I saw the following question asked.
Should we have our setters start at the net, slightly offset from middle in the traditional target position (net zone 6 in the old USA Volleyball numbering system)? Or should we should allow them to go to a spot a bit further off the net.
The latter reflects a shift to have passes which aren’t as close to the net. This idea has gained traction, at least partly thanks to the spread of the Gold Medal Squared philosophy. I think the setter start position and the passing target are issues which deserve separate attention.
To my mind, where you have your passing target depends on a number of factors. Level of play is obviously a big factor. You don’t want to try to force a high level of accuracy on players lacking the technical skills. Also, if your setter basically just sets high balls it really doesn’t matter too much if the ball is off the net. At the same time there’s greater margin for error at the top end of the sport. The skill of setters and hitters there allow for less precision. The result is that teams in the middling levels are the ones who require the highest degree of passing accuracy to run a quick offense in the middle.
Coaches have begun setting their teams’ passing target a bit off the net to reduce the risk of overpasses. It’s similar to having your target for digs being middle of the court around the 3m line. Keep the ball on your side of the net and give your team a chance to get a swing.
I understand the motivation, and certainly do a lot of work with my own teams to avoid overpasses. There’s a trade-off which must be considered, though. It’s akin to the one we make when considering how aggressively we should have our teams serve. At a certain point more risk is required to be competitive. We have to consider the effectiveness of our pin hitters when deciding on a passing target. If they are able to consistently score (or at least put the opposition under pressure) then the more conservative passing approach is reasonable. If, however, our OHs and OPPs struggle to score, then we need more precise passing. That brings our middles into the equation and gives our pin hitters swings in better situations.
Setter Start Position
My personal philosophy is that the setter should always start at the net. They then react from there to move off the net if the pass requires. My reason for this is setters quite often get themselves into trouble when they try to move toward the net on a ball passed close. We’ve all seen it. After coming off the net the setter loses their sense of position. They then end up having to try to play the ball while moving toward the net. This tends to result in net touches, center line violations, ball-handling errors, or simply bad decisions. The mistake I tell my setters they cannot make is to mess things up by being out of position when one of their teammates gave them a perfect pass.
Now, that said, there are times when it might make sense for the setter to start slightly off the net. At the lower end of the playing ability scale, if you have a slower setter and the vast majority of balls are being passed off the net then a start position a few steps into the court makes sense. On the other end of the spectrum, if you have an athletic left-handed setter who can attack the ball effectively, having them start a bit off the net to be able to get a short approach can make sense.
As always, what we coach our team to do should depend on the specific circumstance of that group of players and the opposition we face.