Thoughts on second contact when setter-out

A reader sent in a question about who should take the second ball when the setter makes first contact (setter-out).

I have a question about emergency setting. Up until this year, I’ve always used my right side player (in a 5-1) to take second ball whenever my setter (in right back) takes first ball. It has worked well enough since I’ve been lucky enough to have right sides with decent hands. The major downside, as far as I can tell, is that you take one potential hitter out of the equation, and the passing angle from RB to RF can be awkward at times. That said, it’s always worked well enough for me.

But now the trend seems to be to have the libero take second ball and to set to one of the pins, usually to the left. That also raises the question (for me anyway) as to whether it is more efficient to have the libero set out left back or middle back (not to mention worth worrying about the “finger action” rules that restrict the libero…)

It seems to me that a libero coming out of left back (especially in perimeter or even “middle middle” defense) is going to have a more favorable angle for a set to the right side pin, if the setter is passing high to the middle. It also seems like s/he will have an easier time getting to second ball.

But what if it is overall more sound defensively to have your libero in middle back? In that case, is it even worth having your libero as your emergency setter? Wouldn’t it be harder to get to second ball from middle back (or even middle middle)? Wouldn’t the angles be a little more awkward for setting to the pins?

Does anyone use their outside hitters (in left back) to take second ball? (It seems to me that that would mean you would have to train both of them which wouldn’t be as efficient as training just one person)

Just wondering what people do. And whether or not there is a consensus on what works best, with respect to emergency setting.

I previously addressed this topic from a different perspective. In that case a reader asked about moving the libero from left back to middle back. As such, I’ll leave out that element in my response here.

It is now definitely the preferred approach by most coaches to use the libero, playing in left back, to take the second ball in these situations. You see it at the national team level on down. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the best solution for your particular team, though. Let me address it form a couple different angles.

Front row player

As the emailer suggests, one option for taking the second ball is the right front player. Usually, this is the Opposite. This was the favored approach for many years. I used it to good effect coaching the Exeter University women as my OPP had excellent hands and we didn’t run a fast offense.

The biggest question for me using the OPP is the middle attack. Can they actually set it? If not, then it really narrows the offensive options down considerably. For a lot of teams it means the ball can only be set to the Outside Hitter. Maybe you have a back row option as well. You don’t have a quick attack option, however, nor do you have a right side hitter, making the block’s job much easier.

If the OPP can set the middle, then it opens things up considerably. That only holds, though, if the ball is dug close enough to the net. If not, you’re in the same situation as if the OPP couldn’t set the middle attack. This is a real issue when teams are often coached to dig the ball to the 3m line.

An alternative to the OPP taking the second ball is the Middle Blocker doing so. This is actually the cornerstone of the standard 4-2 offensive system where the setter plays middle front. If you have an MB with good hands who can set both front and back, it can work. Since they can set both pins, the opposing blockers can’t stack up on just one.

The challenge for the MB, though, is that they usually are coming down from a block. They are programmed to get ready to attack, so setting is an adjustment. And if the dig is well off the net there just might not be time for them to get to it.

Back row player

As the reader notes, the player in middle back probably has the furthest to go to take a second ball. Also, their direction of approach can make the angles difficult, unless they have really good footwork.

That basically leaves left back as probably the best choice back row player to take the second ball in a setter-out situation. Whether that is the libero (or MB) or the OH is it’s own consideration.

Obviously, the libero has limitations when it comes to using their hands. That may not be as big a deal as you might think, though. First, if the OH isn’t a confident setter, they’ll probably bump set the ball anyway, just as the libero would. Second, libero’s can develop pretty good jump sets for use on balls just beyond the 3m line – in some cases, even quick sets. Finally, so many digs end up at the 3m line that situations where you really want a hand set (e.g. to set quick) are probably going to be limited.

All things considered

When you consider all the factors, you’ll see why so many teams have the left back person – mostly the libero – take the second ball. If the dig is close to the net, it might make more sense for a front row player to set the ball. If it’s not, though, then using the back row player allows for a larger number of attacking options.

So it really comes down to where your setter digs the ball.

One final thought

The emailer uses the term “emergency” to describe these situations where the setter takes the first ball. I don’t think that term applies, though. In the modern game, teams are out-of-system a large percentage of the time. That makes it a quite normal situation which should be trained in line with how often it happens.

The other thing I would add is that the situation where the setter has to play the first ball is not the only time a team is out-of-system. Sometimes the first contact is poor and the setter can’t get there. Or someone else is in a better position to put up a good set. For that reason, every player on the court should be able to step in and put up a hittable ball.

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John Forman
About the Author: John Forman
John most recently coached for an NCAA Division II women's team. That followed a stint as head coach for a women's professional team in Sweden. Prior to that he was the head coach for the University of Exeter Volleyball Club BUCS teams (roughly the UK version of the NCAA) while working toward a PhD. He previously coached in Division I of NCAA Women's Volleyball in the US, with additional experience at the Juniors club level, both coaching and managing, among numerous other volleyball adventures. Learn more on his bio page.

2 comments

  1. Matthew says:

    Solid article. I agree the decision is more about working the strengths of the players you have rather than having a “we do it this way” approach. Generally at this point I use the libero taking second ball as a starting point when setters dig. The level I coach, attempting to dig (especially out of perimeter defence) balls accurately to close to the net to the OPP only increases the chance of an overpass, because of the speed of the hits. If I do have a middle who can set the pins and back row, then we have a 5 foot rule. Anything inside of 5 feet is the middle’s ball, and anything beyond 5 is the libero’s ball. The added advantage I find is that we can also work with the middles on attacking the ball on two, especially if they are right handed. Because they are opening to the setter after their block, they are in an ideal scenario to jump and turn on the ball before the defense can get set up. The libero playing left back, and taking the second ball also maintains our hitting advantage against the blockers cheating early, because the back row outside hitter maintains the middle option with a quick set to pipe. If all works out really well, then the middle can adjust to the set location slightly and attack out of a 3 or 7 location to give us four attack options, even though the tempos are a little less varied.

    • John Forman John Forman says:

      Even better if the players are alert and think to sometimes intentionally set up the “Attack on 2” ball off the setter dig. 🙂

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