If you followed my coaching log entries for the 2016 Midwestern State season, you know at one point in the season we spent time on middle attack tempo. Our hitters were much too slow. They were still in their approach on setter contact.

This brought up some questions about the tempo we wanted to run. Specifically, should it be first tempo or zero tempo?

Honestly, I didn’t hear of zero tempo until a couple years prior to that conversation. I don’t know when it started to be used. It seemed to be very much an American thing, though. Basically, it’s when the hitter is off the ground at setter contact.

At least that’s what it is supposed to be. That’s how it’s described in this video.

If you watch the video, though, the hitters are not actually in the air on setter contact. They have both feet down, and are just about to jump. This is considered first tempo, rather than zero tempo. At least some people think of it that way.

Differing opinions

I spoke with Mark from At Home on the Court about this. He and I are on the same page that by our reckoning in the air on setter contact is 1st tempo. We both admit, though, that you almost never actually see that. I had a male player at Exeter who did it, and one of our MBs at MSU did it once in a match. Those are the exceptions, though.

Even still, I have long pushed my quick attackers to beat the ball. I know they probably won’t get all the way there, but at least they’ll get closer to ideal.

As I talk about in the Timing of the first tempo attack post, the idea of the zero tempo ball is that it forces the block to make a choice. In order to stop a quick attack running that fast, the block must commit on the hitter. That then makes it very hard – maybe impossible – to get up if the ball is set elsewhere.

In practice, a properly run first tempo ball is very hard to stop without commit blocking. If the ball is set high enough to let the hitter make contact on full extension, the block will struggle to get up high enough, fast enough to stop it.

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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.

    3 replies to "What is zero tempo?"

    • Ben

      My understanding is:

      Zero tempo = hitting the ball while it’s still rising
      1st tempo = hitting the ball on it’s peak

      By that definition, the video above is 1st tempo. I would also refer to a lot of the supposed “1st tempo” attacks that I see as ‘tempo 1.5’ (hitting the ball just after the peak, but much quicker than a 2nd tempo metre ball).

      • John Forman

        Ben – I think by either of our definitions the video is not zero tempo. It’s funny because he explicitly defines zero tempo as in the air on setter contact. 🙂

        Agreed on the 1.5s.

    • Fred Lin

      The definition is faulty. As a hitter, I can still jump late and hit the ball while it is rising. Or, I can jump early but the set is low and peaked before I make contact.

      “Zero tempo” is just marketing words that sounds impressive. The concept of any quick tempo attack is simply cause your opponent to commit block so that a secondary tempo set would not have less chance of assist blocker(s).

Please share your own ideas and opinions.