Matt at The College Volleyball Coach is my collaborator on the book Inside College Volleyball. He once blogged on the subject of back row attack. The post notes that in the vast majority of situations a team is better off setting a front row hitter. Only in the case of the truly top level teams are there the athletes capable of being effective from behind the 3m line (talking women’s game here). Basically, what’s happening is coaches and teams are trying to adapt higher level tactics without having the requisite capabilities.
In my first year in England I actually had this issue with the local NVL women’s team I coached. We had some consistent back row attackers in terms of not making many errors. They didn’t score many points, though (I’d be hard-pressed to recall even one). I had to tell the setter a couple of times that unless she only had one choice, she was to send the ball to a front row attacker where we had a much better prospect for a kill. It was a case of the setter lacking in confidence and making the easy set. This is basically what Matt describes in his post.
Interestingly, I had a conversation with one of the team’s senior player a few months after that season. She had a much better impression of the team’s back row attacking prowess than I did. This actually resulted in her feeling like certain line-up decisions were justified on the basis of having more offense when I favored better ball-handling and defense.
I saw a similar sort of thing develop with the Exeter university men’s team in 2014-15. Our back row attacking was not particularly strong, but I’m not sure they recognized it.