Tag Archive for volleyball setting

Deciding on a starting setter

I came across the following question in a coaching group on the subject of picking the team’s starting setter.

How do you rank/rate setters when trying to decide a starter? Seems like a lot of what they do is based on what others do on the court. We have four above average setters, but no great standout, so basing some numbers on who’s the best would be great.

For the sake of simplicity, I’m going to speak in terms of picking a single starting setter. The ideas I present, though, apply to picking starters in a multiple setter system (4-2, 6-2, etc.).

Also, I’m assuming we’re talking about a competitive situation where you want to put the best team on the court. The alternative is a more developmental situation where you’re not so concerned about winning and losing. In that case other considerations dominate.

I’m going to exclude from this discussion non-playing aspects. That is stuff like attitude, effort, etc. At least in so much as they are not reflected in on-court performance. For example, you could have a setter who is a better performer than others, but whose attitude is not something you want to reward with playing time.

The first thing I would say is that you want to do all of your evaluations in game play situations. By that I mean I would not consider drill performance, as setters often don’t have to perform the fullness of their positional requirements. You want to evaluate the complete package. There are a lot of things setters have to do. You can’t pick a starter based on only looking at one or two of them.

By the way, when I say “game play” there are levels to it. You will get the best, most comprehensive view of a setter’s abilities in a 6 v 6 situation since that is what they are in come match day. However, you can use small-sided games to good effect as well. You just need to understand the limitations any given game has with respect to the setter position.

Who’s the winner?

I believe it was in Insights that Mike Hebert talked about the different personality roles players can take within a team. I don’t recall all of them, but I remember Winner being one of them. Mike made the observation that high performing teams have setters who are Winners.

In American Football the quarterback is often judged on the basis of winning and losing. The setting position in volleyball has a lot of parallels to quarterback, and as such winning is one of the ways we can evaluate them. A good setter does the things they need to do to help their team win.

With that in mind, one way to help determine the starting setter is to see who wins most often. This was something we did at Midwestern State in the 2017 season. We kept track of the winners of games for all positions, though in our analysis it was most influential on the setter evaluations. We had a senior who started the year before going up against a sophomore who had some physical and other advantages in her favor. It was the senior, though, who won far more often in the games we played the first couple weeks of practice. That strongly favored her for the starting job.

I should note, we had a conversation with the sophomore about things. In it we specifically mentioned the differential in winning. It was something she took to heart, and we noticed a rapid improvement from that point on. So you can not only use these sorts of evaluations to make a starting choice, but also direct the development of the non-starter(s).

Who runs the best offense?

Another good way to evaluate your setters with with offensive statistics. To put it simply, what is the team hitting percentage – or whatever your preferred metric – for each setter? This is obviously a bit more labor intensive to track than wins, but is can provide a number of useful insights. That’s above and beyond simply figuring out which setter puts up the best numbers.

For example, if you track the hitting stats for each setter you can drill down on things. You might find one setter runs the middles better, while the other is stronger when setting the pins. Aside from giving you developmental areas of focus for each, that sort of information could feed into decisions with respect to your opposition. Maybe you play a team that struggles in the middle, so you want to really feature that in your offense when playing them. This could see you favor the setter who is better with the middles even if overall the other setter is stronger.

Along a similar offensive line of thinking, you could also you some kind of set rating system. It’s a concept similar to ones used for serving and passing. I haven’t come across any that are commonly used, because rating a set is quite complex. Here’s one idea, though.

Non-offensive considerations

As noted above, setters have several other things to do aside from running the offense. They have to play defense, serve, block (some at least), and communicate with their teammates on the court in the right way. If they are doing these things well it will probably reflect in how often they win the games you put them in.

Where things get interesting is when you have a situation where a setter is good in the offensive category, but not great in the other areas – or vice versa. In this case it’s possible your own biases could lead you to a decision. For example, I worked with a coach with a strong defensive focus. She always favored the stronger defensive player if there wasn’t some other really strong factor in play. This is why I like looking at winning. It’s pretty objective.

And if you look at offensive and non-offensive factors alongside the winning aspect you can gain a lot of useful insights. On the one hand, you might be able to see why a setter struggles to win. On the other hand, you could see how a winning setter might get even better.

Video analysis

It’s sometimes not practical to collect the kind of stats we’d like in practice. This is particularly true if you coach by yourself. What almost all of us can do, though, is record things on video. That’s gives you a chance to go back and stat things, for one. But even if you can’t do that, you can use the video to see which setter does the things you want to see them doing most often.

Know what’s important

A big factor in all of this is knowing what’s important. There are many things you can look at when evaluating setters. They simply don’t weight equally when it comes to which setter will do the best job for your team, however. Most of us would put running a good offense at or near the top of the list, but what’s next? And what’s after that? Having a tiebreak system is important. You might have some ideas, but make sure they are based on observation and evidence, not just impressions. Different teams and levels of play have different considerations in this regard.

So when comparing setters make sure the games you put them in put the decision factors strongly in focus. And make the situations the setters are in as comparable as possible. It would not be fair to base your starter decision, for example, on stats collected when one setter was playing with a strong team around her and the other had a weak team. You need to balance that out.

Setter foot positioning

A reader of the blog asked the following question after reading the Setter Training: Weight Transfer post:

“Did I get it right, that you suggest that a young setter might have the front and back foot a little bit apart in order to execute the weight transfer? If so, what about back sets? Does the same back to front weight transfer help the arc in the spine? Or is it the opposite transfer front to back weight?”

Why feet apart?

First, the general recommendation for setters is that the foot closest to the net be somewhat forward of the other. In the indoor game, this basically means right foot forward. If you’re playing on the beach or otherwise in a situation where you’re setting from the left to the right (looking at the net), then your left foot would be closer to the net and thus should be the one slightly forward.

The main reason for this stance is that it keeps the shoulders turned slightly away from the net. This tends to mean mistakes are off the net rather than too tight or even to the other side. I’m not generally a fan of twist or turn setting or follow-through when it can be avoided. The reason is it tends to nullify the purpose of keeping your net-side foot forward. I accept the twist set’s value when forced to come well off the net, though.

Aside from that, you can’t really do a weight transfer through the set from back to front if you don’t have your feet staggered to some degree. Also, I find that setters who set with feet very close together tend to have a tighter overall posture. That is not beneficial to smooth setting, and by extension, accuracy.

What about back setting?

If the idea for the forward set is to transfer weight, what about setting backwards? Wouldn’t you want to do the same thing?

Actually, if you watch a lot of setters you’ll see them sort of do just that. What do they do when they are forced to move back to play the ball (e.g. passed too far toward the right-hand antenna)? They tend to back set in line with their backward weight transfer because it’s quite easy to do. Obviously, that means they aren’t well positioned to set other options, so it’s not what we’re really after.

The other thing you see setters do when they back set is actually take the ball slightly behind them. Essentially, this serves to put their weight behind the ball. That is where you want it in order to be able to push – just like for a front set. The problem there is everyone knows you’re going to set behind.

Using the same back-to-front weight transfer for back sets as the one I talked about for front sets actually makes more sense than you think when you consider the physiology of what’s happening. It’s not the same as when a setter pikes trying to front set. By that I mean their weight is all going in the opposite direction to the ball.

In a back set, in the back-to-front weight transfer you shift your body weight behind the desired path of the ball. At the same time, you are driving force from the legs through the hips, up the torso, and then along the arms. All the force of your body is going in the same direction. Much of that is upward in direction, but that’s fine because when you back set you are usually closer to your target than you are doing a front set to the antenna (shorter set = high arc). And if you need to set further you just alter the trajectory by arching your back more to create a less vertical line of force transfer.

Watch good setters and try it out for yourself to see what I mean.

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

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) 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 set 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 made a coaching mistake the other day

In hindsight, I think I made a personnel mistake in one of my Svedala matches. Of course there’s no way of knowing what would have happened had I acted differently. I just think I missed an opportunity from a couple of different perspectives.

Here’s the scenario…

We were away to the team second from bottom in the league (we’re currently in first). It’s a team whose only victories have come against the bottom team. We beat them 3-0 at home on the first day of the season.

A big focus for us was getting a clean 3-0 win. This is for two reasons.

First, we hadn’t done that in a while – about four months. The team joked about how we always seemed to want to play extra. At the time we led the league in sets played. The not so funny part of that is the extra play does take its toll. We had a very small squad (just 8 at the time). With 11 matches between then and March 6th, and then playoffs to follow, limiting the pounding on the bodies could only help.

The second reason is you never know when it might come down to a set differential tie break.

We won the first set 25-20. The second set had a kind of ugly start, but we pulled away after the 9-9 point and won 25-17. In the third set we went up 11-5 and 13-7 before allowing them to slowly claw back. They got it to 19-19. We eventually went back out in front 23-20, but again let them back in and only managed to win 27-25.

It had been my hope to try to get my second setter some setting time during the match, rather than just being used as a defensive sub for our OPP. During the match, though, I was fixated on having her set while in for the OPP. That would see our starting setter hit, which she is perfectly capable of doing (it’s something I’ve thought about being an option should we have an injury issue).

Not thinking of doing a direct swap of setters was my big mistake. It led to two things I regret about how the match went. One is obviously not getting the second setter in to set – and not even getting in at all during the second set because of how things played out. The other is that I think we lost an opportunity to spread the ball around to more hitters.

It’s that second point that really got me thinking upon reflection that I’d goofed. Our starting setter didn’t spread the ball around as much as I’d have liked. I understand that the hitters who didn’t get the ball as much (OPP and M2) weren’t putting the ball away while the others were. From a “we want to win” perspective, which I’m sure the setter was thinking, that’s perfectly fine. From an offensive development perspective, though, we needed the ball spread around more.

I tend to believe the back-up setter would have done more of that. Actually, that can be something of a weakness in her game. She tends to be a bit more egalitarian in her set distribution. In this situation, though, that might have been beneficial.

In many ways I was looking at the match as a progression of the development work we did in training the prior week (see my log entry). Unfortunately, I was overly fixated on the match action and desired 3-0 outcome at the time, and overlooked my options.

Need to file that experience away to keep in mind for the future.

Coaching Log – Nov 25, 2013

This is an entry in my volleyball coaching log.

With matches for everyone coming up, playing 6 v 6 in segregated teams was the main theme of training. The B side focus was on teamwork, calling the ball, staying switched on, and not looking for someone else to play the ball. I told the B side focus was on continuing to be aggressive in attack, but underlying that was also an evaluation of the setter position. This harkens back to my observations from the Student Cup performance.

One of my primary OHs thus far is also a capable setter (sets for her German club team). I haven’t used her there thus far because I saw her value as an attacker as being in the area of greater need. Even had to use her at MB on a couple of occasions when we were thin on bodies. In the last match of the Cup I had her do some setting for the first time and it was an eye-opener just from the warm-ups. With other hitters coming along, I no longer feel so concerned about losing out on her as an OH.

At the same time, our starting setter up to now is only here for this term. As a result, I need to evaluate our setting options moving forward in any case. One of the teams on the schedule for the upcoming matches is currently top of the table, having beat us a couple weeks ago. We need to be at our best for the rematch, so I took a hard look at the setting in training to start evaluating who would give us our best chance at victory.

Following what was basically a pre-match warm-up, we went straight into 6 v 6. It started with a game featuring one side serving 3 times in a row (not counting missed serves). I put the starting setter with the B team (their setter was missing) and the other one with the A team. I used that to gauge a rough baseline point differential I could use to spot the B side in the straight-up games to follow. I came up with 8.

We then played two regular games which started with the B side serving, up 8-0. In the first the starting setter was with the A side. I then flipped setters for the second game. The A team lost the first set 25-20, and the second 25-23.

Stats were kept for all three games to evaluate offensive effectiveness as a way to compare the setters. More of this needs to be done in the next training, but the early results show quite a stark difference. The kill % for the team when the starting setter ran things on the A side was was 21% vs 36% for the former OH, while the hitting efficiency numbers were .063 vs .190. Need to see if that gap holds up.

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