This post is from September 2015 – early during my time in Sweden.

There was a post on the Volleywood website following the conclusion of the Women’s World Cup. In it the author sought to explain why the US failed to finish in the top two. It’s something I’ve wanted to talk about since seeing the article. PhD thesis work occupied my non-coaching time, though.

Now I’ve got a chance, so here goes!

The author of the piece spends a lot of time talking about hitting errors and the team’s low hitting percentage in key matches. At the end, though, he also says the US had by far the best serve reception efficiency among the key contenders. It’s easy to blame the hitters for poor hitting. I couldn’t help but think, though, the problem was with poor decision-making and/or execution by the setters.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get to watch any of the matches. However, when a team passes well and generally speaking has a pretty good collection of attackers, but hits poorly, then my first question is whether the setter is getting the job done.

This is actually an under-examined element of the game. Setters can make poor set choices. So long as the set is a good one, though, people tend not to blame them for any attacking failure.

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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.

    5 replies to "Is blaming the hitters really the right call?"

    • Kelly Daniels

      Do we take into consideration opponent’s defense in this scenario? Hitting percentage takes into account not only errors but balls not resulting in kills.
      Society seems to want to blame, instead of congratulating the positives.

      • John Forman

        A valid point, but I’d say this. If you’re job as coach is to win the match then you’re thinking about how to beat the other team’s defense rather than congratulating them. If I’m Karch in that position – based only on this information, which admittedly is far from complete – I would first be looking at whether we were picking the right sets.

        • Kelly Daniels

          The thing for me in my perspective is that most coaches are not in the role of only winning matches. USA NT, top DI programs, I can see that is their focus or they lose their jobs. What do you do with your setters in regard to making the correct decisions? I try to train a system first, but we alternate between who’s hot or not. We evolve to what is the opponent’s defensive doing.
          Maybe a different topic, but should coaches change their focus to winning upon being very successful? I wanna win the match for sure, but that is not my focus. I believe being two teams are equal; the team that can follow game plan and execute will wins the day. I want to have a good time as I did when I was an athlete. That is why I stayed in volleyball as long as I have. Losing isn’t fun to say the least, but if I had a good time competing, the lost is only temporary. Me, I want athletes in the sport for the long haul. We do not see a lot of collegiate athletes continuing participation in volleyball after graduation because they felt like it was a job. The focus was winning vice enjoying that experience. I believe here in the U.S. we do a disservice to our collegiate athletes in this regard. Just my opinion.

          • John Forman

            Kelly – To my mind, as soon as you start talking about game plans you are talking about winning as your focus. Unless those game plans are entirely developmental, of course. If you’re telling your setters to concentrate on hot hitters, that’s aimed at winning, and speaks exactly to the point of this post.

            For me, if I’m strictly in developmental mode I won’t have a “win-oriented” game plan. I may not have a game plan at all. Instead, I might just let the players work things out for themselves on the court – with some guidance, of course.

            • Kelly Daniels

              OK John I see your point. I was in development mode once and or twice. Actually for quite some time due to the club who athletes were rual for the most part.
              Thnks for the feedback.

Please share your own ideas and opinions.