The subject of whether or not to call double contacts in volleyball has become an interesting talking point in recent years. For the record, this is strictly when it comes to setting – and perhaps playing the third contact over the net. This not about first contact. Nor is it about when a player clearly makes two separate attempts to play the ball.

Kevin Barnett gets a lot of credit for sparking this debate, as he introduced it on The Net Live. I have since seen it crop up in several other places.

The debate seems to come down to two primary arguments.

Those who argue against calling doubles make two points. First, refs are inconsistent. While any given ref may call doubles consistently, that’s not true across refs. Second, a double contact by the setter usually doesn’t give the offense any real advantage. In fact, it often means a lower quality set.

The argument for continuing to call doubles usually comes down to something along the lines of it reducing the skill element of setting. Here’s a quote that tends to express this point of view.

“… this would take away so much beauty from the game. Setters have needed to develop an amazing amount of skill to avoid doubling the ball, and quite frankly it’s beautiful to watch that skill in action.”

I should note that it seems like setters and former setters are more biased toward this pro-doubles view. 🙂

Honestly, I think the beauty/skill argument is complete rubbish. I’ve trained a lot of setters. Never once did I ever train them to “avoid doubling”. I trained them to execute the most accurate, consistent sets possible. Not doubling is a byproduct of that training, not the focus, because a double contact tends to lead to a poorer set.

This ties in with a scenario the anti-double group likes to point out. They argue that in football the quarterback isn’t called for throwing a wobbly pass rather than a tight spiral. Now, this is rather a silly argument since there are no rules related to this topic in football, so no ref would ever blow the whistle. That said, the point they make with such an example is that a poor execution (wobbly pass) is punishment for bad technique. The team gains no advantage from it.

I personally have long hated the way doubles get called – especially the idea that it is somehow related to ball spin. I can make a ball spin like a top without doubling it. Ball spin might happen because of a double, or it could simply happen because of uneven finger pressure.

Moreover, ball contact happens so fast that I contend it’s just about impossible for a ref to actually see it. This is probably part of why you hardly ever see doubles called at the top level. That’s where you have the best refs who understand you’re only supposed to call what you actually see. I’d love to do a video study some time because my feeling is that by strict interpretation of the rules there is probably more doubling going on in what appear to be high quality sets than anyone suspects. You could only see it in slow motion, however.

Anyway, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the subject. Use the comment section below to share them.


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John Forman
John Forman

John is currently Technical Director for Charleston Academy. His previous experience includes the college and university level in the US and UK, professional coaching in Sweden, and both coaching and club management at the Juniors level. Learn more on his bio page.

    2 replies to "To call doubles, or not to call doubles"

    • Avatar Stuart Pask

      I believe doubling on a set should not be called. But, I do believe that prolonged contact should be called as a carry.

    • Avatar Mark

      I also agree it should not be called. Refs are so inconsistent at our lower level that we play at. Why give the refs another judgment call to make. Like mentioned you don’t gain anything off of it and teams are getting bad about “setting” the ball on 3rd contact, which makes it tough to create a defense since that 3rd set can be so accurate. If my non-setter players get called they don’t want to try the skill again

Please share your own ideas and opinions.