What is zero tempo?

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 ago. I don’t know when it started to be used. It seems 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
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. Ben says:

    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 John Forman says:

      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.

Please share your own ideas and opinions.

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