This entry tries to provide a summary of tactics and techniques used in volleyball, notably those used on the progression from basic to elite. Though complicated terms such as spike1 and setting 2are kept to a minimum you can always look here if you get confused.
One bit of definition understanding that you must know before progressing beyond the very minimal level of volleyball tactics is that of court positions or zones. These are six areas of each side of the court, three inside the three metre attack line and three outside. Players must only stand in these spots for the serve, after that they can leave, but only the front three can shoot from inside the attack line. After a point the six rotate clockwise.
- 1 - back right, where the player who has just served stands.
- 2 - front right.
- 3 - front middle.
- 4 - front left.
- 5 - back left.
- 6 - back middle.
When an inexperienced group of people first play volleyball they have no tactics and will happily just bat the ball from side to side. They don't care whether they use 1, 2 or 3 touches. Keeping the ball off the ground and getting it back over the net are their only concern. These sorts of teams can be quite successful when playing against teams that are trying to use, but have not mastered a strategy. For this reason some teams continue to play this way for many more years.
The first main tactic that teams use is playing 3 touches before the ball goes back over the net. 3 touch volleyball usually takes the format:
- Touch 1 - the player receiving the ball tries to pass the ball to a predetermined place, usually near the middle of the net.
- Touch 2 - the player at the middle of the net attempts to volley it up nice and high towards one of the other front court players.
- Touch 3 - as the ball should now be above the height of the net, it is available for being hit downwards very hard (spiking), this gives the other team problems in returning the ball.
After a few weeks of playing this way, teams begin to find that only 2 or 3 players can hit the ball high and far enough as well as accurately for the hitters so they then decide to specialise into setters3 and hitters4 Therefore 4 players are designated as hitters and the other 2 as setters - this is the 4-2 system.
Now that the team have a setter to take the 2nd ball this only leaves 5 other players to receive service. Previously all 6 would stand there trying to push the ball straight back over. A bit of organisation leads to the W+1 receive where the five receivers should create a W shape, when looking down from above. All five are concentrated on passing the ball to the front middle of court.
With the two setters being spaced equally apart in the court rotation, one of them will always be on front court, the other on the back court. This presents a new problem when the setter is at position 2 or 4 - a ball passed to middle of court will go to a hitter. The solution is for the setter and hitter to change places as soon as service occurs - rotation only controls serving placement. For some unknown reason many beginner players find the concept of switching very difficult to comprehend, although maybe it is because they are still trying to master the playing skills.
At around the same time that players begin to specialise into setters and hitters, someone will realise that the defence could be improved. The first line of defence is the block5 which comes pretty naturally. Teams try to get 2 players blocking together at the net thereby creating a difficult obstacle to hit past.
Once past the block there are only defenders to stop the ball hitting the ground. Initially teams tend to play with a flat back 3 which is to say the players just stand in a line across the middle of the court as they wish. This leaves them very prone to balls pushed deep to the back of court. The solution is to assign each player an area of the court to cover, usually this is the 6 up system. Playing 6 up quite simply means that the player at 6 moves up to the 3 metre attack line and attempts to cover the space behind the block, (wherever it is positioned). The other two back court players stand deep towards the service line and try to cover all the balls hit there.
So in summary: the team has a setter in the middle of court; a hitter near each post; a player covering the centre of the court and two other defenders covering the sidelines, all focusing on defence.
One of the problems created by having the setter in the middle of court is that they are expected to participate in all the blocking. Apart from being very tiring, the setter is also often the shortest player on the team so this can create problems. Much better to put a tall player in the middle. Therefore teams then progress to setting from 2 with players hitting through 3 and 4. Hitters now specialise into middle and outside players.
The introduction of middle hitters can also lead to another adjustment to service receive. With a ball set to the middle of the court, thereby travelling less distance it becomes harder for the middle player to receive the hit. Therefore the middle player stops returning the serve and leaves it to the other players. This cup receive has two players at the front and 2 at the back in sort of a trapezium shape.
Switching has now become a little more complex on the front court and some teams decide to do the same on backcourt, while others will leave the players to defend whatever part of court they are stood on for the rotation. Backcourt switching is actually pretty simple and means that players always switch to the same area of court whether they are front court or back court. That is to say that once play begins a setter will move to stand on the right side of court, a middle will be in the middle(!) and the outside hitter will be on the left side. An advantage of backcourt switching is that each player only has to learn the play required in one area of court rather than all three.
Teams will often now introduce the 6 back or 6 deep system of defence, in preference to 6 up. This requires the 6 player to stay near the service line, while the other two backcourt players move up to the 3m line. It has no particular advantage over the 6 up system other than it moves the team towards the next tactic.
At this point if you were considering starting a volleyball team these are all the tactics and strategies you might need. Most teams playing below or up to a local league level tend to be content with leaving it at that.
The advantage of the 6 deep system is that the backcourt setter who should have switched to position 1 is now standing near the 3m line, rather than 8m further back at the service line. This allows them to become a penetrating setter. As the rules of volleyball allow only the front court players to hit, the previously described systems are only able to utilise 2 hitters (as one of the three front court players is the setter). Having a penetrating setter allows them a backcourt player to set the 2nd ball, thereby freeing up the front court setter to become an extra hitter. This of course is only of use if they can hit!
Teams that learn to use a penetrating setter rapidly move to the one setter system or 5-1 system as it is known. The main advantage of the one setter system is that it only requires one person to have the good handling skills required in setting. In training this player can get all the repetitions and therefore the chance of hitters receiving consistent, well trained, sets are increased. The player taking the place of the 2nd setter now concentrates on being a hitter and is termed an opposite or off-setter.
By this time teams have reduced the service defence to 3 players, sometimes only 2. While the 2 or 3 players have more court to cover, communication is easier and the other players do not need to be able to receive serve to be part of the team, they can just be good hitters, blockers and defenders.
As the team now have only one setter, half the time they have 3 hitters on front court. However when the setter is on front court they only have two. Many teams therefore choose to use back court hitters either hitting from 6 or 1 or even both. As long as the player takes off behind the 3m line they are allowed to hit the ball above the height of the net.6 Many international players have jumps that take them well into the 3m area and therefore allow them to hit almost as if they were on front court.
Another way that teams can avoid only having 2 front court hitters is to play the 6-2 system where all 6 players hit and there are 2 setters. Whichever setter is on backcourt will penetrate thereby always ensuring three front court hitters. The successful Cuban womens team of the 1990s are one of the few international teams to have used this system.
At this point there are few, if any, renowned systems left to describe that can be played in volleyball. To recap you will have:
A hitting system:
- 4-2 - 4 hitters, 2 setters - setting from either middle or 2.
- 5-1 - 5 hitters, 1 setter - setting from 2.
- 4-2 - 6 hitters, 2 setters - with backcourt setter penetrating whenever possible to set the ball.
- Backcourt hitters - incorporated in any of the systems once you have setters able to set a ball that backcourt hitters are able to hit
A service receive system:
- W+1 - 5 receivers with a setter at the net.
- Cup - 4 receivers with a setter and middle hitter at the net.
- 3 receivers
- 2 receivers - sometimes the outside hitters, but maybe whichever players are stood on backcourt that can pass.
A defensive system:
- 6 UP - the 6 player covers behind the block near the 3m line, while the 1 and 5 players cover deep.
- 6 DEEP - the 6 player covers deep while the 1 and players cover near the 3m line.
Setting tactics are based around the principles of the 4 dimension of space-time! Height, width along the net, distance off the net and time (the speed of the set). The setter has to take into position all these things with three (or even more) different things. The ball, the setter, the hitter and even the opposition must be taken into account to decide how to set the ball.
The Hand Set7 - as the player sets the ball they extend their hands and whole body. Follow through while pushing the ball to ensure it follows the correct route. Differences such as the height of the hitter and how high they can jump must be taken into account.
The Back Set - when back setting the setter will arch their back backwards and hit it behind them. Very difficult to learn with any accuracy it is made worse since the longer any movement can be delayed the harder it becomes for the other side to know what will happen. Obviously communication8 is vital here, both setter and hitter must know what to do, and quickly as well.
The Quick Set - this is where the setter passes the ball to one of the blockers, normally the nearer one. As such a short pass, generally uses just the finger tips is used. With less of a lob movement and more of a simple shove through the air, the hitter can strike far quicker, preventing an effective block being set up.
Hitting tactics usually evolve once the setter has mastered a variety of sets. Typically they involve trying to confuse the defence (especially blockers) by having hitters approach the net in uncommon ways. Some common plays include:
- Tandem - where two attackers approach to attack at the same area of net (perhaps only a metre apart). The blocker has to decide which player to block (unless they have long arms) in which case the setter can set the open player.
- Crossover - also know as a 'X' play. Similar to a tandem except the attackers 'cross over' to attack from the opposite side of court that they approached from. Hence on a chalkboard it looks like an 'X'.
- Piston - where two players attack at the same part of the net, but in front and behind each other. As they arrive at different times hopefully the blocker jumps (and lands) with the front player leaving the behind player an open hit.
- Slide - a player approach in front of the setter but then jumps so that they travel behind (and parallel to the net). This means the blocker has committed at one place, but the player has now moved on to hear somewhere else.
The libero is a defensive player, designed to let the rest of the team concentrate on attacking - they are banned from hitting the ball above the net. As the libero position is relatively new, the full extent of tactics that this position creates are still unexplored. To have the libero playing at position 5 seems to be the most sensible as it still allows for back court hitting from position 1 and 6; and the majority of attacks will be hit in this direction at levels of play below the international scene. Some of the possibile tactics for using a libero include:
- to replace a player who has poor backcourt defence.
- to give players an opportunity to rest.
- as a primary part of the service receive unit.
- to change the defensive setup without having to use a recorded substitution. (Libero substitutions are unlimited).
Choosing a System
Ultimately a good coach will look at the players they have available to them and find a system that works best for them. If they have two very capable, but short setters a 4-2 system may be better than a 5-1; while for a team with two tall capable setters the 6-2 may be better than trying to play a 5-1 with one of them having to become purely a hitter. Like anything each of the tactics and strategies described has advantages and disadvantages. The coach needs to find the most suitable system to their players, this may even be an unorthodox strategy that no other team plays.