A fellow blogger answered a question about passing technique. The question came from a mother and is as follows:

For years, my 13 year old has been taught to “get around the ball” to pass, rather than reaching left or right for it. So today, she went to a high-powered libero training clinic where the teacher told her essentially the opposite. It really blew her mind because the instructor just kept on her about it. Is there an absolute correct way to receive a dig or serve, or is this a disputable matter?

Matt’s response I found very appropriate:

My belief is correct passing technique is a combination of footwork and platform.  In a perfect volleyworld, the passer wants to move his/her feet so the ball is centered into the stomach.  But, because of the geometry of volleyball, the platform must be angled to redirect the ball to the setting area (depending upon where the serve was received).

In general, I wanted my passers to move their feet to get behind the ball, and then keep their arms no wider than their hips to redirect the ball to the setter. Depending on how tough the serve was and how much they were able to move their feet, this would impact how much right or left (from the centerline of the belly button) they moved their arms.

I think Matt’s second sentence hits the mark – in a perfect world. In other words, if the player has time to move and get into a stable passing posture, then you’d probably like to see them pass center-line. It reduces variability, which should improve consistency.

But, the world is rarely perfect

A center-line focused passing technique, though, goes out the window once serves get tougher. Obviously, that means serves with more pace. They simply give the passer less time to move. Watch top level men’s volleyball. There is just about zero time to move to take the ball center-line against a jump serve.

Importantly, we have to also consider late-moving float serves. It’s all well and good to have the ball centered on your bellybutton. If the ball drops and/or curves away as it’s approaching, though, there’s little you can do to get your body there.

There is also the question of seam responsibility considerations.

Should we teach center-line?

If players eventually have to be able pass away from center-line, does it make sense to spend a lot of time training it? Personally, I think we need to focus much more on platform angle. I see so many issues with that among players at levels where they should be more aware.

I can understand the value of teaching center-line passing to young players, though. The biggest issue you usually get at that level is players not moving. They tend to want to just stand in one place and wait for the ball to come to them. Training them to pass center-line encourages movement – especially at a time when serves tend not to be overly challenging. It also encourages them to not be lazy.

That said, once you have players moving to the ball unconsciously, I think a shift has to be made to focus on platform angle as the key (I won’t get too far into the weeds with the specifics there).

Don’t just take my word for it. When I interviewed Tom Tait for the Volleyball Coaching Wizards project he specifically talked about this subject. Not only was Tom the grandfather of Penn State volleyball (men and women), he was a professor of exercise science and coaching. In other words, he knew what he was talking about. The part of Tom’s interview where he speaks about center-line vs. platform angle is featured in the 2nd Wizards book.

An additional consideration

In an article at The Art of Coaching Volleyball, Tod Mattox (who I also interviewed for the Wizards project) challenges USA women’s national team coach on serve receive training. Karch favors focusing mainly on outside-the-body-line (angles) passing. Tod puts forth the argument for center-line passing. I came across an interesting article that addresses both philosophies. It says we need to consider how players naturally move. Give it a read, as it may push you to consider things at a deeper level. Overall, I think it tends to favor Karch’s approach a bit more than Tod’s.

Thinking about the player’s future

Here’s a major issue for us coaches. There is a strong tendency to coach our players based on what works best at our level. In other words, coaching to win matches. After all, our status is closely tied to how our teams perform at our current level (see Coaching youngsters like college players for a discussion this in terms of specialization).

The problem with that, however, is it doesn’t necessarily prepare players for the next level. Are we doing kids any favors if we require them to pass center-line beyond a certain level of introduction? What happens when they reach the level where they face tougher serves?

One other thing. Be very cautious when it comes to research saying center-line passing produces better results.

Some things to think about.

And lest we not forget, passing in drills isn’t the same as passing in games.

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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.

    6 replies to "Teaching center-line passing vs. platform angle"

    • Damir

      I think this is an interesting discussion. Here in The Netherlands everyone is taught to pass in angles, also from a young age. So to step ‘out of the ball’ and to make an angle. I encourage my players to never stand in the trajectory of the serve, my belief is that it limits the possibilities you have. Just like a tennis player, you can’t do much with the ball when it’s at chest height in front of you. (This is all when we’re talking about float serves)

      On the other side, if a player is a great passer with center-line, who am I to change things? It all depends of the effectiveness of a player. I agree with you that it’s all about the platform and creating enough space for yourself as a passer to increase your possibilities. As long as those 2 are good, it doesn’t matter to me which technique you use as a passer..

      • John Forman

        I don’t really like the comparison to tennis. I get the general idea, but in tennis you simply can’t play a ball that is in your midline. To be able to swing at it, the ball needs to be outside your body line. In volleyball you can easily create an angle on a ball coming straight at you – as long as it’s not at your chest, as you say (unless you back up).

        So the Dutch approach is to play the ball from outside the body, no matter what?

Please share your own ideas and opinions.