Southwest Virginia Juniors
Parent’s Guide to Volleyball
Our staff is honored you have chosen to place your daughter in SWVJ. This parent’s guide is an attempt to give you, the parent, a clearer view of our club’s philosophy and a brief overview of the techniques and tactics our staff is teaching.
Training vs. Competing
While competing in tournaments is important and of course fun for the athlete and perhaps for the parent with the right seat cushion, the tournament is NOT the main thrust of SWVJ. It is in the practice gym where your young athlete will learn and grow as a volleyball player. Everything our club does flows from this belief: Our no tryout membership system, our equal playing time policy at lower age groups, our efforts to have the finest coaches in the area, and our desire to offer as much practice as we can within gym space time available to us.
Footwork: Athletes are trained to use correct footwork patterns for serve reception, defensive movements, blocking movements, attack movements, ball pursuit, retreating motions, and special footwork is taught to setters.
Serve Reception: “Passing determines the level at which you play….” Liskevych 1978.
Without question passing or more accurately serve reception is the key skill in youth volleyball. Our staff teaches passing off the left hip and most of our teams use a 3 player serve reception pattern. You may hear our coaches stressing “in system passing” which simply means the pass on a given serve must be accurate enough to allow the setter all attack options. In youth volleyball, serve reception will usually dictate the outcome of the match.
Serving: ….and serving determines who wins at that level”.
Our staff strives to improve and polish serving skills. We attempt to remove all extra, unnecessary, motions from each player’s serving technique. At the lower age groups serving is perhaps more important than serve reception and is usually well ahead of passing development. Expect more aces than perfect passes at the 13 and 14 age groups.
Defense: While defense and passing (serve reception) appear to be the same skill, they are not. Making plays on attacked balls, whether hard driven or off-speed, requires disciplined and efficient court movement as well as focus and attention to detail (i.e. - reading the attacker’s intent). Learning to play great defense is a long term project and requires the athlete to build a large mental database of attack events. As a player progresses through the age groups and attackers abilities evolve, the defender’s knowledge must grow accordingly or they will appear lost (not at all unusual in early tournaments as players age up). Our staff strives to allow players to experience every attack event which is likely to occur in tournaments during practices. It takes time.
Attacking: This is actually a very difficult skill since it requires the athlete to make dynamic movements while no longer in contact with the floor (unsupported motion). The analogy of the set shot to jump shot in basketball is a pretty good one. Mastering attacking requires the athlete to use a wide range of motions and use a rapidly swinging arm and hand to make contact with a moving ball (requiring highly specialized visual abilities). Also since tracking the ball is a function of the accuracy of the setter the skill gets even harder. As the player matures as an attacker additional skills must be learned, such as off-speed shots, hitting to locations, slide approaches, hitting various tempos of sets, and finally and most time consuming of all to learn, actually seeing the blockers hands prior to contact.
Blocking: Blocking is the most difficult skill to learn and master. Again, it is a non-supported skill. Also the athlete has the least amount of time to respond of any other skill. With serve reception the balls travels 35 to 60 feet prior to contact, with defense probably 18 to 30 feet, but with blocking usually 1 to 3 feet at a very high rate of speed. The blocker must also attend to a huge number of visual tasks: the pass, the setter’s movement to the ball and with the ball, attackers routes (some before the set is even made) and the attacker’s jump and swing. Learning to block well takes a very long time and is such a valued skill that often coaches will play a great blocker who lacks other skills, just to get her block.
Setting: With today’s rules, most players can learn to legally set the ball in a short amount of time. However, becoming a SETTER, requires specialized body postures, footwork, hand positions, and huge amounts of head knowledge. Training a setter requires the coach to spend time with the setter every practice to teach and reinforce technique. It is true that great setters can make average attackers look very good.
Setter: The key player on offense. The setter will touch the ball in almost every rally and will determine which attacker gets the ball (hopefully with guidance from the coach).
Outside Hitter: (AKA: OH, Leftside, Left, O1 or O2) typically the outside hitter attacks high balls set to the left sideline at the net. The outside hitter is usually set more than any other attacker, since when a team is out of system the outside is the easiest player to set. Often the outside will be called on to hit second tempo sets as well.
The terms O1 and O2 refer to outside hitters but are NOT related to any sort of rank, but rather refer to the outside hitter’s relationship to the setter in the rotation order. In a 5-1 offense, the O1 will play next to the setter, usually trailing the setter in the lineup and the O2 plays opposite the O1 but is separated from the setter by a middle blocker.
Middle Blocker: (AKA: MB, Middle, Quick hitter) The middle blocker anchors the team’s blocking scheme. Defensively the middle tries to get up on the opponent’s attack every time, usually “closing” the block which has already been positioned or “set” by a blocker closer to the sideline. Athletically the middle must be physically strong since they jump on every play and need great lateral mobility. On offense the middle (often called the quick hitter when on offense) is the first attacker to penetrate toward the opponent’s court. Often in advanced or advancing systems, the middle will hit a very quick set to force the opponent’s middle to have to jump with her, but in youth volleyball, especially in the lower age groups, this is less frequent. Usually the middle at lower age groups will hit a second tempo set down the middle of the net. Advancing teams and many higher level teams now send their middle behind the setter to the right sideline using a slide approach, thus forcing the opponent’s middle to move with her. In transition middles are encouraged to be creative and vocal in their attack routes.
Opposite: (AKA: Right side, RS, weak-side ) The opposite plays in the rotation across from the setter or opposite the setter, thus the name. Usually the opposite attacks balls on the right or may swing into the middle to hit. Opposites should be almost as mobile as middles. The opposite has huge blocking responsibilities since they usually face the opponent’s outside hitter. They also are called on to set the second ball when the first ball is dug by the setter. At very high levels of play the opposite is now often the best athlete on the court.
Libero: (Defensive specialist): The libero is a fairly new addition to volleyball. The libero wears a different color jersey from her teammates and may only play in the back row. Libero entries do not count as subs. Liberos may not serve, handset in front of the attack line (for an attacker to hit) or attack balls above the height of the net. Liberos should display superior ball control skills and usually enter the game for the middle blockers, but sometimes for outside hitters.
There are 4 basic offensive systems you are likely to see on your daughter’s journey through junior volleyball. Each has it own strengths and weaknesses. While some are considered more complex than others, complexity should not be mistaken for advanced skills. An offensive system should enhance player abilities and hopefully exploit weaknesses in the opponent’s blocking and defensive system.
The 4-2: Probably the simplest system, the 4-2 indicates 4 attackers and 2 setters. In this system the setter is usually in the center of the net, in the front row and the hitters will hit high balls in front of and behind the setter. This system is easy to learn but is weak since the setter must block in the middle and is limited in offensive variations. I doubt you will ever see a 4-2 in junior ball.
The “I 4-2”: The “I” in this system stands for international. In the “I 4-2” the setters are still always in the front row but rather than setting from the middle they set from the right front position. This allows teams to use middles and outside hitters but no opposites. This system is simple once again but allows for huge variation on offense. It does, like the 4-2, require a team to have 2 setters who are pretty much equal in ability.
The 5-1: This is far and away the most common system worldwide. It relies on 1 setter and 5 attackers. One half the time the setter is in the front row, just like the I 4-2. The other half of the time the setter comes out of the back row to set. This allows 3 attackers by adding the opposite to the mix. This allows more offensive patterns but having the setter in the back row make the transition from defense to offense more difficult.
The 6-2: In the 6-2 offense the setters are always in the back row. This allows 3 hitters all the time and often the setter attacks when in the front row and sets when in the back row. Sometimes coaches will sub for the setters in the front row with stronger hitters. This pattern quickly exhausts the allowed team subs however. The 6-2 also presents constant transition issues and requires 2 very good setters who can take advantage of always having 3 hitters. Obviously it also requires precision passing to work.
There are some common threads in all these systems, save the basic 4-2, which will not longer be considered. In all the systems setters will play on the right side both at the net and in the backcourt, and middles will play in middle front and middle back and outsides will play on the left in both the front and back. When serving it is pretty easy to get to these assigned slots. As the ball is served players merely move to their assigned court position. This is called switching. However when serve receiving switching is harder to accomplish and is done during the course of the rally. Advanced players almost do this instinctively while beginning players can find switching during rallies confusing and challenging. As players become comfortable with their chosen system switching becomes more natural.
Sets and Basic Offensive Patterns
SWVJ uses a numerical system to allow a description of each set. In our system the net is divided into 9 zones from left to right with each zone being 1 meter wide. In any given set the first number of the set indicates the zone where the ball will be set to, and the second number indicates the height of the ball above the net. The setter always stands in zone 6. Thus a 51 set is set directly into zone 5 and is 1 foot high above the net. This would be a quickset.
For ease of communication on the court many sets have names. The names of our most common sets and their numerical description are below.
Hut: 18; A high ball to the left
32: 32; A second tempo set which attacks the seam of most blocks. Usually set to the MB.
Loop: 31.5; Close to the 32 except a bit faster and is hit off one foot by the MB.
2: 52; A medium height set into the middle.
1: 51; A quick set in the middle.
Tight: 71; A quick set behind the setter often hit off one foot.
Flare: 92; A wide slide set to the right antenna.
95: 95; A high to medium set to the right.
With advancing teams these sets are combined into offensive plays which are designed to disrupt the opponent’s block in some way. The opponent’s block can be forced to spread, it may be jammed up, overloaded, have its timing disrupted, or be outrun laterally. Good offenses will gradually overload the opponent’s block system, causing frustration and confusion in the opponent.
It takes a long time to become a good volleyball player. There is much to learn, but the rewards are actually in the journey, not in the end point. My daughter’s cello teacher described learning cello as sloughing through a swamp. Most of the time you are waist deep and just trying to drag yourself along, but every now and then you find a beautiful orchid along the way. Volleyball is no different. Enjoy you daughter’s journey.