August 26, 2008

A Question about Setter training.

A question from one of our readers about training for the setting position.

Dear Coach,

I work with middle school/junior high school setters who are just beginning to specialize in setting. I believe it is best to start with learning the basic footwork patterns so that they create neural pathways in the brain and thus allow the setters to automatically use the steps to get to the ball. There are many systems to use with your setters. What series do you advocate? We spend the first 10 minutes choreographing the footwork patters. We then increase the number of repetitions of these steps daily.

Then we teach the hand positioning and arm movement for setting.

Next we toss easy balls with each footwork pattern and ask the setters catch the balls and then set high outside sets to left front. The we do the same with right front. Any other suggestions to make this sequence more efficient and effective?


I congratulate you on the amount of effort and thought you put into the training regimen for your younger setters. With the age group that you work with, there is not really anything that could be 'wrong' to do. The fact that they are getting touches and working on motor memory skills will only help them in their development.

The only word of caution that I would use is not not make things too regimented. Volleyball in the United States tends to be much like a weather vane - shifting between following the Asian style of volleyball or the Latin style of volleyball. From this last Olympics, the Latin style of Volleyball was the victor, but the USA has followed the Asian style of volleyball the last few Olympic cycles.

The arrow pointing East makes sense because the last two USA Women's National Team coaches have been Japanese and Chinese. In Athens our team was a disappointment and in Beijing, the team probably exceeded expectations by bringing home the silver medal. Yet, year in and year out, two Latin countries routinely achieve high results - Cuba and Brazil. Compared to the regimented styles of the Asian system, these Latin countries almost look disorganised, but they win.

Something that myself and other college coaches are having a concern about is that many younger players do not have a feel for the game - they have had too much regimented training. This tends to produce technically correct players, but also yields players that really don't have a feel for the nuances of the game. They may have perfect defensive footwork, but they are out of position on a play because they don't see that a player will be tipping the ball based on the set and the block.

Even at the college level, there are many times I am just stunned that Division I athletes get a glazed look in their eyes when you ask them to think about a play or tell me why they did something on a certain play. There is theory and there is actuality. At the high school and junior club level, there is a fine line between skill training and regimented training.

To answer your question Jeff, I believe your skill training is at the limit you should be providing for your age group - I would encourage you to bring in more short-court games, 3 on 3 deep court games and more playing the game of volleyball. Work hard to create volleyball players, not kids that play volleyball.

Good luck!