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Setting: a "hands-on" primer for winning points at the net.

The skill of setting is crucial to every team's success. Your team's setter and all other players who deliver a controlled ball to be attacked by a teammate must be able to set effectively.

The ability to attack and score points effectively corresponds to a player's ability to deliver a ball that is expected and located at the point the attacker wants it. Generating consistency in setting begins with creating many opportunities in practice for players to gain confidence using their hands.

When players begin to learn and practice the skill of setting, the main objective for the coach should be developing their confidence in touching the ball with open hands. A second objective should be the quality of the contact. A third objective should be developing skills in deception and guile.


Too often, the only volleyball violations beginning players know are those involving the "double contact" or "lift." The strict adherence to these two rules for a beginner often leads him or her to resort to forearm passing all future setting opportunities, especially after a violation has been called.

As a result, this yields fewer setting repetitions and an overall decrease in consistency in location and speed of each set. One of the worst things to see in beginners' volleyball is, after being called for a lift, how a player who has the opportunity to touch a ball with his or her hands chooses to duck away and use the forearms instead.

A good rule for coaches in teaching setting is the more inexperienced the player, the more leeway should be given when it comes to hand contacts.

Another guideline to keep in mind when teaching setting is that floor setting is often good for the beginner who lacks shoulder and wrist strength.

Floor setting is also easier than jump setting because of the external opposing force (the floor). Once the setter learns to jump set, he or she should jump set all the time. Usually players will release the ball from their hands quicker when jump setting, and some hitters (middles hitting quick sets) find it easier to hit from a setter who jump sets rather than sets from the floor.

To be sure, setting the ball requires more than confidence. Footwork, body position, and consistent movement technique are all important components of setting.


Body position refers to the setter's positioning just prior to, during, and following contact with the ball. The setter should be upright in stance with feet shoulder-width apart. Shoulders are over the toes with a slight flex at the waistline. The head is up. The feet are shoulder-width apart with a heel-toe relationship (Diag. 1). In other words, whether the player is floor setting or jump setting, the feet should be in the same relationship. Shoulders should be loose, relaxed, and forward (as opposed to upright).



Much has been written on setting footwork. Which step is correct? Which is incorrect? Stating simply, "Your left foot goes here" and "Your right foot goes there" is not practical in teaching today's setters. The setter position requires athleticism and the ability to adapt to a variant pass.

Training and development should mirror the skill itself. Footwork can be broken down into four simple phases: get to a target, be ready to move from the target, beat the ball to the spot, and stop and set. Regardless of their skill level in other components involved in setting, players can enjoy early success by executing proper footwork.

Let's look at each of the four phases in detail:


Get to a target ... any target (predetermined by the coach and team, of course) ... but get there.

The setter releases from his or her court position at the moment of contact by the server. The ball traveling from server to passer and passer to target should allow the setter enough time to get from any court position to the target (Diag. 2). A common mistake for setters in this phase is to sprint to the attack line and then drift to the net. Remind your setters that the attack line (three-meter line) is not the finish line to his or her race.

The target can be the center of the net or just right of center or on the right sideline. Regardless of where the ball is after the first pass at contact (after a serve or attack not directed at the setter), the setter needs to sprint to the target as quickly as possible.


Getting the right foot (the one closest to the net) to touch the center-line is also important for the next phase, "Be Ready to Move from the Target."

Often overlooked in training and game play, the initial phase of getting to a target will help setters tremendously because the act itself creates space between the setter and the passer, allowing the setter more time to judge and adapt to the pass. It will also provide natural, dynamic balance after a few, short practice sessions.

Dynamic balance is the ability to remain balanced while moving. A sprinter with a moving start will always beat a sprinter of equal speed who begins from a static starting position.

Larger steps yield to smaller steps as the setter approaches the target (most athletes will do this naturally), and as steps become smaller, they should become quicker to allow the setter to slow down at a faster rate.


Movement from the target should occur on every pass. The movement should become automatic and should occur whether a ball is passed 20 feet away from or directly to the target area. When dealing with the errant pass, the first thing the setter should do is step from the target area to the area where the pass is headed.

For some players, this is not as easy as it sounds. Often, a player will take a "false step" to get into a dynamic balance position and waste valuable seconds distributing his or her weight to an appropriate moving position. If you watch videotape of setters in phase 1 through phase 2, you should be able to pause the tape and watch frame-by-frame continuity in movement.

A setter should adjust his or her feet even when the ball is passed directly to him or her because that dynamic balance scenario will, in fact, remain constant. Without these adjustment steps, players often try to adjust the hips or shoulders and become off balance in delivery. The setter's proficiency in phase 2 will develop in relation to his or her ability to judge passes, as well as his or her overall agility and movement skills.


In phase 3, the goal is to anticipate where the ball is going to land and to get there before it does. Setters can get a head start on where the pass is going to go based somewhat on watching the passers prior to contact with the ball.

If the passer has established a good passing platform prior to contacting the ball, and if he or she is still and calm, the setter can assume the pass will be of better quality than if the passer has made a bad read and is scrambling to get his or her forearms on the ball. The setter will have a much easier time adjusting if he or she can get a look at the passer before he or she passes the ball.

Many advanced setters can arrive at the ball's intended location at the same time as the ball or a fraction of a second beforehand. An offense has no change to deceive defensive blockers when the setter arrives too late to the ball location. If setters get to the intended ball location before the ball gets there, hitters can focus on the setter rather than on the ball.

How many times have hitters said, "I just didn't think he [or she] could get there and get me the ball." Beating the ball to the spot also allows the setter to adjust and prepare for the act of setting the ball to a hitter.


Stop and set is the final and most critical of the four phases of setting footwork; the fewer extraneous movements that the setter must adjust for, the easier the delivery will be.

Setting a ball from the same body position requires the setter to execute phases 1 through 4 before ever touching the ball. Coaches use the term "float" to identify when the setter jumped from one spot, set the ball, and landed in another spot. Floating can be eliminated by stopping and setting.

Excerpted from "Volleyball Skills & Drills" by the AVCA. with permission from Human Kinetics.

(Reprinted from the superlative coaching text, "Volleyball Skills & Drills," by the American Volleyball Coaches Association, edited by Kinda S. Lenberg, and published by Human Kinetics, Champaign, IL. It contains 208 pages and may be ordered by calling 800-747-4457 or online at

By Sean Byron

Head men's and women's coach at Rutgers-Newark (NJ)
COPYRIGHT 2005 Scholastic, Inc.
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Title Annotation:VOLLEYBALL
Author:Byron, Sean
Publication:Coach and Athletic Director
Date:Oct 1, 2005
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