most teams INTENTIONALLY double-block a strong opponent. But doing that against her meant that one of her hitters had no block at all, and she made all of her teammates look ferocious as hitters! I believe that at one point, St. Joseph was Nationally ranked around sixth (after five California teams, Pepperdine, Southern Cal, UCLA, etc!)

The point being made here is that even though she was extremely short, her amazing observational skills made her a Nationals level player! More than that, she was so OBSERVANT as a setter that she made ALL her hitters look like stars! EVERY good team wanted her as Setter! SO! Say you are short, you cannot jump very well and you are maybe even out-of-shape! IF YOU decide to truly focus on Setting, and you can pay attention to a thousand separate things at once, YOU could become the STAR player around! And, yes, that would require a LOT of practice at Setting, to make sure your sets were CONSISTENT, but I believe it is even far MORE important to remember the strengths and weaknesses of each of your Hitters, so that, even without their knowledge, you can tweak your sets to be exactly what they EACH need to have. By the way, MANY Hitters do NOT know what kinds of Sets they hit best! Many strong Hitters are very arrogant and they claim to be able to hit ANY Set! That might be true, but there are some Sets that they can hit even better! It would be YOUR job to watch that Hitter a hundred or a thousand times, to see those few times when they truly destroyed the ball, and YOU then figure out what was different for those hits that might have enabled them to do that. Getting back to YOU, IF you can get your brain focused on all your Hitters, and always remember the exact Sets that each have called for in THIS play, and then be focused enough to actually get the ball to where they need it, you WILL be a Star! A RARE Setter might then also be able to be like Sherry, aware of what the Defense is doing, and if your selection of sets is then adjusted where you usually set whichever of your Hitters has the least block in front of him/her, then I GUARANTEE that College Coaches will notice that ability and you (if of suitable age, of course!) would be very likely to be offered a Full-Ride College Scholarship! Not bad for simply trying to become REALLY observant!

I was also sometimes on Co-Ed teams that played against that amazing girl Setter in Tournaments, and it drove me crazy to KNOW that she was always aware of where I was and that she would never set any teammate where I might block it! Psychologically, she is the ONLY person who has ever intimidated me in volleyball! Sure, there were 6'10" Hitters that I watched warm up before a match where I wondered if I would physically survive the Match, but I always considered them to be CHALLENGES that were worth confronting. But NO ONE ever actually got INTO MY HEAD like that little Setter would do!

What I am saying is that YOU can do things like that. But you have to TRY to pay attention to the tiniest details of what is going on at all times. So even if you are not a particularly good setter or hitter and you are not the world's best jumper, and maybe you don't even run very fast, but if you KNOW what is going to happen, you can have wonderful advantages. Better, no one will figure it out! They will just think you were LUCKY that night! And the next week! And the next!

I will mention another subject here which is discussed at greater length far down below. As I got older, I could still jump pretty well but so many Young Bucks were coming along as hitters that I started fading into the crowd. So I decided to try to learn how to become a good Setter (to still contribute to the team). This presentation includes many anecdotes regarding the value of accuracy and consistency of a Setter, to enable each Hitter to have the best available opportunity to spike well. Since I tended to play on a lot of different teams, many teammates (and some opponents) thought it was funny that BEFORE a tournament, I would always take a volleyball and go off by myself to a basketball basket. I would stand at the freethrow line and toss the ball up and then try to set the ball such that it either landed on the rim or went through the basket. I also tried to cause the ball to have a maximum height of about two to three feet ABOVE the top of the backboard. I am not sure that ANYONE ever realized WHY I was doing that (before EVERY tournament)!

I trust that YOU have shot some freethrows in your life! IF you simply went up and tried to throw the basketball through, you probably did not do very well. But IF you took a few seconds to FOCUS your mind at what you want to do, that CONCENTRATION and FOCUS probably greatly improved your free throw percentage. Watch the eyes of a Michael Jordan or any other really good free throw shooter, and you will SEE that concentration. Watch the eyes of a Shaquille O'Neal or other POOR free-throw shooter, and you will never see that FOCUS. THIS is the reason I would Set twenty or thirty volleyballs to a basketball basket before a Tournament! I wanted to get my brain FOCUSED on ACCURACY and CONSISTENCY, such that when I actually needed to make a set in a game, I wanted THAT BALL to be AS GOOD A SET AS I AM CAPABLE OF. Was ANY Set I ever made as good as ANY Set of the Star Setter mentioned above made? Not even close! SHE had spent all day, every day, developing her Setting skills, from when she was a little girl. Through much of my VB career, I never even THOUGHT about Setting, as I was a Hitter! Duh! So I was always very aware that my SKILLS at Setting were limited, but I tried to make up for that by an almost scary level of focus and concentration. I like to think that it generally worked, as I became to be even more in demand as a Setter than I had been as a Hitter (although the fact that I was actually known for BLOCKING FOR POINTS was actually probably even more important!)

Again, the point (I know, I POUND it in, over and over and over) is that limitations of PHYSICAL SKILLS is not necessarily too important, as long as the person can develop AWARENESS, FOCUS and CONCENTRATION. Actually, those abilities probably also describe every outstanding employee, and even outstanding father, mother or spouse, as well!

Here is a different subject which apparently you will NEVER see even mentioned anywhere else! It is specifically for the person who makes out the lineup order for the team. IF your team has lots of players, then this may have less value, but for the moment say you have the same six players every week in an Industrial League. My suggestion is to KEEP THE EXACT SAME LINEUP for every game! How could that be important? Well, it IS, and it is actually VERY important!

People who have gotten selected as a Coach for Junior High or High School teams have virtually never played any really competitive volleyball themselves. Some have never played at all and it is simply a Job requirement to Coach VB! I guess I am supposed to have tolerance for such people, especially since I am a Christian Minister! Many horror stories exist regarding really stupid decisions by such inexperienced Coaches, but this suggestion is something that would even benefit them! Why? Because for DEFENSE, there is immense value in consistency! When YOU are Middle Back on a team in an Industrial League, what is going to happen when an opponent hitter hits a ball that is exactly halfway between you and your neighbor teammate? This is commonly called a Husband-Wife shot, and very good players know the value of hitting to such spots. Now, if the person to your left has never been to your left before, then the two of you have never learned which of you happens to be more aggressive a player, and you may both let a ball drop in. But IF you and your left neighbor have played next to each other (in the same order) for many previous games, then you have established either a spoken or unspoken pattern of which of you is to make the move for that hit. All the MYSTERY is gone, and the chance that ball will be upped is tremendously increased. NOT because either of you suddenly got to be a lot better at digging, but because the two of you KNOW which of you should go for such a ball. The TEAM PERFORMANCE can improve tremendously with this simple guideline!

Extremely few Coaches of lower level teams ever think about this, or apparently care about it. They should! In most games, probably about three points can be saved that the opponents would have gotten. Doesn't it seem good if your team gets an advantage of three points in every game? Duh???

High-level teams (A or AA) do not need this, as EVERY player on such a team is a fine digger! It can still be beneficial for two players to discuss any ball that had just dropped in between them, like My Bad or some other indication to establish which of you would up any future balls there. So this suggestion has more and more value the lower the skill levels are of the players involved. From my experience, I am convinced that MORE THAN HALF of all organized volleyball teams would benefit from this aid toward consistency.

It seems useful here to discuss the Sergeant's jump. People seem to have hundreds of WRONG ideas of what it is and what its value is. The following is meant to clear this up!

A Sergeant's jump is meant to measure the ACTUAL VERTICAL JUMP ABILITY of any person. Nearly everyone can jump much higher if they have a running start. That is actually simple Physics, where the horizontal Kinetic Energy of the running can (partially) be converted into some vertical Potential Energy of being higher up. A Sergeant's jump intentionally eliminates this possible advantage by insisting on a STANDING START. No, not even a single step like many people feel they can add to it. Standing still! Next, BOTH hands have to be used! People seem to think they can use one hand to touch as high as they can, but that then includes the effects of twisting the body where the shoulders are at different heights.

So a Sergeant's jump starts off with the person standing flat-footed with both arms and hands stretched upward and the very highest ends of the middle fingers are measured for height. For me, 6'2" tall, that two-handed standing reach happens to be within 1/4" of exactly 8 feet. I often would precede Tournaments and matches with a walk along the net, confirming the height of the net at half a dozen places, so I would know what the situation would be for both my hitting and my blocking during the Matches.

OK! NO running start and not even a step, and you just jump straight up, and reach with both hands, with fingers extended.

A LOT of Coaches do this wrong! They put marks on a wall and have the players touch as high as they can. That is wrong for two different reasons! First, being right against a (concrete) wall, the player must be very aware of the wall to keep from hurting knees or elbows during the process. (I know this because either a knee or an elbow would hit the wall and it HURTS!) Second, in order to touch the wall, your arms have to be angled forward and are no longer straight up! High School Geometry or Trigonometry shows that! The result of this is that there is value in being as close to the wall as possible, which then has the knees/elbows issue, because otherwise, the wall measurement tends to be several inches LESS than the actual Sergeant's jump should have been!

Because of these factors, I tended to measure my own Sergeant's jump, and that of players on teams that I have Coached, with a basketball rim, net and backboard. There is NO wall nearby to get hurt on, and it is possible to reach straight up for a maximum measurement.

A basketball rim is always exactly at 10 feet height. The height of the very bottom of the net and of the bottom of the backboard can either be estimated from that or actually measured. Usually, the very bottom of a basketball net is pretty close to 9 feet high.

For me, for several years in my prime, while I was College aged, I could always touch both my forearms against the basketball rim. For some bizarre reason, I often tended to SWING my arms so they HIT the rim, and I would come down with red marks across my forearms! Duhh! In my case, a number of times, I could do that standing jump and touch both my elbows against the rim. I quickly realized that the swing part was really bad as there is no fat to protect the elbows from being hurt! In any case, for my body, I measured and found that my elbows happen to be nearly exactly 20" from my extended middle fingers. That meant that when both my elbows were at 10 feet height (touching the rim), the ends of my middle fingers were both at 11'8" high (20" higher).

Therefore, in those jumps, my Sergeant's jump was the difference between that 11'8" and my standing vertical reach of 8'0". This was therefore 3'8" or 44", which was very accurately my Sergeant's jump.

For you, say your standing reach with both hands is 7'6" and your standing Sergeant's jump can just barely touch the bottom of a basketball net with both hands (at 9'0"). That would mean that YOUR Sergeant's jump was the difference or 18", which is nothing to be ashamed of!

I actually have what I believe to be a far more accurate and consistent method of measuring a Sergeant's jump! One that is a lot more functionally appropriate to volleyball, at least the Blocking part! Imagine an adjustable height platform with a small exercise mat on top of it (for cushioning). Say that platform was adjusted so the the top surface of it was exactly at 8 feet high. In my case, 6'2" tall, when standing with my arms extended forward, the height UNDER my arms (and armpits) is very close to 5'0 high". This distance would be measured for each player (and recorded). Then the player would do a standing jump (complying with the Sergeant's rules) with the intention of slapping both HANDS on the top of the mat at least a foot back from the edge of the mat. There could be two pressure sensor switches there, or something that could ring a bell, or simply an observer that confirmed that BOTH hands hit the surface. THAT would then confirm that the player had jumped high enough so that the armpits had gotten up to at least 8'0" height. In my case, that would confirm that I had jumped AT LEAST 36" vertically.

From my personal experience, and especially regarding the 8'0" top CABLE of volleyball nets during many practices, this sort of pike blocking thing can cause serious abrasion to the armpits, which is why the cushioned mat would be used on top of the test platform.

I feel this particular situation has a second benefit, of causing each jumper to synchronize the arm motion to the jump motion, because you do not have but an instant to slap your hands down on that mat, before having to quickly raise them straight up to avoid winding hung up on the platform (or net cable!)

When I was in College, I did not have particularly great skills at volleyball, even at blocking, but that very high jump allowed me to seem far better than I actually was! With a 44" standing vertical jump, where only about 36" vertical was necessary to get my armpits above the top of the net, I was able to nearly always "Pike-block". That is to be above the net high enough to be able to extend my arms horizontally toward where the hitter was going to spike the ball. Since few College players then respected any blocker, nearly all Sets tended to be around 18" to 24" back from the net. This was wonderful for me, as I could therefore Pike block where both my hands were virtually touching the ball as the Hitter contacted it! There was NO chance that ball was ever going to come over the net, unless he could break off one or both of my arms! The harder he would hit it simply meant the faster it went straight down to the floor under him. And, for me, the unlimited arrogance of nearly all Strong Side Hitters and Middle Hitters simply meant that they would keep doing it over and over and over!

In one Tournament near Detroit, we watched a truly scary hitter warming up before we were to play them as the very first Match of the Tournament. I admit that my hands were hurting some after a while, but his brain seemed never to work! He got the very first set of the Tournament and he allowed me to block it down. He then DEMANDED that his Setter set the next seven sets to him, which resulted in our team getting an 8-0 lead to start off the Tournament's first game! I believe we won that game 15-2 (old-style scoring) and the other game of that Match by about 15-4. We later learned that that team had not lost ANY Match in around two years in ANY Tournament! In the Finals that day, we met that same team for the Championship. He had apparently thought about the early experience, and he NEVER ONCE even tried to Spike! Their Coach had even tried to rotate their initial starting lineup, but our Coach did the same, where I was always in the Front Row when he was! Pretty cool. We may not have deserved to win that Tournament that day, but that one player enabled us to!

I realize that relatively few players jump high enough to do Pike blocks. THAT was not really the point here. But a related point IS intended. Early in my volleyball career, I had little idea about how to Spike very well, or Dig or Serve or almost anything. At the time, I seemed to only have ONE possible advantage, which in my case was a very high standing jump. YOU probably have some ONE characteristic that is superior to other players. Maybe you are lightning quick and could dig virtually any Spiked ball. Maybe you can Serve aces! Maybe you can Set really consistently. What I am saying is that YOU CAN LEARN THE REST, but trust your specialty and work at making it even better!

During my very long volleyball career, I have been considered a good player. In college, I played for Purdue University. Later, I managed to be on two different teams that qualified to compete at the USVBA Nationals. From a coaching point-of-view, I am very observant and analytical and patient. I think these characteristics and experience have allowed me to present this practical presentation of competitive power volleyball.

Position Specialists
Serve Reception
Specific Positions
Strong Side
Middle Blocker
Weak Side
Power Alley
Middle Back
Team Concept
Most of the following strategy comments are most appropriate to 'B' level play. If some other groups use this premise as the basis of assembling a team, they should use modifications of the strategy appropriate to the players involved. For example, 'C' level players and weaker 'B' teams should use a 4-2 configuration (FOUR hitter-specialists, usually meant to be on the sides, and TWO setters, one of whom is always in the front row, who usually switch to the middle to set.) The stronger 'BB' and 'A' level teams usually use appropriate enhancements to the basic strategies described in order to maximize competitiveness.

I feel that competitive 'B' and most 'BB' teams should initially use an offense and defense based on the 6-2 configuration, (All SIX hitters / TWO of whom are designated as setters when in the back-row). Other offenses and defenses should be practiced from time to time, but I think it best to make sure all the players on a particular team are always "on the same page" as to strategy. Therefore a brief discussion of the main aspects of the basic 6-2 strategy will be presented here. It is highly suggested that each player locate a coaching textbook / guidebook in a library or elsewhere for a more complete discussion of all such matters. It is also likely that each team would gradually make slight modifications to the traditional 6-2 to their specific personalities and abilities. This usually happens with any team that uses the 6-2 for an extended time. Some teams that have used the 6-2 for a long time and at a very high level have come to incorporate so many modifications as to be almost unrecognizable as a 6-2. All the Olympic teams and most pro and semi-pro teams use such modifications of the 6-2. A few such teams happen to have one setter who has such outstanding ability that they use a configuration called a 5-1 (FIVE hitters / ONE permanent setter). This configuration acts as a 6-2 when the setter is in the back row, and as a 4-2 when he is in the front row.

I recommend that only VERY experienced teams and players use a 5-1. The reason is that all of the defensive and offensive responsibilities and positions for back row players, are VERY different in the 6-2 and 4-2 configurations. Continually altering between the two systems can lead to confusion and mistakes by back row players. As long as two decent setters are available, it is usually not worth the added chance of back-row mistakes to use a 5-1. In my opinion as a coach, the additional value offered by using a 5-1 with one impressive setter would have to overcome the various times when an inexperienced back row might make mistakes due to it. For almost any team below "A" or possibly some "BB", that means I would avoid it, except as a 'fun' experiment!


For clarity sake, we will occasionally use standard player position numbers to describe individual players. These numbers also indicate the serving sequence: 1 is in the current serving position; 2 is the next server, currently in weak side front row; 3 is middle front; 4 is strong side front; 5 is power alley back; and 6 is middle back. Since players will often switch positions soon after a serve (to get to a "specialist" offensive or defensive position), we will be mostly concerned with where they end up playing, so that is the position we will generally be referring to.

There is a DIFFERENT numbering system used for hitting locations in the front row, going from 1 to 8 from left to right (hitting location 1 is strong side very near the antenna; hitting location 8 is weak side near that antenna.) This numbering system can also include a second digit which describes the highest height of the ball set to this position. That second digit times 2.5 feet is approximately the height above the net. The two digit system was originally developed to describe any of 64 different sets! It was quickly discovered that many of those 64 were sets that had little actual value. For example, a 48 (middle, extremely high) set would give the opponents enormous amounts of time to assemble a triple block on our middle hitter. Nowadays, a shorthand version of this system is generally used. The full two-digit set description is seldom used except for requesting or describing refinement of some existing set. For example, if a particular strong side hitter calls for a '5' set (described later) [which is described in the two digit system as a '15', position '1', '5' high] and would prefer it to be a little more inside, he would have a private conversation with the setter that he would like it to look like a '25'. This helps the setter visualize the change he is requesting. If he instead wanted it just slightly higher, he might tell the setter to set it as a '16'. Both would still call it a '5'. The setter would then have to always remember that this particular hitter expects an adjustment to always be made to any '5' set to him by that setter. This sort of conversation seems most common and necessary regarding strong-side '4' sets where there are different understandings of just what a '4' is. Various hitters, setters and teams consider a '4' to be a '14', a '13', or a '12'. It is rather important that the specific setter and hitter are in agreement about the interpretation on such things, but that interpretation can be unique to the pair of them.

This is the proper description of the heights of sets. A ball that is set '2' high never gets much more than about a yardstick above the top of the net. (According to the description above, the top of the ball would get to about five feet above the top of the net, so 'a yardstick' is slightly off, but symbolically visualizable.) Most modern teams and players have come to SERIOUSLY distort this description! I have been on teams where setters set middle-'2' high sets that are well above double the height of the net, around 20 feet high. (Strictly, that should be called a '5' high!) I have been a setter on such teams, where hitters call for a '1' but I had to translate that to a '2' in my own mind to give them the set they were expecting. Until taught otherwise, as a setter, I consider a middle-'1' to be strictly that, a ball that is essentially hit at the top of its path! As a 6-2 setter, one will sometimes be setting any of the five other players, and so all those individualized modifications must always be remembered. If I would occasionally forget to modify a middle-'1' into a '2', the hitter can have to almost hit off of his ear, both looking bad and being less effective for the team.

When most teams first start practicing, setters and hitters SHOULD have to learn about each others' attitudes and capabilities, to define for themselves just what a Middle '2' or a Strong-side '4' is actually going to be. Interestingly, many hitters do not really know what kind of set they hit best! They just say "set it up there, and I'll hit it!" A team-centered setter will be attentive to each hitter during the warmup hitting line. Occasionally, a set might be slightly high or low, or inside or outside, and the hitter destroys it! An observant setter sees this, and attempts to make future sets just like that one. Even if the hitter isn't aware of that need, a really good setter should be. After a tournament, that hitter will feel pleased with his/her performance, without even realizing that the setter really enabled it!

Therefore, in general, it usually winds up to be the setter's responsibility to learn and remember the unique variations for each and every hitter. As it happens in real life, many allegedly 'good' setters never see cause to make such adjustments or tailoring of sets. They arrogantly feel that THEY are making 'perfect' sets and it is the hitter's responsibility to then hit that 'perfect' set. Those setters are WRONG! Every hitter has 'favorite' (also called 'cherry' sets) that he/she is confident he/she can destroy! An observant, flexible setter can recognize that an otherwise weak outside hitter happens to regularly crush balls that are slightly 'quick', even if the hitter is unaware of this. If the setter then always tries to supply slightly 'quick' sets to that specific hitter, the hitter's effectiveness greatly improves, his/her personal confidence grows, and the team wins more points. No one even ever knows or realizes that the setter enabled all that, and at the end of the tournament, teammates all congratulate the hitter for having such a great day. It may have really been a very observant setter, sitting quietly across the locker room who enabled it! In my opinion, a setter can be "great" even without special athletic abilities, if he/she tries for accuracy and consistency, and to continually tailor sets to the unique needs of each hitter.

On a personal note, during setting for a hitting line during warm-ups before a match, I would sometimes intentionally or unintentionally set a ball particularly close to the net or particularly back from it, or quick or slow. I would watch to see how adaptive that particular hitter was at still making a good hit out of it. Some hitters, even really strong ones, have virtually no adaptability at all, while others seem to always be able to create a valid hit. This is valuable knowledge for during a match. Who would YOU want to set when a critical point is at hand? On a related note, I have discovered that MANY setters become 'lazy' for good hitters who can make valid hits out of any sets; they just get sloppy and careless in their sets to that hitter. That's unfortunate for their teams! If a hitter is that good or that experienced, the odds are good that HIS favorite set/hit might be awesome. A lazy setter never allows that to happen, except by accident. An observant setter might privately ask such a hitter whether he preferred sets close to the net, or high, or low, or quick, or whatever. That observant setter could enable that 'flexible', 'dependable' hitter to put craters in the opponents' floor! Think about it!

This continuing discussion will stick with the original set-description system described above, where each height number times 2.5 gives the number of feet above the net. Therefore, a '1' gets to a height where the TOP of the ball is no more than about 10.5 feet above the floor (2.5 feet above an 8 foot high net), a '2' gets to about 13 feet above the floor, and a '5' peaks at about 20 feet high. Regarding Middle '1's, most middle hitters are plenty tall enough and jump high enough for the height described. It's roughly equivalent to slam-dunking a volleyball through a basketball basket, which anyone who is a serious (male) middle blocker better be able to do. In reality, the setter initially sets the Middle '1' so that it would get that high, but an experienced hitter actually usually hits the ball on the way up, so he hits it before it ever gets that high.

Another anecdote! When I was on the Purdue team, the Coach that was obtained had been a (mostly bench) Member of the US Olympic Team the year before. It is not clear what he expected, but when he first had us go through a hitting line so he could see us, he made very clear that he was totally disgusted with all of us! For a Coach to first be meeting his team, it seems a bad sign that he was making snide comments about us (which he knew that we could hear). In the converse of those anecdotes above, after watching us for just a few minutes, he was apparently so disgusted that he felt the need to humiliate all of us. I believe he took his suit coat off, but in shirt, tie, trousers and street shoes, he called for a set. He hit the first ceiling shot that any of us had seen (up to that point) and in fact his ball hit the ceiling so hard that a ceiling tile came loose and crashed to the floor.

I actually took that as motivation, as he was the same height as me and his jump was roughly the same as mine then was (consistently Sergeant's standing jump of around 38" with an occasional one of around 44") that I decided that I could also break ceiling tiles loose with ceiling shots! In my career at Purdue, I believe I helped 24 or 27 tiles to become freed from the ceiling! That was a long time ago and I have forgotten the exact number!

OK. Getting to the anecdote! The Coach truly hated us and he made clear that he felt he was wasting his time with us. So he would have us run hitting lines for at least two hours every single day. That was a LOT of swings! After a couple months of that, my right shoulder would constantly hurt nearly continuously. It also seemed clear that he had no intention of stopping all the practice hitting. So I got an idea which turned out to be brilliant (personal opinion!) Many of the times that I had to go through the hitting line, I swung left handed instead of right. I was actually simply preserving my right shoulder, but my jump was plenty high and I started actually being able to make decently hard hits left handed.

In itself, that is not that big a deal I guess. But I soon altered my hitting approach. Since Coach dis-respected us so much, he never even paid attention to how many steps we used in our approach, or whatever flaws we had, so he may never have even noticed that I had changed such an obvious thing. When a right-handed player approaches Strong Side, he generally tends to hold his right shoulder back, so he can torque his body to add some extra speed to the hit. THAT is what I changed! When I would then approach the net, neither shoulder was ahead of or behind my body, I approached the net head-on. Next, I made a change that even I knew made my hits a little weaker, that I raised BOTH my arms up. Again, a right-handed player twists his body and holds his arms so that he can benefit from some aspects of a windmill motion (even though an actual windmill spiking motion is among the worst of all!)

Why was this a good thing? Well, I jumped quite high, and I actually had a lot of time while in the air. Where normally a strong blocking defender tends to wait for a spiker to commit to an exact direction to spike (I am NOT talking about TEAM area double-blocking here, but what is sometimes criticized as psych-blocking), I would generally wait for the blocker or blockers to commit to where they were going to block. Really good College competition (such as Purdue played) generally had extremely good double blockers, and they were generally WAY taller than I am. I often realized that their block was so good that there was NO available right-handed spike available that they would not stuff-block back on me. I never liked to be stuff-blocked! So I discovered that once their block location was established, there were usually some wonderful left-handed crush spikes available, which would usually pass just to the right of the block and authoritatively hit the floor! The best, in competition and Tournaments, was when such top level blockers KNEW that they absolutely had me blocked, and they could not understand how I got the point on them! When one of their teammates would yell at them "he hit it left-handed" THAT was as good as it gets! As long as THEY didn't know which hand I was about to spike with, they not only could not set their block in the right location, but the (outside) person who had the responsibility of setting the block would sometimes become uncertain, and some blockers even knocked each other down!

For the record, the Outside Blocker is supposed to arrive a moment earlier than the Middle Blocker and center his block on the shoulder which the Spiker was going to try to Spike with. In other words, there are two different locations he would need to set the block at, depending on which hand he thought I was going to Spike with, around 18" different! And the Middle Blocker then runs over and plants his foot next to the near foot of the Outside Blocker and jumps vertically. So, depending on which hand the Outside Blocker thought I was going to Spike with, the entire double-block might be shifted 18" to the left or right! Since I made sure to not give away which hand I was going to spike with, the Outside Blocker never had a clue! And so I had affected the MINDS of both blockers, a lovely thing! Since even I didn't know which hand I would Spike with, I sort of waited until they decided where they were going to put the block. THAT usually caused me to decide, so that at least one of the blockers was entirely useless, if I selected the correct hand to spike with! Trust me, it is even better when their legs get tangled and the both fall down, and you have a free Court to place the ball anywhere! Sometimes, just seeing the expression on the Outside Blocker was a lot of fun, seeing all the confusion he was trying to deal with!

Volleyball is much a mental game, I think even more than a physical game. This anecdote is meant to show that. Players who were far taller than me might have an airtight block waiting for my hit, but that would only happen if I "agreed to play by their rules, right handed!" As long as I was alert to what they were doing, and adapted and made fairly good choices, I always felt that I was the one that was in control, and I certainly got a LOT of left handed kills. I don't think anyone kept good statistics back then, but I am tempted to think that I may have gotten more left-handed kills than right-handed for Purdue, in the very highest level competitions, just because the double-blocks were SO good regarding a right-handed hitter. (In lower level competition, I tended to hit right-handed at least 90% of the time, although I can't actually say why).

Position Specialization

Each player will generally switch to one specific position as soon after the serve as possible. Therefore, each person only needs to fully learn all the offensive and defensive responsibilities and intricacies of that one position. A front row player may be defined as a Middle Blocker, a Strong Side Hitter or a Weak Side (or Off-Side) Hitter. Wherever he is required to line up during the serve, he quickly moves to his specialty spot. If WE are serving, that's immediately, because we have a moment to make this change while the opponents are getting ready to receive our serve. If THEY are serving, we generally shouldn't switch immediately because that could screw up our serve reception efficiency. Therefore, we will often make the first play with our hitters NOT IN THEIR SPECIALIST POSITIONS. Then, as soon as we get the ball over the net, we do our switch(es). The exact same thing happens in the back row. The Setter always shifts over to near the sideline in the 1 (back-right) position, and the Middle Back and Power Alley players switch as necessary to be in their proper spots.


Consistency is the ultimate desire of all teams. That is the main reason for the switches of players to their specialist positions. Each player can focus his learning on the nuances of what happens for that position for all possible contingencies. He doesn't really have to fully understand or worry about what the other players are doing, as long as they are each consistent in what they do. The level of team play can greatly increase by this specialization. A front row hitter can concentrate specifically on 3 or 4 pre-called sets to that position and get used to the necessary adjustments due to setter mistakes or quirks and opponent defensive efforts. A Power Alley back-row player can learn and adapt to the hits he is supposed to dig and can get really focused on that responsibility without having to worry about balls lobbed over his head that HE KNOWS the middle back guy will get.

Regarding serve reception or defensive passing, many intermediate players seem to be concerned about who they're passing to. In the 6-2 offense, these serve receivers do not see anyone as a target to pass to, and they get nervous! With decent setters, this is generally an unnecessary concern. Players should attempt to pass to a spot, generally about at the hitting 5 position, slightly right of the center of the net, and 2 to 3 feet from the net, with a fairly nice arc. A setter from the back row is theoretically supposed to miraculously appear at that spot, set the ball, and disappear, without affecting or distracting any of the other players at any point. This theory allows the remaining 5 players to concentrate on the defensive responsibilities of their own positions without distraction and without worrying about complicating factors. (Some coaches add modifications [like the flip-flops mentioned above] to simplify the very busy life of the setters and to allow regular double-quick and triple-quick offense. As mentioned above, for intermediate teams, these modifications generally represent complications in the minds of the serve receivers and passers. It is generally NOT a good idea to use such Flip-Flops or other distortions of serve reception or defensive coverage. The advantage of saving a couple steps for the setter is far offset by the disadvantage of possible uncertainty and confusion on the rest of the players on the team.) A 6-2 setter's life IS really complex, but after players get used to it, everyone else actually has a simpler existence. The 6-2 is very advantageous for most teams. And even though it can sometimes seem an impossible task to be a 6-2 setter, it eventually can become a very fulfilling experience.

Serve Reception

I guess I'm pretty traditional. I suggest (virtually) ALWAYS using the 'W' pattern of serve reception. The front three people should be virtually straight across, about a step behind the 10-foot line, with a clear W pattern obvious. If a 6-2 is being used, those three people are all "officially" front row players. If a 4-2 is being used, one of the three is a back row player, whichever one is necessary to fill in the missing spot of the three needed places. The two players at the bottom of the W usually start off about two steps in front of the back line. (This depends on the level of competition, with weaker play having them a little closer to the net.) If a serve comes in above the waist of the front players, the agreed to convention is that the ball is supposed to be played by those back two. To make sure of this, the nearest front row player is supposed to quickly turn his body sideways to show that he will not play it. A W serve reception pattern is always available, whether the setter is in any legal starting position. Once the 'W' is in place (several seconds BEFORE the serve) the setter always has a preferred spot (and path). The entire 'W' can move forward or back a half or a full step in response to very weak or very strong servers.

There are some Coaches today who teach any of many assortments of this basic pattern. Many include what are called flip-flops, where one of the five receivers is removed from the reception pattern, with the single desire to make it so the Setter has a couple fewer steps to run to get to where he/she needs to set. IF the Setter is truly World Class, I would agree! But for virtually all Setters that I have ever seen involved with flip-flops, there was not the slightest value at all except toward the laziness of the Setter! Therefore, I very rarely see any merit in running flip-flops.

Many Coaches today simply decide to have a Serve Reception of fewer than five Receivers! Actually, I have played on truly high-level teams where there were two Receiving Specialists, who always received EVERY ball! In order to avoid illegal overlaps, the rest of the players were often bunched up in a corner! The result was that it resembled Beach Doubles, where you only HAVE two people to receive serve! Without having truly spectacular Serve Receivers, I have always seen value in having FIVE warm bodies receiving serve rather than four or three or two! I suppose their approach might be acceptable, as long as their specialists don't get hurt and don't have bad days! Still, I would rather be able to slightly adjust the pattern one way or another to reduce the size of the area of a player who is currently having some problems.

The reasoning that such Coaches give is usually minimal, and some Coaches do not even know why a flip-flop might even be appropriate. There ARE a few Coaches who have established their own approach toward this TEAM game, and their approaches may not always be fully compatible with these comments.

The logic of the 6-2 serve reception includes the following: About 60-70% of serves are expected to be taken by the back two players. These players are always legally back row players and cannot be front-row hitters. As soon as the three front row people are sure that they aren't supposed to pass this serve, this permits them all to begin to move to the spot to start their hitting approach. This is the reason for trying to have the two BACK ROW players receive most of the serves. On a short serve, one of the front three must pass the ball. If that hitter has a quick-set hit called, he may have trouble making his normal approach for that hit. That means that the setter suddenly has to improvise, which is often a bad thing! In principle, the 'W' serve reception is actually a 2-man serve reception pattern with 3 helpers on short or ferocious serves. The dependence on those two back row players to receive most serves relies on their passing ability. As long as all four non-setter players are equal passers, things are as good as possible. At high level play, however, teams require consistently perfect passes to run their double-quick and triple-quick plays. Such very high-level teams sometimes distort the 'W' beyond recognition in order to have their team's two very best passers ALWAYS receive the serve (even if they are front row hitters at the time). This system is usually called the 2-man serve receive. It eliminates all possible help the other 3 players could supply. (In a sense, it resembles Beach Volleyball doubles serve reception.) It also sometimes requires some of the non-passers to stand along the back line or in a back corner during serve reception! When watching nearly any country's Nationals team on TV, try to figure out the legal positions of each player! As a defender against such a team, I can state that it's a nightmare to keep track of who are the various front row hitters to block if you don't play close attention. Often, a setter on the team that is serving chooses to call out the three player numbers of the receiving teams front-row players. Without such help, I have occasionally been guilty of forgetting this and have gone up with a back row player's fake '1' allowing the guy I was supposed to defend to hit free. Coach was NOT amused! Intermediate teams should NOT use such distortions and Flip-Flops.

Each Position

Strong Side Hitter



Common Strong Side Sets (Five, Four and 32)


(This is shown for a right handed setter. 4 and 5 are adjusted for a left handed setter.)

Middle Hitter



Drawing of the net area showing **** 20 ft high

common Middle (1 and 2) sets and

common Weak-Side (Back 2 and 5) sets.


Weak Side Hitter




The responsibilities of a setter in a 6-2 offense are quite extensive and far beyond what could be covered here. For the most part, we are going to rely on the Lord to supply us with enough experienced setters for our Outreach teams. Only a few brief comments follow:

Back Row - Power Alley



Middle Back

Preliminary comments

Various Other Subjects


Most intermediate teams like to experiment with 'X' plays. It's the closest most people ever get to playing like "the big boys." If we do such experiments, these comments apply:

An 'X' is ONLY used when the opponents are serving to us, and only played ONCE immediately at the serve. It is also ONLY used when front-row serve receivers are not already in their "specialist" positions where a switch will eventually be necessary. The 'X' combines this switch within the offensive play itself. All serve receivers receive in their (original) normal positions. After the pass, the two hitters who will 'X' make angle approaches to the necessary hitting spots (their normal "specialist" spots). An 'X' ALWAYS involves a 1-high hit (first) and a 2-high hit second. The hitter for the 1 always crosses in FRONT of the other in order not to be delayed on his hit.

Under any other conditions, an 'X' is undesirable. If hitters are already in their "specialist" spots, an 'X' would move them to wrong positions where they would need to re-switch. Generally, the setter does not try the 'X' if either of them passed the serve, again for timing reasons.

There are actually three possible 'X'es, only one of which is usually logical to use. A Strong-side X could be used if the Middle and Strong need to switch (Index and Middle finger crossed). The Middle hits his normal '1', with the Strong hitting a '2' with a foot between their shoulders. A Weak-side X could be used if the Middle and Weak need to switch (little and ring fingers crossed). The Middle hits his normal '1' and the Weak hits a Back '2'. The third variety of X is virtually never used by teams at any level. It is the Wide X, where the two outside hitters need to switch. This X is so rare that no consistent location is even established for where it is to happen and there is no hand signal for it. There is also no consistent plan for where the Middle Hitter might hit at. In my entire volleyball career, my teams have only tried it 3 times. In each case, it got screwed up and failed.

A primary hoped-for effect of an 'X' is that the opponent blockers don't switch or shift coverage to still block both hitters. This is identical to the reasoning behind a "pick and roll" in basketball, where you're trying to get both defenders occupied with (either) one of you which leaves the other undefended. Adding a little confusion in the opponents often helps the team cause. Even an unsuccessful 'X' should cause them to have to be continually thinking of that contingency for the future. I have noticed that in tournaments, some teams run 'X' plays in their warm-ups but then never use them in the actual matches. There is value in this in that opposing coaches who see this may inadvertently add new distractions to their teams when commenting on this possibility just before a match.

The circumstances for the possibility of using an 'X' occur only about 20% of the time. 'X'es should probably be rarely used at intermediate levels of play.


Several Tandems are possible, but only the Strong Tandem is generally used.

Flip-Flop comments

Removing one person from the 'W' requires common sense adjustments to the server reception pattern, on the parts of all the receiving teammates. Either an "arc" or a "wiggly line" is appropriate depending on just where the hitters are and where their "specialist" positions are. If the Middle Hitter is actually in the middle to start with, such an outside flip-flop using an "arc" would have him receiving near one sideline and makes it less likely that he could get to his Middle '1'. Instead, he should receive near the middle of the court, with the player legally behind him shifting out wide to receive serves to near our Weak sideline.

Serving Comments

When practicing serves, you should practice at least 3 different varieties. In general, a hard, topspin serve, an intermediate normal serve, and a lob creampuff dead-ball serve are good choices to practice.

  1. In all normal game situations, you would virtually always use your intermediate serve which must be in bounds 80-90% of the time. It is meant to make sure the ball is put in play but allows the opponents a chance of making a bad pass.
  2. Your ferocious hard, topspin serve should still be 60% or better. There are only a few situations where you should consider using it. NEVER in a close game, whether you're ahead or behind. Seldom when you're way ahead, since that comes across as unsportsmanlike and non-Christian. NEVER right after your team has invested heroic effort into getting a sideout. NEVER when your team is presently playing well and just getting bad breaks. This only leaves the circumstance of being in the desperate situation of being far behind in a game where your team's spirit has been (temporarily) broken. In this desperation situation, a ferocious serve to try to get an ace could be your team's best hope. If you fail, your team was probably going to get snuffed anyway. If you DO get a couple aces, hopefully the team optimism returns which should enable ensuing team play, so you should go back to your normal serve rather than rolling the dice again. This is true even if you are still well behind. After all, you must get the ball in play to score points.

    Our team was actually in such a situation in the USVBA NAtionals on Long Island. We were down 10-14 (in an old-form 15 point TIMED game) where there were only 12 seconds left. I went back and suggested to our Server that he should try to wail on a topspin serve. He got an ace amd only 2 seconds were used up. He did it again and 4 seconds were used up so it was not 12-14. I went back and suggested NOT trying it again, and he made a moderate serve which got the ball in play. The play used up all the remaining time but we won the point and the score was now 13=14 so the game had to continue even though time had expired. The opposing team, even in the USVBA Nationals, seemed to get scrambled, and we won the game 16-14! It is the only time in my career where 'creative serving' really paid off!

  3. If you have total confidence in your team's play (compared to the opponents), knowing that we will prevail in any extended rally, you can use a creampuff (dead-ball, non-rotating) lob serve (98% or better). The lack of ball rotation (less than one-half rotation by the time the ball crosses the net) can cause some quirky jumps in the ball. And it gives your team a chance to win the play.

    Such a serve can even be served under-hand. In all cases, the trick is to make sure that your hand is slightly cupped (as it should always be for serves or spikes); the entire perimeter of your hand must contact the ball at the same instant; and you make a VERY conscious effort to keep your wrist from doing its natural snap. Many people will try this a HUNDRED times before getting ONE serve that is not spinning in the air. As you watch the ball leaving (which is extremely important, for feedback), you will see balls spinning in every imaginable way, but usually either backspin (because you let your wrist be too weak at the moment of the impact and it snapped backwards) or topspin (because you let your wrist do the forward snap that all hitting coaches always try to teach spikers). After you get one to fly with no spin, you will start to fully realize the importance of no wrist movement during a dead-ball serve.

    The value of a dead-ball serve is RELATED to the fact that it flies so slowly! The person who is to receive it has plenty of time to watch it come. More importantly, he/she also has plenty of time to watch it zig and zag in the air due to wind currents! This is especially true of indoor play, where the lighter ball is used. It does serious mind-games to you as the receiver to see the ball shifting several inches sideways or up or down and then back. IF you use this and get a point from a bad serve reception, YOU MUST make absolutely sure that you allow the same person to receive the next serve. If he/she shanks off that one, then you must make sure to serve EVERY following serve to that person, as long as they are not on the bench! It gets to a point where your serving ability is no longer the issue. That person is beginning to doubt if they are even capable of returning your serve, and all kinds of psychological problems are occurring inside their head. I have seen cases where I wondered if "professional help" might be appropriate after a match!

    OK. Say you had a little success at this. You already know WHO you are going to serve to next time. The best part is, so does he! Since there are already psychological things going on inside his head, I consider it fair to emphasize that! So, you are allowed several seconds before being required to serve, right? I get back there as quickly as I can, and I just start staring at that person! It actually motivates me to make sure of accuracy, but some opponents almost seem to have a breakdown. I recall at least 20 who, after realizing that I was going to stare right through them, would make a point of not even looking at me! Here, I am the person with the ball, about to serve, and about to serve to him, and yet he wouldn't even look at me. Can you see some advantages in that? (I must admit that I am not sure what the Lord would think about that maneuver. Is it sportsmanlike? I don't really know for sure. But I know that I am allowed a certain number of seconds before having to serve, and so I discovered an advantage of taking nearly all of that time. And I have to look somewhere, and I truly did think I got better focus and motivation to serve to that same person.

    In fact, some opposing teams would bunch several of their other players around my 'target'! I usually STILL lobbed a serve over them to force him to still play the ball, mostly for some additional psychological effect. But I admit that there were times when I just couldn't resist serving to a mostly empty court due to the 'convention of players' all back in one corner!

    By the way, in Beach Doubles, nearly all stronger players will explore the hubby-wife spot. There is some dividing line between where the two opponent players have previously determined specifies who receives the serve. In general, the strong-side player tends to take the middle, to be able to play a higher percentage of plays and then spikes. Nearly everyone has been around when a really accurate server keeps making slight adjustments toward the weaker player. For a while, the stronger player keeps reaching farther and farther, but then starts making poor passes. At some point, the weaker player chooses to take one. On the very next serve, it must go to that exact same spot. If you have found it, each of the two opponents assumes that the other will play that ball, and it just drops in, easy as pie. And then they yell at each other. I suspect the hubby-wife spot has caused some divorces, and it certainly has caused many competitive teams to break up. There is also the situation where BOTH decide to play the next ball, and there is no one to set the ball.

    Finally, still considering mush-ball or dead-ball serves, there is value in practicing a very high, underhand-served version of it, often called a Moon ball. Just serving high can have a tiny benefit, but usually not out-weighing the number of times that the ball lands outside the court. But if the very high serve is not spinning, the receiver has an extremely long time to watch the ball jerking around in the air. It is amazing how many really strong players will shank off some Moon ball serves!


Blocking is the part of the game that I have always been known for. Between sanctioned tournaments and sanctioned leagues, it appears that I have made around 100,000 blocks during my extended volleyball career. If Guinness cared, that might be a record! In any case, it is an area where I think I have some special expertise.

First of all, there are two overall approaches or concepts regarding blocking. The technically "correct" approach is called Area Blocking or Team Blocking. The other approach does not actually have a respectable organized name. The two systems will be discussed separately here.

Area Blocking

A blocker is part of a team effort. Team Blocking is done with that concept centrally in mind. Nearly all of the discussions of the back row players defensive responsibilities above have been based on this central concept. ALL really good teams ('BB' and higher) MUST use this approach, to enable the back row players to effectively participate in the defense. As mentioned in the various Position discussions above, for opposing outside hitters, the Outside Blocker lines the center of his body up with the hitting shoulder of the hitter, and continually adjusts to keep this true. In the event that the hitter decides to hit straight, the block will stop the hit. This precision of positioning is critical to the team concept, for several reasons. First of all, it intentionally actually allows a sliver of free court along the sideline available to the hitter. If he feels lucky, he might choose to try to hit just outside the block at that foot-wide strip of inbounds. Most hitters won't generally do that, because there's too much chance of hitting the ball out of bounds. Second, this positioning establishes the correct positioning of the block, so that the Middle Blocker, who necessarily arrives later, will know where to jump. This being done accurately, his hands block an area roughly at a 20 to 35 degree angle for the hitter, a favorite hitting angle, because geometrically, it represents a very strong hitting motion.

As long as these two blockers are consistently in the precise same positions, the two very strongest hits available to the hitter are discouraged. This only allows one remaining very strong hitting direction, that at about a 45 degree angle toward the middle of the court. But our team concept has arranged our Power Alley back row player to be exactly right at that one remaining spot. This now accounts for ALL of the ferocious hits. A somewhat weaker hit is possible at a more severe angle (say 60 degrees), but we have the opposite side front row player placed to receive this hit.

This now accounts for ALL significant hits (downward hits). The only remaining possibilities for the hitter are upward hits, dinks and roll shots (lobs). If a strong side hitter makes a dink just over the double block, this is a symbolic victory. The other team's strongest hitting position didn't even try to actually hit! In this single situation, our back-row Setter receives the ball. For absolutely any other UPWARD hit ball, aimed ANYWHERE beyond the 10-foot line, the Middle Back player HAS TO up it.

As long as BOTH of our blockers consistently present their blocks at the correct positions, our entire team concept works very well, and nearly every ball is either blocked or upped. Notice an important fact. The two blockers are Area Blockers. They are NOT necessarily actually trying to block everything they could reach. Their consistency of positioning is actually more important to the team concept than their individual blocking skills or effectiveness. The back row players can develop confidence in them of being consistent, so they soon learn exactly where they need to be and what they need to do to do their part in the team defense. I have played in games where I did not block a single ball, but I know that I contributed greatly to the team's defensive effort. Since hitters chose not to challenge my blocking ability, and I was consistent in precise placement of my attempts at blocking, they consistently hit balls that my teammates invariably upped. Even without being ever blocked, opposing teams get demoralized when they just can't seem to put the ball away!

There are a couple additional factors that affect how well this works. Specifically, the skill of the opposing setter and the ability of the opposing hitter. All this logic is based on the opposing setter being good enough to regularly set the ball around two or three feet from the net, and the opposing hitter then knowing what to do with it. If this strategy is used against a really terrible team, it works terribly! Our team commits two people to block when no actual hit will occur! And if their hitter can accurately lob the ball to the back corners, we really wind up having five bystanders and only one person actually being the defense! So, if you ever wind up playing against a really bad team, I recommend forgetting all this strategy and simply backing off into a serve-reception W pattern. Let them hit, and practice your serve reception skills! They're not going to win, are they?

The Alternative, regarding Blocking

All of the above has been described as being for 'strong teams'. The following comments may sometimes be useful for teams that do not fit in that category. For example, 'C' level teams and Co-ed teams of almost any level. I will use the example of a 3-3 co-ed team, with genders alternating. Generally, women are the setters on such teams. Some of the very, very best setters are women, but often they are not very tall. An opposing Strong Side Hitter often has a short woman directly across from him (in the 2, or Weak Side Hitter, position). No matter how significant a (male) Middle Blocker we have, the hitter can pretty much hit at will, straight, over the top of her little hands! As a hitter in Co-Ed tournaments, I have found it an easy way to win a LOT of points. Yes, it is chauvinistic! Sorry! As a Middle Blocker on such Co-Ed teams, correctly doing my Area Blocking thing, I have felt enormous frustration at watching countless hitter avoid my block by hitting directly over our girl outside blocker!

There are several other possibilities for this same situation to exist. On a Men's Team, sometimes the setters are really short and cannot significantly block. On some 'C' teams, the person judged weakest in the front row is shoveled over to the Weak Side Hitter position, where he/she never gets sets! That person is seldom a great blocker! In any case, it is a consistent and serious problem to be dealt with.

My solution is this. (ONLY for weak teams and for teams with circumstances as described here!) If there is a good blocker in the front row, then put him in the middle, and allow him to freely improvise in 'Psych-Blocking'. Only a single-block is even planned, where he is free to go sideline to sideline to block, with the other front-row players being either diggers or hiders! My thinking is this. Without a valid consistent double block, all the rest of the team strategy becomes somewhat irrelevant, since strong hitters are going to continuously bury balls straight down the line. In that case, of a free-hitting hitter, the BEST we can hope for is that he accidentally hits one out of bounds! NOT a very good plan! Since the lack of a solid and consistent double block has disabled nearly all aspects of the defense anyway, why not let a decent blocker freely range back and forth along the entire front row. With this concept, there is not even any attempt at making a double block! The short outside blocker actually normally assures a hitter of somewhere to aim! Instead, with this premise, those 'outside blockers' would step back (not so far as to be hit by a hard driven ball), to allow the Middle Blocker to go freely antenna to antenna.

OK. I admit that this is a really bizarre concept! Worst of all, our back row players do not have the slightest clue as to where a block might appear, so they have no possible information on where to place themselves. They are sometimes VERY distressed at the hot-shot psych-blocker! My thinking is that they weren't going to be much use anyway, not from THEIR fault, but from the lack of a solid and consistent double Area Block. Since we're in deep water anyway, why not let our one good blocker see what he could do.

Yes, he does get a reasonable number of blocks. But there are two side benefits from this weird strategy. Opposing teams are sometimes distracted by the oddness of what is going on, so their offense might make some extra mistakes. Better, if our blocker manages to get a few blocks, their hitters might panic and decide to do a dink or lob. We've got LOTS of people standing around for that!

In any event, I personally have seen great advantage of trying this for the sorts of weak defensive teams mentioned above, where a solid double block is not a reality. It has contributed to teams that I was on getting many thousands of points from blocks I managed to snag. From a team point-of-view, (for those teams!) that seems like a good thing!

There IS a dark side to this! IF a strong male blocker (such as me!) chooses to participate in BOTH strong Men's competition (where Area Blocking is absolutely mandatory) and also in Co-Ed competition (where the lack of valid double blocking encourages this peculiar strategy), I know from personal experience that there soon develops a great tendency to want to Psych-block when Area Blocking is the ONLY acceptable method. I have watched opposing hitter eyes and shoulder movements and approach, and have known that he was going to hit the ball just inside of my block. On a Co-Ed team, I would just slide my block over to simply block the hit for a point. But on a strong Men's team, even knowing that, it has often taken all of my self-restraint to NOT adjust my block, totally trusting my back row teammates to up that ball! (They nearly always did!) To KNOW that you could do something, but to intentionally hold back, for the benefit of the long-term team concept, is sometimes really tough. But those back row players have to KNOW that they can trust me to be where I am supposed to be. Even if I would be a hot-dog and block a few extra balls, the long-term effect on our back row play would not be worth the price.

These last comments should encourage great thought before you try using this approach. It may help you win a few extra games, but if your team is attempting to build a structured team, with mutual trust, it wouldn't be worth it.

Personal Blocking Skills

Of course, it helps to be able to jump really high, but that is not absolutely essential to good blocking. Being observant and logical are FAR more important, particularly if you are going to regularly be single-blocking (and not Area blocking). Most hitters got to their current hitting ability by becoming VERY consistent AND PREDICTABLE in their approach and their hitting motion. Watching each of them and learning can give you, as a blocker, a tremendous advantage over the great majority of decent hitters. (It will NOT be of much use if you wind up competing against Olympic or Pro players! I have occasionally looked like a total fool in that situation!).

Watch ANY hitter go through a hitting warmup ten times. You will soon see very consistent patterns that even he may not be aware of. Depending on where he intends to hit, he may approach at a slightly different angle. He may have his shoulder differently, like more forward or farther back, or lower than usual. REALLY beginning players tend to look in the direction they intend to hit, but even experienced players often make a quick glance, or turn their head very slightly one way or the other, for different hits. As the arm motion begins, most hitters display all kinds of clues as to what they are about to try.

Have you seen that TV commercial where Bill Russell commented that he got most of his blocked shots / rebounds BEFORE the opposing basketball player even took the shot? He was being extremely observant, watching for the exact same sorts of clues. A volleyball blocker can do this, and it is a LOT easier than most people think.

It's funny. Most hitters believe that THEY are in charge of whatever is about to happen. I never felt that. By being observant like that, I already had a lot of information about the likely tendencies of most opponents. (When at distant tournaments, against teams and players I had never seen before, while the other team was warming up with a hitting line, I would generally watch their hitters very carefully, looking for any patterns or clues. Many times, during the following match, I knew what their biggest hitter was going to do and was able to block him. At a tournament near Detroit, during warm-ups for the very first match of the tournament, one opposing hitter hit half a dozen balls down so hard that they bounced up and hit the very high roof of the building. Pretty intimidating! But he seemed to be extremely consistent is certain movements. In the first game, he allowed me to block him for eight consecutive points! Being ahead 8-0, we easily won the game and match. He was SO easy to read it was amazing! After those eight, he never even tried to hit again against us, even when I was in the back row! In the rest of the tournament, he and their team annihilated all of the other teams. So, we met them again in the tournament finals. Fortunately, he remembered me, and just dinked for the whole match, and we won! Their team [and he] were FAR stronger than we were, but his rigid consistency of hitting allowed us to beat them twice.)

There have been players who are so consistent and obvious like that, that even when they would hit back row hits (from ten feet back from the net), I could go down a specific distance and jump up, and he'd hit the ball right to me! Everyone would congratulate me for such things, but they really occurred more due to the stupidity of those hitters allowing me to look good!

I want to mention one other area regarding blocking. This is more logic. The hitter. The blocker. One-on-one. The hitter has to COMMIT to some plan, and then jump and hit. You, as the blocker have several advantages. First of all, YOU have not yet had to commit to anything (again, this is referring to single-blocking and NOT Area Blocking). So you have freedom to use that little bit of time after he has committed to his hit, to decide what you want to try to do. You can even increase the time you have for this by VERY slightly delaying when you jump. You can't wait a long time, but if you can jump even 0.1 second after he did (and you both jump the same height) you will be in the air (and capable of blocking and thinking) for 0.1 second additional. That isn't a lot, but it is sometimes REALLY helpful!

Between such a hesitation, the fact that you have time for observing and thinking and choices AFTER he has had to commit to a hit, and your 'scouting report' on that hitter, I believe that YOU have a tremendous advantage over most hitters! Let them THINK that THEY are in control! Let them be bewildered when you block a shot of theirs, or three hits, or five hits! If they never understand how or why you block them so well, you will OWN them! In future tournaments, they will remember your blocking effectiveness and be intimidated before you ever even do anything! It's GREAT!!!

Nearly everything discussed here has been mental and logical, being observant, and virtually no mention has been made of physical ability. A certain amount of ability is necessary, of course, but these comments are to suggest that almost anyone could greatly improve their blocking performance.

On most of the Men's teams I have ever played on, I was used as Middle Blocker. That's pretty unusual, because I'm just a little guy (6'1"). Often, the guy across from me was 6'6" or 6'8" or taller. It is always sort of fun to block such giants! In the locker room after tournaments, when we are all congratulating each other's teams, a number of times people would say (about my size), "Well, I could block pretty well, too, if I was 6'5". I take that as an awesome compliment. When I stand up next to them, and they see that I am no taller than they are, they say little else!

Be observant. Be logical. Use whatever skills and abilities you have. You can probably be at least three times as good a blocker as you think you are! And consider that, when YOUR team serves, the opposing team gets the first attack, so your blocking is often for POINTS, even better than side-outs!

In modern Beach Doubles tournaments, with the different scoring system, teams choose to receive rather than to serve. With every serve counting as a point, and if a team has decent serve receivers and strong hitters, it makes sense. But still, a blocker who is observant can occasionally get a nice block, and that one block can make the difference between winning and losing.

Ambidextrous Hitting

(Some of this was discussed above)
I am right-handed. However, after a serious injury to my right hand pinky in Seventh Grade, I vowed to try to learn any sports activity with either hand. Early attempts at clubbing at a volleyball in alleged spikes must have been hilarious.

At Purdue, the first Coach we had was somewhat cruel and even inhumane. Every day, we had to go through hitting lines for hours, hitting many hundreds of balls as hard as we could. There were some mornings when I woke up barely being able to raise my right arm. But, showing up later for practice, I was expected to hit hundreds of spikes. In a self-preservation move, I began to regularly take left-handed swings in the hitting line. It turns out that we hit so many balls that I eventually got really good at lft-handed spikes!

This has been a good thing for me! With all those thousands of hits, my left-handed hitting developed fairly quickly. Within a few months, I could bury a left-handed spike virtually as hard as my right-handed spike. Not quite as precisely though, maybe 3 feet instead of 1 foot for right-handed hits.

When ANY hitter is approaching the net for a hit, the defense builds its double-block based on the location of the shoulder of the hitting hand. That places the block to cover the correct angles for the Team Area Blocking strategy. I soon discovered that, in many such situations, when I realized that a double-block was about to snuff me, I could hit the ball left-handed, hard, to a spot where no defender and no blocker was! From the Strong-Side position, there is an impressive angle crush shot that hits the opponent's floor about 5 feet back from the net and in the middle of the court. No defender is anywhere near that spot (because it is a spot virtually impossible to get to right-handed) and the Area Double Block is irrelevant. I quickly found that it was gold, nearly 99% down balls! Since it made me look PRETTY good, I started really using it a lot. A side benefit was that, sometimes, the opposing oustide blocker couldn't decide whether he should set the block on my right shoulder or my left shoulder, and I could sometimes hit without any block at all! There is also a new available hit down the line, because there is no blocker in front of it. One can sometimes really terrify the setter that is standing there, with a very hard-hit and unblocked left-handed line shot! I found the same benefit to exist on what is called the Weak Side. In that case, blockers had to respect my left-handed power, which allowed me countless impressive right-handed severe angle kills! Pretty cool!

There is a downside. A right-handed hitter is asymmetric while approaching the net, with the hitting shoulder slightly behind and the body somewhat turned. Those things are necessary for maximum power. Some of the power in a Spike is developed in torquing the torso. Since I was regularly hitting with either hand, I discovered that there was an advantage for me to make my approach pretty much face-on to the net. The good part is that, even after I had jumped, I still had the option of hitting with either hand, and I usually decided that based on where the double block was. The slight downside is that a face-on approach eliminates some of the physiological twisting, torquing movements that add power to a spike. Therefore, my spikes (unfortunately) were reduced in speed to between 80% and 90% of my initial right-handed spike. Few people ever seemed to notice this slight reduction of spiking speed.

In my opinion, the tremendous advantage of being able to select which hand to spike with, AFTER a defense has committed itself, FAR outweighed the fact that the ball flew slightly slower. My number of kills greatly improved with the ambi-hitting. Maybe it wasn't as showboaty for fans, but innumerable sideouts and points arose from it. As a result, I encourage all players to investigate hitting ambidextrously.

The Team Concept:

The net effect of all this is as follows:

In every situation (except one), the setter DOES NOT ever play the first ball. This is to allow running all the set plays the setter has arranged with his hitters. If he would play the first ball, an alternate setter would have to set, which eliminates all the quick sets or combination sets (like tandems and Xs), eliminates one hitter, forces high sets and allows the opponents the time to ensure a double-block. The one exception is if the opponents strong side hitter dinks over the block. In that one situation, the setter always passes to the weak side hitter position, where the other setter usually is. Even if the opponent does a high lob 2 feet behind the setter, the Middle Back person is supposed to get it, again to still allow running the pre-set plays. It's weird to be a setter, seeing this easy-to-play high lob coming directly to me, and to leave the area! I must count on the Middle Back getting to that ball, to pass it to me up at the net! It's sometimes pretty spooky!

You can see from all this that if all the players on the team understand and play the same defense, there are very few weaknesses. Consistent defense can up virtually every ball that isn't blocked. That minimizes the likelihood of the opponents making points. Then our offense, by using all three hitters and some quick sets, make enough points until we have 15. Simple, isn't it?

Once all the team members are comfortable with the same offense and defense strategy, the only likely downfall tends to lie in sloppy passing. With intermediate-level ('B') players, such a team-spirited approach, would allow regularly winning 'B' tournaments and being very competitive in 'BB' tournaments. If passing consistency is developed, a team could play at even higher levels. In my opinion, if a team consistently passes to within 4 feet of the setter's hands 90% of the time, such a team could be very competitive at 'BB.' If to within 2 feet of the setter's hands 90% of the time, the same team could decently compete in 'A' tournaments, although I don't know about winning there! This is all with fairly standard hitters!

A friend of mine (Charlie, 5'7 tall) once moved to a new city and looked for serious volleyball to get involved in. The better teams there disrespected him for not being tall enough. He wound up playing in pickup games at a local YMCA. Eventually, he collected a set of very motivated athletes (mostly basketball players) that were all about his same height. None of them had ever received much recognition as athletes because of how short they were. Charlie took these people, none of whom had ever played any serious volleyball, and who therefore didn't know any strategy, and taught them to all think and act exactly as HE did.

It was an interesting team to watch! They never made mistakes! There were never any holes in the defense because they all thought with the same brain! For several years, they won virtually every tournament they entered, against teams that all averaged more than 6 inches taller than them! That proved to me how much volleyball is a team game, where the sum of six short players consistently won over opponents that were far taller and more athletically proficient. Keep that in mind!

Unfortunately, with this "team" concept where everyone is dependent on everyone else, if even a single team member is unfamiliar with his responsibilities and duties, the whole team suffers immensely. This is equally true of a single player's lazy effort. So all members must remember this onus in order to not let the teammates down.

Whenever a team has a new player or players who are not used to showing hand signals to the setter, I like to encourage the setters to say "yes" when he has seen the signal. This helps both the setter and the hitters to remember to do this. After a while, it become second-nature to automatically do it, but remembering at the start is hard. The hitters are supposed to be getting focused on the opposing server or the opposing hitter and shouldn't feel the need to turn around to make sure the setter has seen the signal. The hitters are supposed to show their hand signals until they hear the word "yes" three times which means that all three signs have been seen. When hitters only hear two "yeses", all three need to keep displaying the hand signal. The setter may not have yet looked at all three, or one signal may not have been readable, or somebody may have forgotten to show a signal. The three yeses approach reminds the one who forgot to be spurred to show a sign; the other two hold their sign until certain it has been seen. From the hitters' points-of-view, it is reassuring to hear that your desires have been noted, and you can then get fully focused on the opponent server.

There is one other observation I have to share. I have sometimes noticed that players new to the 6-2 who suddenly have the option of calling their own sets, seem to go berserk. On every single play, they each call for a random assortment of sets. It's understandable to get carried away with a new toy, but this sort of thing is often a nightmare for some setters (including me!) The setter has so many things to be thinking about, that he's pretty much occupied. When he also has to deal with new and exotic set choices from all three hitters on every play, life gets even more complicated. SO, in appreciation for your setters, I request your indulgence for setters everywhere to stay within reasonable bounds with your requests. Setters on teams who pass poorly enjoy seeing "5 - 2 - 5" pretty often. In general, these are the default sets anyway. Optimistic hitters on such a poor-passing team sometimes call for "4 - 1 - back2" (triple-quick offense), none of which can be set on a bad pass. What is a setter supposed to do in such a situation? He soon tends to ignore all of those requests and just set high balls. If a hitter expects to get good sets from a setter he needs to consider just what the setter has to work with. The ideal situation from most setter's points-of-view is for each outside hitter to generally choose between a high ball (Five) and one single quicker option. In the middle, the equivalent is the "2" and the "1". Occasional variations from this sort of pattern are fine, but hitters should generally repetitively practice and refine just a couple options, to have confidence in them "at crunch time."

The 6-2 includes the most consistent offense and defense against reasonably strong teams. There is an odd aspect about it though. If a team uses the 6-2 against a very weak team, it can look pretty bad. If the opponents' efforts at sets are often 8 feet back from the net, our double-block is seldom effective. If that opponent hitter becomes intimidated by our big blockers, he may not even hit but just consistently dump the ball over the block into an area that is pretty vacant. (This is especially true if we are running the high power version of the 6-2 defense, where the Middle Back plays very Deep.) If that opponent team accidentally or intentionally dumps a first or second ball over the net and just over our front line, we can look pretty bad! If your team regularly finds itself in this situation, you're in the wrong league! Find better competition! If it occasionally happens, make temporary adjustments. Maybe don't block; back off and cover rolls, lobs and dumps. Maybe play Middle Back "UP" against weak opponents to be in position to up all these dumps. (I personally find that in strong Men's play, Middle Back "Deep" is best, but for most Co-ed teams where there are a lot of single blocks, Middle Back Up is more advantageous. Use common sense in such situations. Don't let dogmatic belief in the 6-2's strengths blind you from recognizing that it also has a few weaknesses under some circumstances.

I recommend that ALL of the team players read ALL of the strategy sections and learn the position-appropriate sections of the above. Even the sections about positions other than their own "specialty" position. If each player develops confidence and respect for all of the teammates, it will be possible to concentrate more fully on his own responsibilities. The team effort will benefit from that!

Volleyball Anecdotes

Some anecdotes are included in the text above.

A peculiar way to meet a future wife!

I guess I was somewhat spoiled regarding winning most games, although in non-Tournament situations, I was usually setting teammates rather than trying for impressive kill shots. There was one notable exception! During my regular visits to Fort Lauderdale, in the late mornings, we stronger players played Beach Doubles on one particular net at the south end of Fort Lauderdale Beach. Around Christmas and Spring Break, the College crowd would get to the Beach around noon (after heavy drinking the night before!) And they would usually be aggressive in wanting to take over the net, so that they could play sixes. I often would convince my Doubles partner to humor me where I would tell the College boys that this Beach had a standing rule that a team had to 'win the Court' and so they needed to go through the formality of having a sixes team win a game from the Doubles team that currently owned it. They would usually buy that story, and they expected to skunk our Doubles team, where they could then have their expected sixes games. But, of course, they had NO idea of how good some Doubles teams were, and, every day, my Doubles team ALWAYS won, usually 15-0 or 15-1 (the older scoring system was then in use). The College boys were always confused as to how they lost, and all the other College boys would be laughing at them. So there was never more than a few seconds before a 'better' sixes team was on the Court to take the net from us. Of course, they also lost. Even an hour later when they were trying to form 'all-star teams' of the best College players they had, no team would ever get more than about five points against us. The College boys saw that we were not nasty or mean or cruel, and we would play along regarding us being 'really lucky'.

As everyone was enjoying this 'challenge' to them, sometimes after a few hours, a playful College guy would comment that 'it was his teammates' that were causing them to lose. Such guys were never serious, as they had big smiles as they said that. But some of them knew that gave me an opportunity to ASK if he wanted to receive more of my Spikes, and the answer was always 'yes'! Sometimes I would ask a following question, regarding whether he wanted the Spike to come toward his face or toward the Beach right in front of him (which always got a laugh in everyone). I would never aim at anyone's face, but they always said the Beach anyway! So for that game, it pretty much rained volleyballs to that guy, which he generally missed completely or shanked off. When he actually upped a ball, there would be a big cheer for him!

(I'm getting there!)

Around sunset, maybe five pm, the Beach volleyball ended for the day, and I would usually go to a Skyline Chili for dinner, and then I would show up around 6:30 or 7:00 at a bar that had a lit sand volleyball court (which was somewhat rare at the time). Better players might get a few Doubles games in but we always expanded the games to sixes (or even occasionally nines for some crowds) to let more people enjoy playing. The sixes teams were made of whoever wanted to be on the Court, from kids to grandmothers, so we better players 'behaved' (except for the once regarding me!)

So this one evening, around January 3, 1988, I wind up on a team which could not do ANYTHING in volleyball, where the most successful plays were when a person simply passed the ball back over the net to the opponents, and we lost a game where I do not think I ever even touched the ball! So we sat out while the next team took our place, and they won. So now, essentially our same team is back on the court, and we are quickly headed for another terrible game. But when the score was around 0-12, we somehow got a side-out and it was my turn to Serve.

I realized that we were dead-meat and that after one 'behaving' serve, we would give up the ball and again lose 0-15. So I abandoned my 'behaving' and Served one of my best Serves. I had a severe top-spin serve (due to snapping the wrist) which I could Serve about as fast as I could Spike, really ferocious. In the past, even very, very strong Beach Doubles players rarely could up that Serve. (No one knew, but that Serve caused my lower back severe pain as I Torqued my body to do it, so I learned many years earlier to limit the number of those ferocious Serves). But this night, I was really irritated at 'playing volleyball' where our team was so very bad that no one even ever got to touch the ball except for the one who tried to receive a Serve.

So I wailed on one of those Serves, which I rather blindly aimed at the middle of the opposing court.

It turned out that a truly gorgeous tall long-haired blond was there, a girl who could have replaced any of the girls in the then popular Swedish Bikini Team TV commercials. At that moment, that detail was irrelevant, and I was merely letting off some steam for being on such a terrible team!

The beautiful blond girl shanked the ball which landed up on the roof of the bar, but it bounced and rolled back down for us to continue playing. It was rather quiet after that Serve of mine, as certainly no one there had ever seen a Serve that was so fast. But then a quiet female voice said "Is that all you've got?"

I looked across and saw the blond getting in position to receive another Serve. So I asked her if she wanted another try! She said "Sure!" and I served another strong Serve to her. She shanked that one off too, but with a big smile! I then gave her a look to implicitly ask if she wanted another and she nodded and waved me on. That one got shanked off too. During those 15 Serves, she shanked a couple of them out onto the busy highway, but she never backed off. Her teammates probably were glad that I was not Serving to any of them, as they clearly knew that they would have done no better. About when WE were ahead 14-12 (and she had tried to Receive those 14 very hard Serves), I looked across and saw that both her arms were blood red! To see such a beautiful young girl with such nasty-looking arms, I thought I should stop. But I knew that we would lose the game if I did not Serve one more Ace, so I did.

I was very well-known at that bar, so I asked one of the Waitresses to get two wet towels to put on the girl's arms while she sat at the bar. I felt really bad about what I had just done, and in the following game, I Served 'nicely' and we again lost 0-15. So I sat down at the bar near the beautiful blonde. I was then 42 years old and she was clearly around 20, so I never had the slightest idea of anything developing, but we talked for quite a while. She told me that she lived on the other side of Florida and that she had never been to the Fort Lauderdale area ever before, and that she only came because her boy friend came to play in a Beach Volleyball Tournament on South Beach. I never met him but her descriptions were of an amazingly arrogant guy who considered her as an 'accessory'. They were staying at the Motel associated with the bar we played at, and he had NOT invited her to watch him play in his Tournament but to 'sit around the Motel room to wait for him.' I remember thinking, Wow, ignoring such a beautiful girl. She also told me that the boy-friend was going to drive back across the State the next morning, so that evening would be the last time we would ever see each other.

I mentioned that I played at several different Beaches where good volleyball was played, and I mentioned that there was one net at Clearwater Beach that I enjoyed playing. She was familiar with that net on that Beach. I asked if she ever played in any of the Doubles Tournaments there, and she told me that her boy-friend made clear to her that she was not a good player and so she was never allowed to play in any Tournaments. So I told her that I thought she was a reasonably good player and I suggested that, maybe, some day, when I happened to be at Clearwater Beach, it might be possible for she and I to get into a Beach Doubles Tournament.

Considering that she was with her boy-friend and she was around twenty years younger than I was, and that she was drop-dead gorgeous, I considered that possibility to be about as good as it could get! She gave me her phone number for that purpose.

Since I had flown down that trip, and she had indicated that some very good volleyball was happening at that net on Clearwater Beach, I decided to see for myself. And I called her to mention that I intended to get to Clearwater Beach on a coming late morning. She was there and we had a chance to Pepper since no one else had yet arrived. I had to quickly teach her the basics of Doubles volleyball, but maybe 15 minutes later, her boy-friend and his Beach Doubles partner arrived at the net. THEY insisted on waiting until another strong player arrived before starting a game, but I told them that I could have her as my partner in a Doubles game against them. I realized that a good men's Doubles team that played in Tournaments was nearly certain to win, but I thought it would give her a chance to experience playing Beach Doubles.

I definitely had motivation to put a lot of craters in their half of the Court, and she set the ball well. The men were both generally serving to me, which gave me a lot of chances for Spikes (and Kills and points). She WON the very first Beach Doubles game she ever played in! And we even won the next game, too, even though both of the men were clearly upset and they served and hit nearly everything to her and not me. But I explained to her that if she could bump a ball up high, I might be able to Spike on the second hit, which contributed to us winning that second game.

The boy-friend's Beach Doubles partner then announced that he had to leave (so her life total of Beach Doubles was 2-0!) and the three of us went to have lunch at a restaurant. He really struck me as a total jerk, but of course, I never said that to her. The good thing was that she now realized that she was a good enough player where she might be able to compete in Beach Volleyball Tournaments!

Since I also always drove or flew to Florida to play volleyball for several weeks around Spring Break, I called her a few weeks later to ask her if she might want to try to find a Volleyball Tournament somewhere near St. Pete or Tampa or Clearwater. She said that she would look.

I had given her the (free) 800 phone number that I had for my manufacturing company, which I told her also rang at my house and that no business calls ever occurred in the evening. So whenever she might hear of a Volleyball Tournament, she could call me and let me know when and where. She called me one evening, crying. She then had THREE jobs, so she was rarely at her apartment, but one day she had come home for lunch and found her boy-friend having sex with some girl in HER BED! We talked for many hours as I tried to calm her down. She wound up calling me virtually every evening after that, and we always talked for hours.

She did not find a Tournament but we agreed that I would fly down in March and she said she would meet me at the Tampa Airport. It was morning, but to see a drop-dead gorgeous tall blond in an impressive red evening dress, in an Airport, was a moment I still remember perfectly, 25 years later! She then drove me home to her apartment. I explained that I had brought my tent and sleeping bag and I intended to tent-camp at a State Park a few miles north. When she insisted that I stay with her, I rolled out my sleeping bag on her living room floor, but she had different ideas! She soon called me into her bedroom and I saw women's underwear unlike anything I had ever seen before! She did not let me leave her bedroom for more than three days after that! We wound up getting Married about four months later!

Volleyball has benefits that I had never guessed!

But I also note that if I had happened to get on a team with ANY decent set of volleyball players that evening, I never would have used my anti-social Serve, and that beautiful girl would have never had cause to even talk to a man who was twice her age! So I guess there is even a place for teams that don't know what they are doing!

Christian Sports Outreach

This presentation is the result of my lifetime experience of playing and coaching volleyball, at high and intermediate levels. This presentation was first placed on the Internet in June 1999. It has been accessed more than 200,000 times since then. I suppose that if I had published it as a book, I might have gotten rich as a result of volleyball, which never remotely happened otherwise! There were no giant cash prizes for winning Tournaments while I was playing competitively! I think that a few hundred dollars was the most we ever got for winning! Usually, we won either Trophies or Tee-Shirts!

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C. Johnson