Volleyball Setting – Location, Location, Location

This post is in response to a number of recent emails with coaches looking for information on set location –

In 2007, Nina Puikkonen Mortensen began work on her Masters Thesis at Brigham Young University.  Nina was an outstanding Middle during her career at BYU and an even better person.  Nina could hit a slide higher and faster than anyone – it really was an impressive play.

As she began to formulate ideas for her Thesis, talked turned to set location and where should you set the ball to increase the probability of success.  Dr. Gill Fellingham, a professor of statistics at BYU, became interested in the study and so Nina went about conducting a significant amount of data of set location.  It was a time consuming study.  Not only did she film matches from a baseline perspective, but also from the sideline.  These two angles provided two views and each set was then graded based upon it’s location along the net and depth off the net.  In all, Nina looked at over 1,300 sets – which is statistically significant.

Her findings –

“Overall, sets within 3-5 feet from the net resulted in the highest probability of a point and the lowest probability of a point for the opponent.  Low sets, whether inside or outside in relation to the hitter also resulted in a high probability of winning a point.  High sets, whether inside or outside in relation to the hitter, resulted in the lowest probability of success and the highest probability of a point for the opponent.”

“The results of this study lend support to providing setters with a specific goal distance from the net to set the ball and allocating time to practice setting to the goal distance.”

“While a low and inside set has previously not been a considered set of choice, the results of this study supports the re-evaluation of the definition of a perfect set.” 

I once felt setting, like real estate, was about location.  To some degree it still is.  Nina, has provided us with a better understanding of the location needed to better our ability to score points.  However, when tutoring our setters, we need to ensure feedback on location isn’t in reference to the antenna.  Instead, we need to talk to our setters about “leading the hitter” into a shot.  Ensuring our setter maintains a hitters “tempo.” The success of a low and inside set, as seen in Nina’s study, is the result of a hitters timing and ability to step-close to the set.  This feedback comes during practice.  That’s the time to talk with your setter about “tempo.”

So, tutor your setters before practice on becoming technically correct and mechanically efficient.  Give them feedback on your teaching keys.  Have them set to a target on a box located 3-5 feet range off the net and a little inside the antenna.  Make sure they square to that target and not the antenna.  When practice begins, you get to coach your setters – which is really fun.  You get to talk to them about “tempo” and the need to keep the hitter on their correct step when setting, you get to talk about the need to identify where the hitter is in order to allow them to step-close and rotate around a central axis, you get to teach them so much during practice.