I previously addressed the question of why higher level teams don’t run the 4-2 offense. Another system of play we see among lower level teams that we don’t see at the higher level is so-called W serve receive pattern.

If you’re not familiar with the W, here’s an example of what it looks like.

In this example, the setter is in 3 and the pattern is fairly shallow. I think you can see how the W comes from drawing a line between the receivers.

So, as I once saw asked in a coaching forum, why don’t we see it used by better teams?

Well, let’s start with why lower level teams use it. Put simply, it’s to limit the amount of court any given receiver has to cover. We’re normally talking about younger players here. Between lack of physical ability and limited serve reading skills, they just can’t effectively cover as much ground as older players.

That leads us to the reason why teams with more experienced players shift to receive with fewer passers. Simply, it takes fewer players to cover the same amount of court space. This, in turn, lets us put only our better players in reception. The result – at least in theory – should be better team passing.

Fewer players in reception also means fewer seams to manage. That too should lead to better team passing. Additionally, fewer passers means more flexibility so you can do things like get the setter closer to target, hide priority hitters, and the like.

A history lesson

Believe it or not, before the USA men’s team of the early 1980s went to a 2-man reception, 4 and 5 person reception was common at even the top level. Before long, everyone was moving in that direction. I even used it in the late 90s with a boys’ high school age team.

The jump serve changed things, though – especially the top spin variety that developed initially in the 1980s. Harder serves made it tougher for two players to cover the court, so most teams went to three at the higher levels.

Of course, there’s a strong tendency for lower level teams to copy upper level ones. They think it’s the right way to do things. Thus, you see a whole lot of 3-person reception these days.

Do what’s right for your team and circumstance

At the end of the day, every team should use the reception pattern that best suits it at the time. If you can cover the court with three, use three. If it takes four, use four. You’ll see even top level teams pull a fourth player in to reception against a particularly strong server. And on the flip side, you sometimes see teams using only 2 main passers, like this example.

click for larger version

You could also call this a 5-person reception, though not of the W variety. There are clearly two main receivers. At the same time, though, there are three others to take balls in very specific narrow areas of the court.

And this speaks to the approach I suggest. Use non-primary passers to take small, specific parts of the court. For example, the MB taking short balls in their area. This reduces the amount of space the primaries have to take, especially in harder to reach areas.

Think of it like defense. Put your best passer in the part of the court you expect most serves to go.

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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.

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