September 19, 2012

Men's Volleyball Position Question


My grandson is/was a freshman this last spring and his (very good) volleyball playing senior sister talked him into going out for volleyball back in February.  He loved it.  He is 15 and is really and truly 6’ 4” and still growing.  He is a lefty and is very athletic (starting QB on the varsity team this fall).  He made varsity as opposite and started for his high school team, lettered and was selected to play in the SoCal All Star game and was selected to the second team CIF All-League.  In the final set of the All Star game, he made three blocks for points, including the final point of the match.  I have been encouraging him to focus on being a setter because I feel that he is much more likely to get financial help via volleyball as a setter rather than as opposite.  I am very dismayed at the dismal number of schools which have men’s volleyball programs and it would seem to me that a tall, athletic, left-handed setter would attract more recruiting attention.

Here’s the problem.  His sister is an amazing OH and has already accepted an offer to play at a very nice college.  She wants him to have the “glory” of kills as does his mother.  We went to the USC v UC Irvine finals this year and he saw that opposite (lefty) (I can’t remember his name) for Irvine take over and dominate.  I kept trying to get him to notice the setter. But as you can imagine, all the cheers came for the hitters.  He went to Club tryouts today and my daughter said that his Approach Jump was 10’ 9”, Block Jump 10’ 5” and Standing Reach 8’ 4”.  I know what’s good for girls but have no idea if he is average or above.

I’m saying all of that to build up to my question:  Am I wrong to insist that his Club focus on training him as a setter?  My daughter is a single mom and I’m the main financier for club and camps and combines, etc.  He will really need financial aid for college and if it going to come from volleyball, am I wrong to think his best chance is as a setter.  I guess that I’m just naturally assuming that he will be a good one because he is so gifted in everything he has tried.  So if I get him lessons and if the club gives him plenty of touches at setter and he replaces last year’s senior setter in high school, what do you think?

I have really appreciated all the insight you so kindly provide with your blog.  I think I read every single word and used your advice to help my granddaughter realize her dream to keep playing after high school.  Thank you for your spirit to share.

BS Grandpa

Glad to hear helped in your Granddaughter's path into collegiate volleyball!  The men's game is a different beast; beyond the physicality of the game, in the USA, there are more talented players than there are roster spots (much less scholarships).  Too many sports fans believe that Title IX limits the growth/support of the Olympic Sports for male athletes, when it is a matter of the unreal funding put into football and men's basketball.  I am also disappointed about the lack of collegiate opportunities for men's volleyball.

Please note that NCAA Division I Men's Volleyball (and there are a number of DII athletic departments which field men's volleyball teams, but they play up in DI conferences), only provides 4.5 scholarships; and the decision to budget 4.5 scholarships is up to the athletic department.  Men's Volleyball is an Equivalency Sport, which means these 4.5 athletic scholarships can be divided among any number of players, and packaged with academic, merit and need based scholarships.  Compare that to DI Women's Volleyball, which provides 12 scholarships, but is a Head Count sport where the NCAA says that only 12 'heads' can be on an athletic scholarship, and there is no packaging of non-athletic scholarship monies.

By your information, he may not (?) be physical enough to play NCAA DI as an opposite.  If you look at the rosters of the California DI's, the OP players are tall (6'6"+++) and they jump out of the gym.  Sure, there are examples of 'shorter' OP players being successful, but the men's game is now one of giants.  

You are correct in believing he will have more opportunities as a 6'4+ lefty setter, than as an OP, provided he has talent.  Many PSA's can set, but they are not a Setter.  There is so much mental in setting (hitter decisions, staying within the parameters of the offense, applying what the coach wants, feeding the hot hitter, using poor hitters early to decoy, team leadership, emotional control, back row attack options versus front row, etc).  Caution yourself from thinking that setting lessons and high school will develop him into a DI setting recruit.

I suggest that you talk to his high school coach, and/or club coach for a honest evaluation of his skills and potential within the OP or Setting position.  Just lay it out, that you are trying to determine which position he is best suited to go to the next level at.  

If he is going to be a setter, then he needs to go full tilt as a setter; run a team in club and in high school, additional skill development through lessons and camps.  If he is going to be an OP, then he needs to go full tilt in that position; work on his vertical, work on his armswing, work on his blocking and defense; he needs to maximize all the skills within the OP position (because he can't control his growth).  The sophomore year is the critical year for recruiting evaluations, and it is this year which he will/can make that good first impression.

Let me close by saying this; you know by reading the site that I am no great fan of college football but NCAA Division I Football offers 85 full scholarships and support which would make the Pope jealous.  

Coach Matt Sonnichsen


  1. Coach when you say run a team what and how do you mean? At my daughter's high school varisty game I saw the hitters are running the team? How do you teach young players to do that?


  2. The setter is the player who dictates how the team functions - While the hitters get the glory and are demonstrative, it is the setter who 'runs' the team. The setter determines who gets set, who does not get set, what plays to call, when to waste a set, how to change the tempo of the team, who gets set on transition, what free ball plays, etc. The setter must always be composed and focused, because if a setter loses their cool, then the team will fragment because so much of the team runs through the setter.

    Teaching young setters is a time process - it takes time to teach how to lead a team; when I retired from playing, I was mentally the best I had ever been as a setter because I had 'banked' so much mental knowledge. The best advice I can give young developing setters is to listen to your coaches, apply what they tell you to do, then remember and analyze everything. It is a cumulative process - The ones who can do this turn into good setters (either sooner or later), and the ones that can't, will only be average setters at best.


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