Never Chance Foreseen Success
Jessica Poelker Libero/Setter Grad.-2015
Wall of Fame 2011
Coaching Articles
Never Chance Foreseen Success
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(Very) Basic Volleyball Strategy & Tips

Level of Play
Receiving Serve
Typical Play
First hit
Second hit
Third hit
Other hints/tips
Some ball handling violations

Level of Play

The descriptions to follow are for a very basic level of play. At virtually all higher levels, players specialize at particular tasks (e.g. setting) rather than using court position to determine the player's roles as indicated below. There are a number of basic strategies that employ such specialization to various degrees. For more information on these more intermediate and advanced configurations, see the other volleyball sites listed below.

                                    Receiving serve
                                    The following is a reasonable position to take when receiving serve:
                                    server --> x                                \
                                    x    x                       |
                                    | serving team   
                                    x    x    x                      /
                                    5         <--setter         \             
                                    4    2    6                       | receiving team  
                                    3     1                        /       
                                    5 - front/centre person (the "setter") moves up close to the net and
                                    waits.  Short balls to the centre are 2's responsibility, not
                                    5's.  If 5 takes the serve, then someone else must be the setter.
                                    2 - back centre person covers the forward centre court area including
                                    short shots that just make it over the net.
                                    1+3 - outside back row players cover the back court both the side and
                                    behind the centre person if they can't hit it (because they've moved
                                    4+6 - outside front row players (4) cover from the sides to the centre and
                                    up to the net.
                                    ** Don't forget to call the ball!
                                    Attacking (right-side attack)
                                    x    x    x
                                    x        xx
                                    5  o6                    \
                                    4     2                       |
                                    | attacking team
                                    3    1                      |
                                    6 - attacker (4 for left-side attack)
                                    2 - back centre person covers the forward centre court area toward
                                    attacker in case the blockers successfully return the ball
                                    5 - front/centre person (setter) moves slightly back from net and
                                    covers for the block
                                    4+3+1 - front outside (non-attack side), back outside (non-attack side)
                                    and back outside (attack side) cover further back in court for
                                    a deep or tipped block
                                    For left side attack formation is symmetric.
                                    Defending (attack from right)
                                    x    x    x
                                    x    x    ox
                                    56                     \
                                    4      2                         |
                                    | defending side
                                    3       1                       |
                                    5+6 - middle front and middle right (left for attack from left side)
                                    should block.  Block the diagonal primarily since attacking down
                                    the line is more difficult (shorter court).
                                    USE DOUBLE-BLOCKING AGAINST GOOD ATTACKERS!
                                    2 - back centre person covers the forward centre court area toward
                                    attacker (and blockers) to cover the tip
                                    4+3+1 - front outside (non-attack side), back outside (non-attack side)
                                    and back outside (attack side) cover the back court for dinks or
                                    solid attacks
                                    For attack from left side formation is symmetric.
                                    Typical Play (non-specialized positions)
                                    All three hits are used.
                                    first hit:  "pass"/bump to the "setter"
                                    (person in front row center at net)
                                    second hit: Setter "sets" to left or right side (ideally calling the
                                    side or person's name) so the front left or right player
                                    can attack.  Whenever possible, the _setter_ should play
                                    the second hit (and yell help when he/she can't get to it).
                                    third hit:  attack (spike tip or volley) or recover/save (when the first
                                    or second hit is poor)
                                    blocking:   blocking the opponent's attack (usually done on a spike) to
                                    put the ball back down into their court   
                                    First hit
                                    Object: To control ball and put it nice and high (to give setter and
                                    others time) a few feet back from the net (to avoid going over
                                    and for an easier set).
                                    Probably the most important basic shot since if you can't
                                    bring the ball under control, everyone ends up having to try
                                    to save it to stay alive and you never get to "attack" to
                                    regain serve or earn a point.
                                    Hints - call the ball if it's not clearly yours (and maybe even if it is)
                                    - keep arms straight (to avoid hitting inaccurately)
                                    - hit with "fleshy" part of arm (arms turned "out" and closer
                                    to the elbow than the wrist) to "dampen" ball
                                    - "push" it into the air with arm and legs rather than
                                    "bouncing" it off bone which is far less predictable
                                    - bump high enough that the setter can volley it easily
                                    (without lying on their back on the floor :-)
                                    - most important is to control it and get it generally toward
                                    the front/centre of the court
                                    Second hit
                                    Normally the second hit is _always_ by the setter, so unless they
                                    absolutely can't get to it (in which case they should yell "help")
                                    you should just "back them up" (but give them as much room as
                                    If someone other than the setter gets the second hit, they should
                                    still MAKE AN ATTEMPT TO SET the ball to one of the attackers.
                                    In this case, be careful not to set too close to or over the net,
                                    which is a common error when setting toward (rather than parallel
                                    with) the net.
                                    Object:  To place the ball a few feet back from the net to the left or
                                    right side to allow the player there to "attack" (with a spike,
                                    tip or even a volley).
                                    Hints - call it and move quickly to get under the ball to volley
                                    - always use a volley when possible rather than a bump  
                                    because with practice, volleys are _much_ more precisely
                                    - set the ball a few feet back from the net so that the person
                                    has space, otherwise they'll often hit it into the net or have
                                    to hit it straight up or take it off the net to get it over
                                    *** This is especially true for "attackers" who can't reach
                                    net height since as the distance to the net decreases, the
                                    upward angle necessary to hit ball over the net increases
                                    dramatically, resulting in most balls close to the net going
                                    into the net (or straight up to be hit down by blockers)
                                    - set nice and _high_ to give the attacker(s) time to set up
                                    Third hit
                                    With a good set, use it to attack (spike/tip/volley) rather than
                                    just hitting it over easily.  People on both sides of the front row
                                    should be prepared to attack (i.e. to have the setter set to them),
                                    even if the setter is facing away, because they can always "back
                                    set" if they want.  With a poor set, "make sure" it gets over
                                    (either a bump or volley, though a volley is generally better if
                                    possible), preferably deep and relatively high to give your team
                                    time to get back to positions etc.  
                                    Object: To hit the ball with significant speed/force in order to hit
                                    the ground in the opponents court, to go out off the opposing
                                    team's block or to make their defense (bump to setter) more
                                    NOTE: Spikes must be brief hits, not long contacts with the
                                    ball (which is usually either directing or carrying).
                                    Hit the ball like you do when you serve it, _don't_ push
                                    or throw it (illegal).
                                    Hints - if you don't already know how to spike, start by hitting it
                                    like a solid overhead serve (with the heel of your palm)
                                    - if you can't jump high enough to reach over the net, remember
                                    to hit it slightly upward (again like a serve)
                                    - try not to spike from too close to the net (you'll hit it or
                                    make it very easy for a blocker)
                                    - usually hit down the line or along the diagonal
                                    - if you often hit too long, go for the diagonal since there's
                                    more court (both lengthwise and widthwise) to hit into.
                                    - keep you eye on the ball
                                    - a good set makes all the difference
                                    - The net is basically the same height as the average ceiling
                                    (2.43 meters/8 feet) so if you can jump and touch your
                                    palm on a typical ceiling you can spike for real with
                                    enough practice.
                                    Object: To gently put the ball just over the blocker(s) or just over
                                    the net (usually with one hand but possibly two) where it will
                                    be hard to dig (bump).
                                    Used when the players behind the blocker(s) don't move up
                                    enough to cover their court or when you don't think you can
                                    spike through or around the blocker(s).
                                    Hints - hit quite softly and not too high (ideally just over the
                                    blocker(s) or net if there are no blockers)
                                    - should land close to net (behind blockers) so it is difficult
                                    to save
                                    - if someone is blocking you, consider a tip unless you spike
                                    Object: Place ball in a "hole" in court coverage.  Can be offensive
                                    (similar to tip but often deeper and lower) but usually
                                    defensive ("free ball" for other team)
                                    - carefully volley into a "hole", often deep into the opponent's
                                    court (if back row has moved up or toward the centre too much)
                                    - along a sideline (if everyone is too close to centre and/or
                                    - tight angle along net (if everyone is too far back)
                                    - any other (big) hole
                                    - low over net (without hitting it)
                                    - more firm than a tip to get the ball there quickly defensive
                                    - used when the set isn't very good   
                                    - getting it over is the most important thing
                                    - deep into court (and maybe to the sides?) to make their first
                                    hit a bump/pass (instead of a set)
                                    - high enough that it can't be blocked
                                    Object:  To stop a spiker from having an open court to hit into.
                                    Also to put pressure on the attacker (may cause a misshit into
                                    the net at our level) and possibly return the ball to their
                                    court before they have a chance to prepare for it.
                                    Finally, to slow down a spiked ball and give your team time
                                    and a better chance to recover it.
                                    Hints - jump up as high as you can fairly close to the net (closer than
                                    a spike) but without touching it
                                    - being too far back leads to the possibility of blocking
                                    the ball down onto your side of the net.
                                    - try to "follow" the ball with your hands (e.g. if you can
                                    see they're going to hit to your left, move your hands
                                    - if you are tall enough and/or can jump high enough, try to
                                    reach over the net and block the ball on the opponents side
                                    of the court to reduce the chance of deflecting it down into
                                    your own side.  This is legal as long as you contact the ball
                                    after (not during) the attacker's contact with the ball.
                                    (it is NOT legal to attack the ball on the opponents side though)
                                    - try to "aim" the ball down onto their side of the net and into
                                    their court (not "out" to the sidelines) by keeping the surface
                                    formed by both hands and arms pointed toward the centre of the
                                    - unless you're pretty confident, use tight, flat hands and keep
                                    fingers and thumbs in.  This is _not_ the case with good blocks
                                    (fingers are spread as much as possible to cover as large an area
                                    with both hands as possible) but I think it's safer and avoids
                                    finger/thumb injuries.
                                    ** - LEARN WHEN TO BLOCK AND WHEN NOT TO - blocking when it's not
                                    needed is bad since it leads to more sparse a hole in court
                                    coverage.  Only spikes should be blocked (ideally every spike).
                                    If the set is very bad (free ball) or you know the person can't
                                    spike (too short etc.) DON'T BLOCK so you're ready to dig for the
                                    tip.  Similarly, when playing against good players that spike well,
                                    you should try to block every spike.  The trick is to learn to
                                    watch and recognize when a spike isn't possible.
                                    - REMEMBER that after you touch the ball during blocking, you can
                                    still be the next person to hit it and there are three hits
                                    allowed _after_ the block
                                    ** - the timing for a block is basically the same as the timing for a
                                    spike (i.e. jump up at the same time you would if you were going
                                    to spike the ball) since spikes move pretty quickly (this depends
                                    on many factors though, such as the relative heights and maximum
                                    vertical jumps of the blocker and attacker)
                                    Other hints/tips
                                    **  0) COMMUNICATE - call the ball, make your intent clear (e.g. call
                                    someone's name when you set to them) and remind others to do the
                                    same.  Here are some particular points to communicate to others
                                    (as well as to keep in mind yourself):
                                    - watch for tips (when attacker may tip and there's a hole)
                                    - make sure to get ball over (either when it's not certain
                                    it'll go over or to be safe on the last hit when it's not a
                                    good attack)
                                    - "be ready" (for the ball to come back quickly off a block or
                                    off the net)
                                    - it's still alive (the ball)
                                    - stop admiring good saves/attacks etc. when ball is still
                                    in play
                                    - back to positions (when people don't return to positions
                                    after the team's last hit)
                                    - "call it" (the ball)
                                    - serve it in
                                    - watch/cover the hole
                                    1) Get the service over the net (and preferably in the opponents court).
                                    2) If the ball is close to going over the net, "make sure" it goes
                                    over.  The best way to do this is to jump up and help it over since
                                    if it does come down on your side, it will likely hit the net,
                                    making it very difficult to save.  
                                    **  3) When on the third hit with a poor set (or any other hit where
                                    you're saving it and want to put it over) use a "safe" shot to
                                    make sure it goes over.  Many times, people could easily put it
                                    over, but try to make an agressive shot and end up putting it
                                    into the net, especially when bumping it over backwards.  There's
                                    nothing wrong with putting it over fairly high as long as you
                                    don't smash it hard into the lights. 
                                    **  4) When someone goes up to block, move up a little to cover the court
                                    behind them in case of a tip.  Also remember that you still have to
                                    cover your own position so don't move up _too_ far.  Move up
                                    slightly & be ready.  
                                    5) When a shallow ball goes between the back and front row, usually the
                                    back row person should hit it since it's easier to hit forward
                                    moving forward than to hit backward or moving backward.
                                    6) Spread out evenly to cover the court.  In general, try to maintain
                                    your position relative to other players while covering "holes" (big
                                    gaps) between players where the opposing team can place the ball for
                                    an easy point.  Let others cover holes that aren't adjacent to your
                                    own position.  Avoid clustering in one part of the court (usually at
                                    the front) since this also causes holes.  Make sure you're in
                                    position (as just described) _before_ the opponents hit the ball
                                    over the net, since otherwise it's often too late.
                                    7) Do your "job" and count on the other players to do their job.
                                    Rushing in to do it for them may save the ball, but will likely
                                    result in them playing their shots even less frequently for fear of
                                    getting in the way of other players and more lost points.  When
                                    players don't cover their position, try giving them _more_ room (by
                                           moving over) and suggest that they move over to cover the "hole"
                                            you make by doing this.
                                    Some ball handling violations
                                    (I'm not certain about these layman descriptions, so please correct them if
                                    you know they're wrong)
                                      I think "spiking" with two hands is often called either directing or maybe
                                      a double hit depending on how hard it's hit.  In any case, don't hit the
                                      ball over with two hands unless you're volleying or bumping.
                                      Spikes should be brief hits, not long contacts with the ball (which is
                                      usually either directing or carrying).  Also, in volleyball, you're NOT
                                      supposed to intentionally volley over the net in a direction
                                      NON-perpendicular to your shoulders (if it's done accidentally at the
                                      discression of the referee it's allowable).  That is, you can only volley
                                      over the net either forwards or backwards (at any angle from vertical).  If
                                      you want to put the ball over in another direction (to your left or right),
                                      move your feet and body so that your shoulders "point" in that direction.
                                      You ARE allowed to volley in any direction (to set the ball) as long as you
                                      don't intentionally put the ball over the net.  
                                      Using an open hand (or two) facing upward to push up on the ball (from
                                      underneath it) with your fingers pointing forward is called scooping.
                                      It's like bumping with open hands using your hands instead of your arms.
                                      The best way to avoid scooping is probably to bump properly instead.  Just
                                      straighten your arms (since most people bend their arms when they scoop)
                                      and hit with your arms instead of your hands.  If this is too hard, at
                                      least use closed fists rather than open hands.  In this case, it's best to
                                      make sure your hands are completely together to avoid the chance of being
                                      called for a double hit.
                                      Using the palm of your hand to volley is called palming.  You should only
                                      be fingertips when volleying.
                                      (I'm not sure what the real name for the fault is) I think any
                                      non-"instantaneous" contacts with the ball are called carrying or
                                      holding.  All contacts with the ball should be short in duration (similar
                                      to a service hit for example).