How to Dig a Volleyball

If you visit the Gold Medal Squared Volleyball facebook page, scroll down the wall until you get to the video titled 133 Volleyball Digs in 3 minutes. Watch it! What you will see are a bunch of great defensive plays of every variety that keep the ball from hitting the ground. If you watch more closely you will see some of the reasons why these players are able to make digs like these. When learning how to dig a volleyball there’s a few things to watch for…

1. They use their hands and arms to get the ball to go in the general direction they want it to go.

2. How they fall depends on what they have to do with their hands and arms to make the dig.

3. When a ball is hit at them, they are relatively quiet with their bodies, enabling them to make a simple dig, and also enabling them to make a move to the ball when it is not hit right at them.

4. When they are pursuing a ball, their last step comes as late as possible (many times it comes after playing the ball) in order to fend off gravity and keep their bodies under their own power.

#1 The ball is going to go where your hands and arms (or foot!) tell it to go. I know this sounds insultingly rudimentary, but if you watch many of our players trying to dig, they do not understand this concept. Great defensive players understand that what matters is the angle and impetus that your hands and arms give the ball on the moment of contact—not what your body is doing. Ultimately this is where the rubber meets the road, so that is where the priority must be.

#2 Inherently linked to #1 above; how one falls must take a back seat to what you must do with your hands and arms to dig the ball. Too often players are taught how to fall or roll in order to dig a ball. What ends up happening is players premeditate their fall, or worse, they begin to fall mindlessly, but how they are falling does not correspond to what they must do with their hands and arms to make a successful dig. It might look pretty to execute a nice roll, and everyone will applaud the player for her effort and for getting on the floor, but too often the ball does not come up! Hands and arms should lead, bodies should follow.

#3 Great defensive players are mostly in a neutral, balanced position and are relaxed. This allows them to react to what they see faster and more efficiently. Unless the digger has a great read on a play, our players should simply stand in a good spot, balanced with weight on the balls of the feet (but heels on the ground), arms relaxed and ready to react.

#4 Fight gravity. Too often when the moment comes to make a defensive play, players’ legs give out on them and gravity takes over. When this happens the player is subject to gravitational pull rather than under his own power. As soon as a player gives in to gravity he can no longer play the ball assertively. Notice in the video that when a player is pursuing a ball there is a strong push with one or both legs to keep his body under his own power and to fend off gravity. Often times in the video there is a step or two after contact which further demonstrates body control. One would think something like this would happen naturally, but it doesn’t. Too many of our players fall like trees or collapse like jelly when they should remain strong with their legs under them or make a strong push to pursue a ball.

All of these things can be taught of course. It takes time and patience because digging a hard-driven ball is a very reflexive activity, so bad habits are hard to break. It is also difficult to simulate realistic game-like situations and get a lot of reps. It takes great mindfulness on the part of the athlete and specific feedback from the coach. Video will help a lot also because at first they will not be aware of what their bodies, arms and hands are doing when a ball is being hit at them in a random environment.

Simple, sound body mechanics, combined with a tenacious, never-say-die approach to digging will result in your own team’s digging highlight reel.

Don’t let the ball drop!

Rob Browning
St. Mary’s Women’s Volleyball