March 23, 2010

How High in Men's Volleyball?

LOVE your blog! Thanks for it.

My son is a 6’3 setter for his club and high school team, he picked that up as a 16 year old and has been progressing very well.. He’s a technically good blocker, hitter, and passer too. He’s versatile and can play any position. He’s a junior, and is interested in playing in college at some level in the future. He has great grades and scores, too.

Question: he presently touches a little over 10 feet with a stationary vertical jump. Is there any general advice you have for how high his vertical abilities would need to be in order to play in college? How would a college coach look at that? How high above the net would he need to play to be competitive? Any advice for things off the top you’d suggest he focus on as he works at it over the next year?

Thank you J

Appreciate the nice compliment with regards to the website. I am still amazed by the lack of effective information available to parents/players with regards to the NCAA and all the various rules. I know the NCAA has some type of a recruiting guide or information guide available, but I don't know how aggressive they are about letting folks know it exists. I may not be 100% on the mark with all the rules and trends, but I hope I can shed some light on the craziness of college volleyball and recruiting.

The Men's college volleyball game is just so physical, in comparison to the women's game. For some followers, this is the attraction, while for other fans this is a deterrent. I know when I watch the men's college game, even on television, the sheer power of the play is unreal - When every attack and block look like the best attack and block I have ever seen in college volleyball, it can be overwhelming.

This physicality of the men's game has mandated that everyone jump high, probably even the liberos can fly! As a setter, your son can 'get away with' not jumping as high as the outside hitters, just because the position specific skill of being a setter can create an emphasis on other needs. If he is touching over 10' from a stand still jump, then he should be able to fulfill his blocking responsibilities on the right side - He may not dominate and other teams may try and target him, but in the less rotation numbers of rally score, he can hang tough.

If he were to incorporate a swing block technique, he may capture another few inches of vertical because of the approach component of this skill. In addition, once a player gets to college, they find out that the weight room is a part of their collegiate existence and this will also add inches to the jump.

The men's game is a different beast than the women's because of its emphases on the net play. Even when the men's players are attacking from the back row, it still looks like a front row set because the ball is 'hittable' at 6 feet from the net for the high flying attackers, and these attackers are still going against 2 or 3 blockers. Again, setters can escape some of the vertical demands which the hitters have to display.

Setters need to run the offense, they don't have to attack from back row, so for three rotations they won't have the responsibility of being vertical. Even though the eye is drawn to the game being played above the net, setters play most of their game below the net (for simplicity, please don't count jump setting!). The best thing a setter, any gender, can do is focus on becoming a great setter. A team will capture more points, because of a setter making correct choices and hittable sets, than they will by the setter blocking balls. A team can structure its defense to try and defend around a weaker blocking setter, but they cannot hide a poor setting setter very effectively.

The men's game truly has some outstanding, long term successful coaches because of the limited number of jobs. To hold down the UCLA or Stanford or Penn State job, you need to know what you are doing and be very good in doing it. The coaches understand that once a setter has reached the vertical threshold of getting high enough above the net not to be a liability, then the coaches won't worry about that. If they can find a setter who touches 11', they won't complain, but my belief is they would be more concerned about finding a smart setter who empowers the hitters and provides effective leadership in this all important position.

Since your son picked up the game as a 16 year old, he might be a little green or inexperienced, versus other setters competing for the college setting spot. If he is going to take over the college setting duties, he is only bringing two years of experience - that is not too much for any college level athlete, much less one playing a critical position. My suggestion is for him to play, play, play and play some more. It is only by being in competitive situations, as often as possible, that setters can improve in the mental side of the game.

The physical side of setting is not difficult - Setting a volleyball is rather easy. But the mental side of being a setter is demanding. Practicing and running through drills will always make you better, but the big leaps in setting knowledge/ability only come through competition, through running a team, through being able to make a great choice and perfect set when you are up 24-23 and need that last point to win the match in three, instead of giving the opponents any hope of coming back to win in five.

Good luck and make sure he focuses on being a setter, not on being a blocker!

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