The Setter Episode

the setter episode

The Setter Episode

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The setting position is not an easy one. It is demanding mentally as well as physically. It’s also not a position with much glory. Nope, the setting position isn’t glamorous, but it sure can be rewarding!

Before we get into the role of the setter, consider checking out The Types Of Offenses in Volleyball. As a setter, the type of offense you run, a 6-2, 5-1, 4-2 or some other scheme your coach comes up with, is heavily dependent on you. I actually wrote a whole book about this, but don’t worry about the book, just check out the blog post real quick.

The Mental Aspects of Setting

The setter is oftentimes referred to as the Quarterback of the volleyball team. This is for a couple reasons. For one, the setter is supposed to be a leader on the team. For another, they run the offense.

Let’s discuss the offense stuff first. Your job as the setter is to find a way to help your team score.  Just like a quarterback has to know what plays to run, and when, so do you. Then you have to deliver a hittable killable ball.  A hittable ball works as you learn to set, but once you get older and start playing against tough opponents, your hitters are going to need the ball to be delivered to a precise location.  

It’s important that you and your coach are on the same page. The coach will come up with the game plan, but you are responsible for executing it. Therefore, you need to talk to your coach to find out who to set, and how often.

The setter should also be someone who is a rock on the team. They shouldn’t have big mood swings, or be out of control. The setter should be dialed in and focused more than anyone else. How do I score today, how do we get better for tomorrow? Everything you do should be an attempt to answer those questions.

Physical Attributes of Setters

I get a ton of questions regarding setters and their height. Am I too tall? Am I too short? I’m going to spend a few lines here, to tell you my thoughts on the physical attributes of setters.

The biggest thing to remember when thinking about setter height, is that it’s all relative to your team’s age and ability level. What works on one team, may not be right for another team.

When you’re playing setter in the back row, height shouldn’t matter at all. What matters in the back row is speed for defense, and speed to get to the ball in order to set it. The other thing you need is the ability to set a good set.

Things get trickier in the front row.  If you need a good blocker as your right side player, then you may need to be tall or at least jump high to play setter in the front row. If you are not playing against a team where you have to block their outside hitter in order to stop her, then you do not need to be tall. If you want to play Division 1 volleyball (the best colleges in the country) then you’re probably going to need to be a tall setter. Many of best college programs have setters at about 6’.

I hope that helped a little. You need to be fast as a setter, even if you’re not tall. Being tall in volleyball is always a benefit, at the setter position or middle position, it doesn’t matter. Height is an advantage. At the end of the day though, you gotta be good. Height becomes less of a factor if you are REALLY good.

Hand Fundamentals

Before I give you a couple drills, we should talk about the shape of your hands, and position of hands in relation to your head.  Setters need to be simple. Simple = good. So to prepare your hands, be sure you bring them straight up from your bellybutton onto your head.

Point A (belly button) to Point B (hairline). Make your hands travel in a direct line from Point A to Point B. Be sure you bend your elbows so your hands stay right in front of your body.

Once your hands are on your forehead, they should be in the shape of the ball. If you have a ball, hold on to it like you’re setting, and then let it fall out of your hands.  Keep the shape of the ball and look at it. This is the point where most setters have difficulty.  MANY setters will hold their hands like they are holding two apples, instead of holding one large watermelon. Big, ball shaped hands. The following picture is a little blurry, but I think you’ll be able to see the big, ball shaped hands.

volleyball setter drills

You want your hands to create a target for the ball. Now, put your hands by your hairline. The location of your hands is important because you need to be able to set any set from this location. If you hands are by your nose, or by your chin, you’re going to have trouble setting backset, and even some of the quick sets to the middle.


Where and how you extend can vary by set.  However, in every set, you need to push straight through the ball. You can practice this by catching the ball, and throwing it back just like you would set. You’ll be able to see if you’re pushing too hard with one hand, or if you're  doing a good job pushing with both hands.

That’s the basic hand setup. Let’s talk about what you can do to practice.

Practicing Setting

Luckily, as a setter, you have the easiest position to practice (in my opinion). So while your head might start spinning from all the mental aspects that are required of you, take comfort knowing that you can practice more than anyone else.

Solo Setter Practice

I’m going to create a little practice video for you at some point. (Hopefully soon!) That will show you some of the drills I’m going to discuss here. Until then, I’ll do my best to describe each drill.

The first thing you should do as a setter, is to get a ball and set against the wall for 15 minutes a day. You can do this when you’re sitting or standing, it doesn’t matter. Just get nice and close to the wall and set mini sets. Take a look at your hands and make sure they are the shape you want. Even if that means you catch the ball every time it comes back to you, adjust your hands and set again. That’s fine. You want to establish a feel for good fundamentals.

If you’re pretty happy with the shape of your hands, the next thing to do is to focus on your wrists. Still standing/sitting close to the wall, set mini sets into the wall while looking at your elbow to make sure your elbow doesn’t move. Wait, what? How are you going set the ball without your elbow moving? Well, you’re going to move your wrists. Bend to receive the ball, and straighten to set it. Wrists will go quickly, straight, bent, straight, bent. Do your best not to move your elbow at all.  If you practice this for 15 minutes a day, you will improve.

Now move so you are positioned about 5' from the wall and work on a full extension of your elbow.  You’re going to focus on a fast and straight elbow extension.  No high arching, slow sets at this point. Fire that ball into the wall!  When you start, it may be hard to keep the ball going the whole time. If you need to stop and get back under control, do.   Also - you can always catch the ball instead of setting it, to make sure your hands are in the right position.

Move back to 10’ and start thinking about your feet.  Basic setting fundamentals include learning to step with your left, then right foot. Left, Right, Set. You should start to feel a rhythm when you push through the ball.

Keep working, like I said, setter reps are the easiest to practice.  You can do them at home, or in a gym. You can do them by yourself, or with a partner.  Just make sure you do them.


Well, that’s it for today.

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