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 back in the day. 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 in many cases. 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. Here’s more on the subject from a German perspective.

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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.

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

    • 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.

    • 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

    • John

      DOUBLE CONTACT: a player hits the ball twice in succession or the ball contacts various parts of his/her body in succession. …” in succession” seems to be interpreted to mean not simultaneous… which seems to be interpreted to mean proper contact must be simultaneous… which seems to be interpreted to mean initial contact must be simultaneous…. I believe from what I read and see that the last interpretation is what is currently the accepted interpretation… ” in succession” literally means there would not be any simultaneous contact at all…which means the visual a ref must see in judging a two hand overhead double contact would be the ball leaving the first hand contacted completely before contacting the second hand… the rules give refs plenty of cover to not call double contacts on two hand overhead sets… to call a double it should be obvious to everybody.

    • Dean

      I’ve watched volleyball for many years as my older daughter played OH and then Libero. Like many other observers I would see a “double” whenever the setter rotated the ball. It wasn’t until my younger daughter switched from Libero to setter recently that I actually read the rule and looked into what was really going on. Here’s my take: it’s almost impossible for anyone to detect two hits in succession on almost any set. Some of them are ugly and sometimes the ball rotates (early on my daughter would put topspin on the ball). Refs are all over the place on the calls and the ones that call it are pretty much looking for rotation. That’s a shortcut and a misinterpretation of the rules, actually inserting something into the rules that doesn’t exist. Most volleyball fans (parents) also only look at the spin and really don’t even know what the rule is. I used to be like that. Now, I prefer a referee that basically only calls the most egregious of double contacts like when the pass comes super low and fast at the setter and they are in the most awkward of angles. Those calls are obvious and easy and should be the only ones called.

    • Katie

      I think that if the ball is going over the net (in a dump or a push) and it is doubled… it should be called. I think there can come an advantage if the ball is steadied with one hand and then pushed with the other. But if the set is to a hitter and stays on your side, I don’t think a double should be called!

    • Billie Campbell

      I am a volleyball referee and I have seen the R1 call two hits and I ask myself how was that a double, I just couldn’t see it. I think they are calling the spin of the ball. I don’t believe that a double contact should only be called only when it is obvious there were two separate hits on the ball and not whether one hand is further away than the other hand. My question would be “where is the advantage”. It should be two separate contacts period when calling double contacts with the hands. To do otherwise, takes away the excitement of the game. It is impossible for all referees to be consistent in this area of play and has every one scratching there head as to how that was a double contact. It takes away from the game instead of adding to the excitement of the game. Another rule that needs to change is the hands over the net in order to be consistent. A player should only be allowed to reach over the net to hit the ball only when the ball has broken the plane of the net. Exception should be made when they do not touch the net or the ball. That would insure consistency.

    • Rich

      I think that a coach should be able to ask a referee exactly which two contacts were seen. As both a coach and tef (and former setter), if you don’t actually see two contacts to the point that you can determine that level of precision, don’t make the call.

      The quality of set is what setters strive for. Spin isn’t it. Sound isn’t it. Quality of set…

      To clean out the ugly sets…let’s get rid of deep dishes!

Please share your own ideas and opinions.