Trying to hide setter signals or make fake calls

In another post I addressed an email on the subject of hitters calling their sets or calling for the ball. One part of the email I didn’t specifically address in that post is the idea of hiding play calls and/or otherwise trying to deceive the other team about what attack routes the hitters will be taking.

I certainly have no problem with the setter hiding their signals. I’m a bit less enthusiastic about hitters yelling for one set and running for another, as the emailer described.

In all seriousness, does that sort of thing ever work?

If I’m a blocker I’m watching you make your run, not really listening to what you’re saying. If you call for a 51 (quick in front of the setter) and run a 31 (quick away from the setter), I won’t be faked out. There is only one real fake I think might work. That is one where you do something like show a 51, but then step around the setter to hit a 71 (quick behind). This can work because the blocker pretty much has to commit on the 51 to be able to stop it. At least if you’re on the right tempo.

I’d actually go one step further. I contend that you can tell the other team exactly what each hitter will run and it wouldn’t make a massive amount of difference. Look at the men’s game, especially at the upper levels. They all pretty much run the same thing. You don’t see a lot of variation. Doesn’t stop the offense from being highly effective.

I have often compared the setter in volleyball to a quarterback who runs the option in football. Every defense who plays against the option offense knows where the different players are going. It comes down to whether the quarterback (setter) can make the correct decision. They need to select the right option based on how the defense (block) commits itself and how well both teams execute.

And of course there’s the broader question of whether the proper play calling is being done in the first place. Is your best hitter against the weakest point in the block? If so, then you’ll probably have success. That’s true even if the other team knows exactly where the ball’s going.

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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. KELLY DANIELS says:

    Nice post John,
    I’m not into the signaling sets to the hitters. I’ve come to use ‘play’ calling when it comes to sets calling. Pretty much my teams call plays as done in football/basketball. Each play is a one word statement that identifies what front & back row is going to run. We have plays set up mostly for serve receive and free/down balls. Transition plays are limited because knowing where the ball is going is limited. The ball might deflect off the block, tipped deep, hit down line, blast to LB, roll shot to donut, etc. Too many variables, I’m sure you understand.
    My thing has been the setter calls the play(s) prior to the rally being initiated. Obviously I can overrule if I see something different. On the other hand the setter can audible my initial instructions based on action on the court. Setters and I spend a lot of time discussing and training scenarios. I need to trust they will make the best decision for the team.
    I like the play calling system because it simplifies how the team attacks. The setter can call two or more plays prior to the rally being initiated. The team understand based on the situation what is going to be ran. Easy ball run X/dug ball run A. Serve receive, two plays are called. One for the attack and the 2nd for the transition. Setter audible if easy ball comes or ball is tipped.
    We keep the plays pretty simple where there are two for transition, four for serve receive, and three for easy balls (free or downball). Tipped ball, we are coming back at the opponent on the first or 2nd contact to discourage this type of attack. From time to time we run ‘O2’ on freeballs, which mean ‘over on 2’. First contact sends the ball to one of the pins at 2nd tempo. I’ve found that opponent tend to dump the ball to the back row when we are running ‘O2’ successfully. This is good for us because we have more time to run one of our freeball plays.
    I don’t know why more teams do not run play systems. I’ve known a few teams that has somewhat of a play system, but not to the level that I believe it can be accomplished. Running plays makes game plans easier to execute. I like to attack from the right side a lot when in system. So we call that Option 1. Option 2 is middle or dump and 3rd option is left pin or back row. So our game plan would be: Option 1 with play ‘C’ and ‘E’ during serve receive and easy ball run ‘G’ with option 1. Communicate if running middle to option 1, RS need to adjust to run option 2. Transition normally isn’t discussed because of only two plays. The scenario determines which one to execute. ‘O2’ is usually determined during a TO when we recognize slow blockers.
    You stated, “If you’re getting your best hitter against the weakest point in the block then you’re probably going to have success, even if the other team knows exactly where the ball’s going.” This is why I like the play calling system the most!!!
    Koach Kelly…

    • John Forman John Forman says:

      Hi Kelly – When I was at Brown one year the head coach wasn’t happy with the play calling, so we developed a new system that was 2 digits. I don’t recall the specifics. It was something like the first number was for the OH and the second was for the MB, with the OPP having a set designation based on what the MB was doing. For example, I think the base play was 11, which was 4 to the OH, 1 to the MB, and 5 to the OPP (if front row). Since each position only ran a couple of different sets, and we didn’t have an active back row attack, it wasn’t a very complex system.

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