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Learn Volleyball by Position: Setters

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Let’s talk volleyball by each position on the court and how that player practices her skills

Gallery Photo: Huskers vs. St. Mary’s Volleyball Gallery

This is a series about volleyball written from the different perspective of each position on the court. I’ll write about setters, middles, left side hitters, right side hitters, liberos and coaches. We’ll discuss how they approach the match, what they practice and their role on the court.

When I start to teach anyone about volleyball and we get to the setter position, I normally start with a quarterback analogy. The setter, in volleyball, touches the ball on every play (the second contact) and chooses which of the offensive options she will set. This follows nicely with the quarterback comparison who receives the snap (second contact), then chooses which offensive player to throw or hand off to, based on what the defense is doing.

The setter also calls the plays for the team, something she’ll do prior to the serve. Here’s a tip: Watch the setter’s hands when her team is about to receive serve. She will hide them from the other team with her shirt as she makes signals to each hitter. Each hitter gets a hand signal to tell them what set she will give them off the first pass.

Side note: If the rally goes on for multiple times across the net, these roles can switch as it becomes the hitters who are then normally calling out, or making audible calls of what set they want. Consider the quarterback analogy again. During a hurry up scenario, say, a two-minute drill, after a few scripted plays it may be the wide receiver or tight end who says, “I’m open down the seam”, or whatever. Same idea here with the setter during a long rally.

After scouting and watching film, most of the time a coach and setter have worked out prior to the game or during a time out what sets to make in each rotation. However, in my experience, the setter gets a good amount of say in what she is calling in-game, this is especially true for the experienced setters.

I expect Nicklin Hames is making a large amount of the on the court decisions about what sets she calls as well as which ones she sets. A setter’s experience gives her a good sense of what blockers are doing and what their own hitters are ready to do. This experience leads to winning offensive choices. As they say, “don’t coach the ball”. A good head coach knows this and entrusts his setters to make in game decision.

Her experience in games and practice includes a knowledge of who is in the front row for the other team, and also where they are blocking. Knowing where the good, and not so good, blockers are for the other team allows the setter to choose the best match up for her hitter. A slower middle on the other team gives Lauren Stivrins an advantage especially when she runs a fast slide behind the setter. A shorter blocker in front of Lexi Sun allows her to hit over or more easily off of the hands of that shorter blocker. A setter always knows where the blockers are for the other team.

Not only does she know where the blockers are but she watches them in her peripheral vision to know if they are moving. Collegiate setters will drill and practice to know when a block moves. Consider this common drill in practice: Ball is served, setter is facing her passers with her back almost parallel to the net. As the ball is passed, a person on the other side of the net holds up a number on their hand, the setter needs to see the number while also watching the passer and making the set from the pass. This drill improves her vision of the whole court and in a match make it more likely she sees when the opposing middle blocker leaves early.

Why does it matter? If the opposing middle blocker is leaving early, they are worried about getting to their blocking position for an outside hitter. That means Jazz Sweet, Lexi Sun or Madi Kubik is having a good match and the middles are worried about them getting kills. It also means Stivrins or Callie Schwarzenbach are open for a kill! Give em the ball!! The setter needs to be able to see this and then of course be able to execute this.

Setters go through MANY repetitions to be able to give the ball to the hitter in the exact spot they expect it. The timing of the hitter depends on placing the ball in the right spot at the right speed for her to hit it so hard as we all enjoy. That means that the setters set thousands of balls every practice.

Most offensive systems in volleyball number or label zones across the net and then specify how high the ball will go above the net. A 52 set would go to zone 5 on the net (the left antennae) and be 2 feet above the net. In general, there are 9 zones on the net and the height of the set can range between 1-4 feet above the net. Systems can vary widely, but many teams will have 20-25 offensive sets that they use in any given match.

If you get to a match early and watch the setters, (an hour before the match starts is my favorite part of any match because you can watch ALL the players playing, practicing and the volleyballs are everywhere. I never miss warm ups!) they warm up by setting every set in the offense. Normally a team has two setters, a starter and back up. Both players will set every zone on the net for a perfect pass, then do it all over again for a not so perfect pass (to the ten foot line). In this warm up alone each setter sets 100-200 balls.

Shake the hand of a setter sometime…her hand muscles are strong!

This is the game from the setters perspective and what she practices to make the team better. What else do you see her do? Ask questions in the comments section.