“Volleyball is a visual motor game, with an emphasis on the visual.”

For those of you who have attended a Gold Medal Squared Coaches Clinic, you have heard this before.  Seeing the game is perhaps THE most important skill in volleyball, and one that often times gets overlooked.

Back in 1998 I was a red-shirt freshman at BYU.  It was my first week in practice as a college volleyball player.  As I walked in to practice one afternoon, I noticed a list of names on the whiteboard.  It was a breakdown of who had good eye-work, and who did not have good eye-work.  At that time this was a new concept to me.  I thought to myself “what the heck is eye-work?”  As it turns out, there was one player (a senior) on the “good eye-work” list, and everyone else was on the “bad eye-work” list.  Carl went on to tell us the importance of eye-work, which again didn’t make any sense to me.  I thought this game was about jumping high and hitting hard??

Three years later (2001) I finally started to get it.  At the time Troy Tanner was an assistant coach at BYU.  Troy would tell me “seeing well slows down the game.” As my eye-work improved, the game did in fact start to slow down.  Rather than guessing, I was seeing, anticipating, then reacting.  It was a skill that took me over 3 years to get good at.

Eye-work is needed for most skills

Coaches spend a significant amount of time getting their blockers to have good eye-work. While this is important, virtually all skills in volleyball require good eye-work.

– As a passer you need to see the server, and see the action of the ball.
– To be a great hitter you must have good vision.  Hitters have to see the set, make adjustments, see the block, and hit with range.
– Defenders must see the pass, the setter, the set, and the hitter (Ball, Setter, Ball, Hitter).   Good blockers will start to see different types of passes (bad, medium, good), and make decisions based on tendencies.

Blocking and Individual Defense Eye-Work

Ball, Setter, Ball, Hitter is the eye-work sequence that we like to use for our blockers and back row defenders.

The “ball” is referring to the pass.  There’s a huge correlation between the type of pass and the set location. Poorly passed balls almost always get set outside.  As it turns out, medium passed balls almost always get set outside.  It only takes your blockers/defenders a split second to recognize/see the pass.  Teach your athletes to quickly see the pass, then move their eyes to the setter.

Seeing the “setter” is the next step in the eye sequence.  Once your defenders see the pass, get their eyes on the setter. I like to tell my athletes this… “If you’re late seeing the setter, you’re late blocking.”  You can get a lot of information from the setter based on his/her movements and tendencies.  Do they like to run forward and “jack” the ball back? Do they like to set quicks on a medium pass?  Do they set virtually ALL medium passes outside?  Do they like to dump?  These are the types of tendencies that you are looking for when scouting a setter.

Next is seeing the set.  Because hitters tend to hit where the set takes them, this is an extremely important step.  Blockers and back row defenders must see the set and position themselves accordingly.  Inside sets result in a cross-court hit. Sets tight and to the line will end up being hit down the line (these are strong tendencies). Blockers should see the set and position themselves based on these tendencies.

Last is seeing the hitter.  Are they coming in full speed?  What is their angle of approach?  Do they look like they are going to tip?  Seeing the hitter is vital for both blockers and back row defenders.

Eyework is scouting

Having great eye-work can help any club team dramatically during a tournament.  Most of the time you are competing against teams you have never seen play.  However, if you follow these general rules below, and have good eye-work, you can be effective without having a specific game plan…

1.    In women’s high school/club volleyball, hitters (almost always) hit where the set takes them.  If your blockers know where the set is, your initial defensive game plan is in place.

2.    In women’s high school/club volleyball, hitters will hit in their line of approach. In other words, they will hit the same direction that they are running.  This can be helpful when blocking middle blockers, who will approach from different areas on the court depending on rotations.  Your players can get this information during the “hitter” phase of their eye-work.

BHSBH

For those of you who are coaching older, more advanced players, you can consider adding a step to the blocking sequence.  We call this ball, hitter, setter, ball, hitter.  The defenders will take a quick look at the hitter before seeing the setter. This is an extra step that can help your blockers/defenders recognize where the quick hitter is coming from/going.  For example, you may be able to detect a slide hitter earlier by adding this step.

Lastly, don’t over-look your back row players.  Their eye sequence is just as important as the blockers.

Seeing in Serve Receive

Our fifth passing key is “see the server, see the spin.”  I like to say “see the server, see the spin EARLY.”  We see a lot of high school passers who are reacting to a serve far too late.  Teach your passers to see early, get the ball as close to their mid-line as possible, then make adjustments with their arms/hands.  Remember, it’s faster to make subtle adjustments with our arms than it is with our bodies.

Covering Tips

Covering tips is a common problem among high school coaches.  The first thing you need to do is determine where most balls go in your league.  It may be that you need to move your two by two defenders up if the level of play is low. However, the single best way to combat tips is with good eye-work.  When athletes begin to see and anticipate, tip coverage becomes easier.  Again, good eye-work will slow down the game.

Summary

“Volleyball is a visual motor game, with an emphasis on the visual.”

If you’re gearing up for a post-season run, consider fine-tuning your athletes’ eye-work. It may get you that 2% that you’ve been searching for.

Lastly, you can watch a great video clip of Jim McLaughlin at UW talking about eye-work here..  UW – Seeing The Game

Mike Wall
Gold Medal Squared