Legendary former Nebraska head coach Terry Pettit (who I interviewed for Volleyball Coaching Wizards) shared some thoughts on the current women’s college game. A couple of the points related to specific teams, so I’ll leave those aside. I’ll just focus on the four that are more generally coaching related.

How quickly an attacker is off the floor is as important as how high she jumps. (Maybe more important)

I think this depends. Because the attacking player has the initiative, they get to choose the timing of things (to a degree). The defense can only react (unless they simply commit). That definitely means blockers who get off the floor quicker are better off. This is why even if a shorter player jumps higher than a taller one, they are often at a real disadvantage in blocking. They take longer to get up.

But back to the attackers. For sure, when talking about a quicker tempo attack that off-the-ground speed is highly beneficial. Think about your basic quick attack – whatever the actual tempo you run. The quicker the hitter can get off the ground the later they need to actually jump. This gives them that little extra bit of transition/approach time, which can make the difference between being available or not.

For more of a high ball situation where the hitter determines the timing of their approach based on the set, quickness off the ground is less important. The exception there is having to react to a bad set, especially something low. Being able to get on the ball quicker in that case is highly beneficial.

How quickly the ball is out of a setter’s hands has a significant impact on the success of an off-speed shot.

Assuming the hitters are prepared in time, it is always better to have a quicker release by the setter. It’s simple math. Faster release equals less time for the block and defense to react. This isn’t meaningful in a high ball situation, but on any faster tempo play it matters. It could make the difference between a well-formed block and one with a gap, for example.

For an off-speed shot, success depends first on placement, then on surprise. I put it that way because even if you get the surprise part right, if you tip or roll the ball right to a defender they’re going to dig it. The advantage of a quick setter release is that it expands the available placement area. That’s because it gives defenders less time to get to their area of responsibility, so there’s an increased chance they’ll still be moving. That makes them less able to react properly.

I don’t think a team can compete for a DI Championship without a strong back-row attack in several rotations.

You can expand this to the professional and national team levels. For a long time we only saw strong back row attacking in the men’s game. That’s no longer the case. Women’s teams have to find ways to incorporate it into their attack. And I’m not just talking about a high bailout set. It has to be an integrated part of the offensive system. You need look no further than 2021 NCAA final between Wisconsin and Nebraska. Wisconsin’s back row attack was a big part of their success. I see it making its way down the age groups too now.

How many teams are training at least some of their servers to serve from different areas? A serve from zone 1 to zone 1 is much different than a serve from zone 5 to zone 1.

The answer to Terry’s question is “Not nearly enough”. There is a very strong tendency in serving for servers to only serve from behind their area of defensive responsibility. For example, setters generally play defense in Zone 1, so they serve from there. Liberos often defend in Zone 5 (though not always), so usually serve from that area.

This makes sense in terms of getting into defensive position quickly. Once players reach a certain level of physical ability, though, this isn’t all that difficult. Yes, maybe there’s a problem if the other team can run their attack super fast, but that won’t happen if you serve well. And the point of Terry’s observation is that moving the server around can create better opportunities to do just that.

As Terry notes, a serve to Zone 1 from Zone 1 is a different prospect than one from Zone 5 to Zone 1. The latter is a shorter distance, so less time for the passer to react. The former, though, potentially introduces a seam question to the passers. The passes from those serves can also have different flight characteristics, which can influence setting. Serving strategy isn’t just about putting the ball on the weakest passer.

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John Forman
John Forman

John is currently the Talent Strategy Manager (oversees the national teams) and Indoor Performance Director for Volleyball England, as well as Global Director for Volleyball for Nation Academy. His volleyball coaching experience includes all three NCAA divisions, plus Junior College, in the US; university and club teams in the UK; professional coaching in Sweden; and both coaching and club management at the Juniors level. He's also been a visiting coach at national team, professional club, and juniors programs in several countries. Learn more on his bio page.

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