What does out of system mean in volleyball?

What does out of system mean in volleyball? This is likely something most regular readers of this blog know, but not everyone else does. Someone came here with exactly that question in mind, so let me provide an explanation.

In volleyball, a team is fully in-system when the serve receive pass or dig is good enough that the setter has all of their attacking options available. From a statistical perspective, that means a 3-pass in the 0-3 scale (or a ++ in the ++/+/-/0 system described in this post). In other words, the setter can set left, right, or quick to the middle.

You could also say a team is in-system with a slightly lower quality pass or dig. It’s not as good as on a perfect pass, but the setter still has multiple options.

By contrast, a team is considered out-of-system when they pass or dig poorly. This generally leads to the setter having only one setting option. If the first ball is poor enough, someone other than the setter must take the second contact.

There is also the case where the setter plays the first ball. Regardless of how well they dig the ball, the fact that someone else then takes the second contact means the team is out-of-system.

So basically, out-of-system means either the setter cannot play the second ball or only has a single setting option.

Why is this important?

Because it is very likely that the team’s offense is less effective when out-of-system. The sets are not as accurate or consistent. They offense does not run as quickly, and as a result there is usually at least a double block facing the hitter. That is why one of the strategies you will see is to intentionally attack the other team’s setter. That automatically puts them out-of-system, making a good return attack less likely.

Hope that makes things clear. Let me know if you have any questions.

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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. Miloslav EJEM says:

    Do you think, experienced teams (and not even) do not develop system, how to play “out of system”?
    Do you talk about offense only and what about a defense, there is no system, or is it not a part of the game?

    • John Forman John Forman says:

      Miloslav – Teams definitely develop a way to play out-of-system. If you want to have success, you must. Especially in women’s volleyball you spend a lot of time out-of-system. The point, though, is that it is harder to score when out-of-system than when in-system, even if you can do pretty well out-of-system,

      As for defense, there are definitely systems. We don’t talk about being out-of-system the same way, though.

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