I came across a question in a volleyball coaching group on Facebook. It was about getting a setter to chase down the 2nd ball (not call help – which I argue against here) and to use their hands. Here’s how the coach in question worded it:

Good drills to get a setter to stop being so lazy? She will call help on so many balls that I know she can get to, she just doesn’t bother trying. And she ALWAYS sets with her forearms instead of using her hands when she can take one more step and use her hands.

Before I share how I would look to address this, I need to comment on something I see all too often in forums and the like. People with no real knowledge of the situation start throwing out recommendations with no thought as to whether they are reasonable given the circumstances. Here are some examples from this particular thread:

  • She shouldn’t be setter
  • Maybe you should train someone else
  • Bench her. That will get the message across

Then there’s this one, which takes things in a different direction:

I rip my setter a new one when she calls for help.

As it turns out, in this particular case the poster later went on to say in the follow-up comments, “it’s just a lower level club/team, she was one out of 2 setters that tried out that were any good at all.

So the “train someone else” and “she shouldn’t be a setter” comments were probably very unrealistic options in this case. Benching may or may not have been an option, depending on a number of factors.

It’s also worth noting that despite how people answered the question, the coach didn’t ask, “How do I deal with a lazy setter?” Instead, she was basically asking, “How can I train my setter to be less lazy?” The difference may be subtle, but it’s important. I might even say “lazy” isn’t the right way to put it. Sounded like some confidence building was required. I seriously doubt ripping the kid was going to be the best way to go.

Regardless, the poster was asking for some suggestions on what she could do to train this player. Now, a lot of coaches think a new drill or game can fix a problem with their team. That’s rarely the case. They don’t realize the main issue is having the right focus and incentives (or disincentives). That’s why I didn’t suggest a specific drill or game, but rather a scoring approach.

I recommended only counting repetitions or points (or whatever) when the setter sets the second ball with her hands. Not only does this serve the purpose of encouraging the setter to be aggressive in running balls down and not playing them with their forearms, it also serves to encourage the passers and/or defenders to play balls more accurately and/or higher.

Two drills I have used quite often over the years where this comes into play are the Hard Drill and the Cooperative Cross-Court Hitting drill (or the rotating version). In each I only count good reps if the hitter legitimately attacks and the setter sets the resulting dig with their hands. Believe me! When it’s the difference between being able to finish a challenging drill or not, the players are right there to remind the setter to take the ball with their hands.

This principle can be applied anywhere you have a pass/dig-set-attack sequence. And it works for encouraging jump setting as well!

I should note that I’ve also used this approach to generally encourage more hand setting. An example was when I was acting head coach for Midwestern State. I wanted the non-setters to take second ball more with their hands. To encourage that, I used a game with modified scoring. A team could only score from a kill that came off a ball set with hands.

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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.

    7 replies to "How to get a setter to go for the ball and use their hands"

    • markleb

      Really simple answer. Setters’ Rules. No arguments, no shouting, no calling ‘help’.

      btw what does ‘help’ even mean? I’m having a heart attack? I’m drowning? I can’t find my keys?

      • John Forman

        Rules are fine, but by what mechanism are they encouraged or enforced?

        • Mark

          How are rules typically enforced? With the score. If the wrong person / method is used then the rally stops and the score advances. Simple. No need for discussion or debate or anything else.
          And of course don’t call doubles.

    • Kelly Daniels

      Love this post! I as well was concerned with the response to the inquiry. My belief is many i experienced coaches are only reacting to the situation. I bet they are the same way eduri g a match.
      I am sure you saw my response as to question if the situation was a behavior or a skill set issue. ‘Lazy is a behavior’ and drills in your opinion addresses skill sets and techniques. Sure your drills mentioned in this blog can address parts of the behavior, but what would you do about the ‘lazy’ behavior. Me, I call it as I see it. We will sit down and address how much the effort level effects the team and what we want to accomplish. I also would have the athlete take ownership of her own effort level. If any athlete cannot take ownership of his/her own improvement, they will be not be helping the team. I would then address letting the athlete find another activity besides my team.

      • John Forman

        Kelly – I circle back around to the principles I talked about in this post: http://coachingvb.com/structured-learning-vs-overt-teaching/

        To my mind, the player is going to “get it” with respect to their laziness negatively impacting the team (assuming lazy behavior is the issue) more quickly and with greater impact if there is the immediate feedback mechanism of their team losing points or not getting credit for a rep than a coach sitting them down for a talk. I’m not saying the talk isn’t worth doing, and for certain players it may be enough. I’m just saying the feedback mechanism of drill/game consequences will probably have a large influence on behavior.

    • Chuck Calhoun

      A lot of setters don’t get their hands on the ball because they mis-path to the ball, which is caused by reacting before they read. I see this even at high levels.(it doesn’t just happen in setting. Hitter’s approach creates the same issue. Unless the setter can deliver a set in the path of the hitter, they leave too early, have to change their path creating a ball the is much harder to hit.

      Back to the setter. They leave before they read and either give up and bump set the ball or make an emergency setting technique. Then they are called lazy. Many ball are gettable. They are just not trained properly.

Please share your own ideas and opinions.