Training Setters

Perhaps no other skill in volleyball is taught so differently as setting. I have seen many great setting coaches train their setters in completely dissimilar fashion, and as I look at the skill, and some of the world’s best setters, I wonder if we can distill the skill down to a few simple concepts:

1. It’s really important where you take the ball: Taking the ball on your midline is crucial. Some great setters take the ball high above their head, some take it down on their chin, but taking it on your midline is a critical aspect of being a consistently good setter

2. Great setters are dynamic: This makes jump setting within the 3 meter line important. It also means the pivot might be the best move off the net because it allows us to run fast without having to worry about slowing down. There’s also some torque created in the move which is a nice help when generating force to make the long set

3. They’re simple when they set: There’s not a lot going on other than their arms are extending and their hands are staying open in the direction of their release. The rest of the body is fairly vertical and still

4. Their hands are strong, simple, and open on the release: The reality is your wrists and fingers have to bend when they set the ball. That’s why they’re called joints. The challenge is not allowing that bio mechanical fact to disrupt a clean set with good location. Keeping your hands strong, simple and open, and thinking about the target (not the actual release) should allow the fine motor control of your fingers to work on their own towards delivering a good set.

5. Setters Have an Eye-Sequence: A setter should look at the following things in sequence:

– The serve: Is it going to dribble over the net? If so, the setter will probably need to make a play, if not, the setter should be registering who is going to pass the ball and make the best effort possible to get to the right of that passer. This will allow the setter to move forward a great majority of the time.

– The Passer: The setter needs to be still on the passer’s contact and looking at their platform to calculate where and how they will make their approach to the ball

– “Where am I taking it?”: When teaching eye work to our players, there’s a motor learning principle called “speeded response”, a quick summary is the questions we ask our players to answer within a play must prompt real-time decisions from them. So, asking a player after a play “What were you looking at?” is a nice tool for learning, but perhaps a better method of teaching is a key before the play begins that prompts the athlete to look at the right area of information and make a good decision. What we’ve found through trial-and-error is asking our setters to ask themselves “where am I taking it?” before the play begins, has promoted an effective speeded response. This is always a work in progress but so far we like it.


Taking these concepts into our training gyms should help in developing effective setters. Of course, we’re talking about setting, so there’s lots of schools of thought.

9 comments on Training Setters

  1. Nik says:


    Could you please specify what you mean by “where am I taking it?”? What are the right areas of information? What do you consider to be important in order to make good decisions? The opponent’s block? Your quick hitter? The current performance of all your hitters?

  2. Name * says:


    Wow, that’s a lot of stuff. My main concern with that key is developing awareness in the setter towards where they are taking the ball when they set it.

  3. Nik says:

    Okay, I see. If I understand right, you’re trying to guide your setters towards knowing their setting options before each play…? Are there specific “right areas of information” that you want them to look at or do you let them discover those by themselves?

  4. Name * says:


    I think you’re venturing into tactics more than I am with this key. I want them to develop an awareness of where they are taking the ball until it becomes a habitual response. I think the decision of where and how to get to the ball is an eyework issue which is how I got into the area of a speeded response. In terms of what to look at, see Ron Larsen’s post about looking at information rich areas. Guided Discovery seems to be a better teaching method than commands, because there are lots of subtleties within the area we should look at and each player may pick up a different nuance that makes sense to them. So, I just want them to look at the platform and the flight of the ball for a second, and then have them determine the necessary information from looking into that area. If they continue to look simpler and more repeatable over time, they’re probably looking at the right things.

  5. Carlos Moreno - says:

    Great post Tom!

    It is always good to have directions and intelligent insights like this to help our players.
    Training setters is not an easy thing to do; maybe because it is the hardest and most complicated position in the game (guilty as charged).

    The setter has to be trained and developed physically and mentally, the more they play the game the better they become. The ability to see and read the game comes with the time and experience. That is why most setters achieve their best as they mature with the age.

    However, the setter/player cannot do it alone; there is a lot of information that needs to be delivered step by step by their coaches. Also, the coach needs to tailor the kind and amount of the information – to the specific stage that he/she finds their player- if you give them too much info, they have a tendency to get lost in it.
    So, when training a setter; it is important to add the information as the setter develops court and team (self and opponent) awareness.

    The skills must be developed until they become a habit. I remember having to do 3 step blocking trips all the way from the Smith Filed House to the locker rooms with Carl (about 100 meters). Some skills have to be performed until the setter feels the “click”, and that’s when the automatic response begins. But until then, there are some things to be considered.

    Like you said; a dynamic setter needs to get to the ball as early and as fast as she/he can, because it can also determine and limit the setting options. And it will help the setter to keep the ball in the midline and set with strong, open hands.

    ‘Setters are simple when they set’; I think it is one of the best information you can teach your setter. Simple movements, before learning the mental part of the game a setter needs to master the simplicity of movement, approaching every ball the same way, same contact point, always using their wrists. As Leonardo da Vinci once said; ‘Simplicity is the ultimate form of sophistication’. That is a great start. We should coach our setters to keep it simple. Simple is always better.

    The ‘where am I taking it’, it is a good and effective way to work and develop the setter awareness of the game. The decision making process isn’t easy but it could start with the analysis of what and who are my options in order to get the best, simplest, and most strategic set to my best hitter (s). With that in mind, the next step should be what plays to run and how to keep my team’s momentum going or what to run to get momentum.

    One more piece of advice on training your setter is to teach them to always set facing the OH-– that’s their anchor or lighthouse. From there you can pretty much deceive the block and perform any set, because you have a full view of the court- the majority of times, and a good setter can always back set – but facing the OH helps them understand where they are in relation to the net and how far they are from their hitters.

    Lastly, you teach strategy, what to set, when to set, and who to set…and once they get that ‘feel’ for the game…the sky is the limit!

    Carlos Moreno

  6. Tom says:

    I just figured out how to leave my name above my replies. Nik, those nameless responses above were from me. I’m not the fastest learner…

    Carlos thanks for such a great post.! We all just learned from you and your enormous amount of experience. Thanks again – Tom

  7. Pat Ryan says:

    So to recap… “where am I taking it?” is really “where am I sending it” vs. “where am I intercepting the ball to make contact”?

    I’ve heard some coaches talk about “seeing the flight of the ball” or something like that to determine where the player will make contact…

  8. Tom says:

    Pat for me, “Where am I taking it” is simply a cue to promote mindfulness of the setter’s contact point. I’m just trying to get the setter’s more repeatable about taking the ball on their midline, and for me, this verbal cue has seemed give us some benefits.

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