Volleyball is an action-packed sport that rewards strategy, athleticism, and teamwork, as each player must constantly anticipate their opponent’s next move and be ready to react in an instant. Although it can seem complicated with all the different movements that each player is doing, volleyball can be broken down into 6 fundamental actions that are constantly repeated throughout the match.
Those actions are serving, passing, setting, spiking, blocking, and digging.
1. Serving: The serve is the first contact in a volleyball game, and it's an important opportunity to gain an advantage over the opposing team. It is a skill that every player must master as it’s the first move that can give your team momentum and shut down your opponent’s momentum.
Although serves are a great way to score points, serves can also be used to break up the opposing team’s formation, creating opportunities to score in the future. A skilled serve toward the setter or a weak passer can disrupt the opposing team and make them panic, giving your team more opportunities to score.
There are different types of serves, such as the underhand serve, the overhand serve, and the jump serve. Some more advanced serves include the floater and the topspin. No matter which type of serve you decide to do, the key to a good serve is accuracy and consistency, which requires practice to master.
2. Passing: Also known as the bump, is used to receive the ball from the opposing team's serve or hit. The goal of passing is to keep the ball in play and set up an offensive play. To pass effectively, the player should get in position, keep their arms straight and feet parallel, extend their knees forward, and make contact with the ball using their forearms.
Ideally, the ball should be passed high toward your setter so that they can facilitate offensive plays for your team. This is the first step in the basic pass-set-spike sequence that makes up the foundation of volleyball offense and is arguably the most important skill to have in volleyball.
3. Setting: Setting or overhead passing is the most important step in an offensive play as it determines which player gets to spike or attack. This is normally done by the team’s setter and is the second step in the pass-set-spike sequence.
The setter must have good hand-eye coordination and the ability to make quick decisions to determine who to pass to. Setters must also have good spatial awareness to know where their teammates are, as well as where the opponent’s defenses are the weakest.
To set, the player should use their fingertips and create a triangle with their thumb and fingers. Their hands should be above their heads with their fingers relaxed but steady, with their knees and elbows slightly bent. When they are about to set, it’s important to follow through with the motion with their entire body by extending their knees and straightening their arms.
Setters want to create a high and accurate ball trajectory toward their hitter that’s easy and comfortable to hit. When playing in a competitive setting where setters are more experienced and comfortable with their hitters, setters can change the tempo of the attack by doing a quicker set. This needs to be coordinated with the hitters, but when done right, it can be a devastating weapon that’s difficult to react to.
4. Attacking: Attacking, also known as hitting, is the final step in the pass-set-spike sequence and is used to score points. There are a variety of different ways to attack a ball, but the most common and consistently effective way to do so is by spiking. Spiking is a combination of jumping with powerful arm swings in order to smash the ball onto the opponent’s side of the court.
As you get more advanced in volleyball, there many different types of spikes you can do:
Cross-court spike: A cross-court spike is an attack that goes diagonally across the court, from one corner to the opposite corner. This type of spike is often used to avoid the opposing team's blockers and to target an open area of the court.
Line spike: A line spike is an attack that goes straight down the line ahead of the hitter, either on the left or right side of the court. This type of spike is difficult to block, but also difficult to land as it is treading near the out-of-bounds line.
Tool spike: A tool spike is an attack that intentionally hits off the opposing team's blockers, deflecting the ball out of bounds. This type of spike is often used when the opposing team's blockers are positioned close to the net and the attacker has limited options.
These are just some of the most popular spiking techniques, however, there are more than the ones listed above.
To be a good spiker, the player must have good timing, jumping power, and overall athleticism. To spike effectively, the player should approach the ball with a quick three-step approach, jump high, and hit the ball with force and accuracy.
5. Blocking: Blocking is a defensive skill used to stop the opposing team's attack and can also be used to potentially score points. Blockers must focus on stopping the opposing team’s offensive attacks, while also paying attention to the opposing setter so that they can better predict the opposing team’s attack strategy. It is important for blockers to be able to react to an attack quickly and be in position before the attack is completed.
In order to block, blockers should stand readily with their elbows in front of them, and palms facing forward. When the opposing hitter is about to attack, blockers should be in a position to jump in front of their attack and then be able to explosively jump and raise their arms to create a wall against the attacker.
Blockers must have good timing, vertical height, and hand positioning in order to effectively stop the opposing team’s attack. An amazing blocker will be able to predict where the ball is going to be and already be in a position to block immediately after the ball is set. They will also be studying the hitter’s habits throughout the match and how they like to hit to improve their own blocks as well.
6. Digging: Digging is a defensive skill used to save the ball from hitting the ground. It is often done when the ball does not come directly at the player, and a standard underhand pass would be impossible or extremely difficult to get. To get into a digging position, the player must sink their hips low to the floor with their heels slightly raised in order to be light on their feet. They must then stretch out their arms into the underhand pass position. In order to dig for the ball, the player must push off their toes and use their lower body to move their upper body. Players must also be ready to dive for the ball, but that’s often not necessary if you’re already positioned to where the ball might be going.
Liberos are often the position that digs the most as they are the core of a team’s defense. To learn more about liberos and their unique role in volleyball, check out our blog here.
Players who are digging must have good reflexes, footwork, and body control. To dig effectively, the player should get into position to receive the ball before the attack is finished. This requires good ball-tracking skills, as well as a good awareness of your blockers. Players who are digging must use their blockers as a wall and cover the area that the blockers can’t defend. They must also be able to control the ball and create a clean pass to a teammate.