The Second Contact in Volleyball – Reflections on the 2010 Women’s World Championship

Julien Boucher is the High Performance Director for Volleyball Canada. A coach for many years at different levels, namely with Team Canada Men's volleyball and as a professional coach in France, Julien has also served as the Technical Director for the Ontario Volleyball Association and la Fédération de Volleyball du Québec.

By Julien Boucher

Many coaches will tell you, likely with reason, that the most important contact in modern volleyball is the first one. The serve, the reception and the block are the key elements which “define” a team. One must understand however that it is mathematically impossible to win a set by scoring points uniquely through our service reception phase. A team must therefore, in its service phase, force its opponent to give up the point or score the point themselves. Hence the importance of a coherent counter-attack and the need for perfect execution after successfully defending the first attack.

At the international level, setting accuracy is exceptional. At the Women’s World Championship few sets were missed during the entire tournament. The consistency and precision of the setters was truly remarkable. But what I find impressive each and every time I attend competitions such as the World Championship is the capacity of the other players (non-setters) to set accurately.

Here are a few rules to respect at every level – novice or expert – for counter attack setting execution or training:

Place your partner in a good attacking position

The unique objective of a player who must set an attacking player – in 100% of the cases – is to place the attacker in ideal conditions for the attack thereby creating the chance to score. A common error with young players is that they simply want to touch the ball after a first defensive action. Obviously, the set must be high enough for someone to attack it.

Always favour front line attackers

Few of the twenty-four teams at the World Championship give a random high ball to the player in position 6 (pipe) when counter attacking. Front line attackers are always favoured. They are favoured for two main reasons: a) because they don’t need to consider the attack line in their approach and b) because they have a much better angle of attack. The second priority seems to be for the attacker in position 1.  This player surely has a better angle of attack than the player in position 6. In fact, with all the good teams, the ‘pipe’ is used as an offensive weapon – as is the quick set – and is used almost exclusively by setters. These sets are often quick balls that do not permit the opposing team to put up 3 or 2-man blocks.

Develop the ability to set with a volley or with an underhand pass

International calibre players – setters and others – can set well using a volley or an underhand pass. Less experienced players will only improve if their coaches drill the skills into the players during practice. One should note that this ability can in fact be developed over a minimal training period.

Coaches – have fun!

Statistics are omnipresent in modern volleyball. Coaches should, in their spare time (!), amuse themselves by compiling statistics on the efficiency of their team’s counter attack. Determine the number of balls that your team defends in one set, then compare this to the number of balls that are truly ‘set’ to an attacker. Make the comparison to the number of times that the attacks actually scored. The numbers will likely be quite revealing. The numbers will also be a good indication that to truly develop young athletes coaches must inculcate the tactical intention within all technical skills, in particular that of setting an attacker.

Diagramme educatif_ Passe attaque (English version will be available soon)

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