As offensive playmakers, setters aren’t usually thought of as being the tallest players on the volleyball court.
While that may be the case, I think there’s a number of misconceptions around exactly how tall setters need to be.
The average height of an Olympic men’s volleyball setter is approximately 192cm or 6’3.5″. And the average height of an Olympic women’s setter is 177cm or 5’10”.
So exactly how important is height to a setter?
Let’s take a look at the averages for various levels of the game, as well as some things you can do to be competitive if you’re not the tallest setter.
What’s The Average Height Of A Setter?
Of course the answer to this question will vary based on which level of play we’re discussing.
What’s perhaps more interesting than the actual numbers is how they relate to other positions on the court.
Some of these figures are really surprising!
Average Height Of A Setter Vs Other Positions
During the 2012 Olympics, some really cool data was published about height based on position.1http://www.fivb.org/en/technical/olympics/2012/men/Misc/Personal%20data.htm
What this shows is that setters were on average only 2cm (0.8″) shorter than outside hitters but still 10cm taller than liberos.
So for those of you who thought setters could be similar to liberos height-wise, they’re actually far closer to hitters in height!
Average Setter Height In The Olympics
At the highest level of the game setters are slowly getting taller each year.
The average height of an Olympic men’s volleyball setter is 192cm or 6’3.5″. For women, the average height of an Olympic setter is 177cm or 5’10”.
This is based on the height data from the 2012 Olympics as well as numbers from the 2020 Olympics.
Interestingly, if we look at the top 4 teams from 2012, the average men’s setter height was 195cm. But in the recent 2020 Olympics it was only 189cm.
Conversely, if you look at the heights of the setters in the top 4 women’s Olympic volleyball teams in 2012, the average was only 173cm.
In 2021 Nations League, the average height was almost 181cm.
So we’ve seen a massive increase in height for women’s setters, and a decrease in height for men’s setters!
These data sets are very tiny however, but it’s safe to assume volleyball setter height is increasing.
Average Setter Height In College Volleyball
Below we’ve got the average height for men’s college volleyball setters as per the NCSA website.2https://www.ncsasports.org/mens-volleyball/recruiting-guidelines
Men’s College Setter Height Ranges
|Height||6’1″ – 6’5″|
(185.5cm – 196cm)
|6′ – 6’4″|
(183cm – 193cm)
|6′ – 6’3″|
(183cm – 190.5cm)
|6′ – 6’5″|
(183cm – 196cm)
And below we’ve got the average heights for women’s college volleyball.
Women’s College Setter Average Heights
How Tall Is The Average D1 Setter?
The average height of a women’s D1 volleyball setter is 5’10” (178cm). For men, the average D1 volleyball setter height is between 6’1″ – 6’5″ (185.5cm – 196cm) according to the NCSA website.
Does A Volleyball Setter Really Need To Be Tall?
Exactly how tall does a setter really have to be?
This is a tricky question and the best answer I can come up with is… yes and no.
Height Is Extremely Underrated For A Setter
I cannot stress how much easier your life will be as a setter if you’re tall.
Setters Need To Block Well
During a rally, your first responsibility as a setter is often blocking. The setter will usually be up against the other team’s outside hitter, who will often be a very talented spiker.
Being able to block the opposition’s best hitter is a massive asset. If you’re on the shorter side, on average you’ll have a lower block reach too.
A lower block reach allows your opponent to tool more balls off your hands and in some cases, hit completely over the top of your block.
Tall Setters Are More Competitive Around The Net
In addition to being a defensive asset, as a tall setter you’re going to be able to save more passes that are too tight to the net by jump setting.
You’ll also be more competitive in every jousting situation.
On top of that, your setter dump will be more difficult to defend.
Tall Setters Improve Their Team’s Hitting Efficiency
Middle blockers will have a much tougher time when you’re in the front court, forcing them to think about commit blocking against you.
This keeps the middle blocker in the center of the court for longer which will result in a higher hitting percentage for your team’s wing attackers.
While Height Is Hugely Beneficial, Being Short Isn’t A Deal-Breaker
In the role of setter, what you lack in height can often be regained in other areas.
If you’re 6cm shorter than the average setter, but have a 6cm higher than average block jump, then you’re suddenly not at that much of a disadvantage.
By focusing on the things you can control, you can still make yourself valuable enough to have on the court.
- Become the most accurate and consistent setter that hitters love to play with.
- Turn your jump serve into a weapon.
- Work on developing incredible court awareness/volleyball IQ.
- Improve your communication and leadership skills.
How Tall Do I Need To Be To Play Setter?
In the next section, we’ll talk about a few very short setters. But understand that these athletes are exceptions to the rule.
While you don’t need to hit these height benchmarks to be a successful setter, things will get exponentially more difficult for you if you don’t.
If you’re aspiring to be a successful men’s setter, you’re going to want to be at least 6’1″ or 185cm.
This will put you at least a good 7cm behind most high level setters, but with exceptional talent and hard work, you can make it work!
If you’re any shorter than 6′, unless you’ve got a ridiculous vertical jump, you need to start think about becoming a libero!
For women, you’re realistically looking at 5’8″ (178cm) or more.3https://www.athleticscholarships.net/volleyballscholarships.htm
Below we have the scouting benchmarks for women’s college volleyball scholarships.
As you can see, if you want a D1 volleyball scholarship, you’re going to really want to be around that 5’10” mark.
The Shortest Professional Volleyball Setters
If those numbers gave you a pit in your stomach, I have some good news for you…
For those of you not quite tall enough, there is hope!
Let’s have a look at a few of those exceptions who completely defied the height benchmarks to achieve success as volleyball setters while being far too short on paper.
1. Matías Sánchez (173cm)
Matías Sánchez is part of the Argentinian national team and currently plays professionally in France.
At just 173cm, he’s 20cm shorter than most of the setters he’s going up against.
He’s also not an amazing jumper either but earns his keep from incredible accuracy, consistency, and smart play.
2. Masahiro Sekita (175cm)
Marashiro Sekita of Japan’s national team is also an extremely undersized setter but more than makes up for it with pure talent.
Currently playing on a professional contract in Poland, Sekita is proof that height isn’t everything when it comes to this position.
Like Sánchez, he’s not a particularly gifted leaper either with just a 311cm spike reach.
This guy is not only super exciting to watch but ought to be an absolute inspiration to younger, shorter setters all over the world.
3. Yoshie Takeshita (159cm)
At just 159cm, Yoshie Takeshita was a very successful setter for the Japanese national team.
Although now retired, to this day she’s still ranked in the top 100 women’s volleyball players in the world with over 20 awards to her name.
How To Succeed As A Short Setter
Finding success as an undersized setter is all about focusing on becoming exceptionally good at the things you can control.
No, you likely won’t ever be a great blocker. But there’s no reason you can’t become a smarter and more precise playmaker.
Here’s a few of the things I’d focus on if I was a vertically challenged setter.
1. Perfect Technique & Accuracy
Compared to other, taller setters, you’re going to have to work a lot harder to ensure you’re a technically better setter.
Taller setters will get opportunities to impress with blocking ability by being a presence at the net – shorter setters have to impress by delivering perfect sets.
There’s no shortcuts to doing this, unfortunately. You’re simply going to have to put more time and effort in.
Develop Accuracy With A Target Net
It can be tough to get enough quality reps in if you’re working by yourself, which is why I recommend serious setters consider getting a volleyball setter target net.
Using a net is a great way to get feedback as to the accuracy of your sets when you don’t have the luxury of a team to train with.
These are great because you don’t need a volleyball court/net setup in order to use them. They can be setup anywhere outside at home and are a reliable way of developing accuracy.
If your competition is setting the ball 300 times a week, go to training early and stay late and make sure you’re setting significantly more than 300 times a week!
Focus on improving your weaknesses as a setter.
Maybe you don’t do a good job setting to middle blockers, so work on those quicks.
Maybe you don’t consistently deliver high balls to your right side’s hitting window when play breaks down, so drill these tough back sets.
Practice Using A Weighted Training Ball
Maybe you lack the hand and wrist strength necessary to consistently put the ball where it needs to go.
If that’s you, consider working with a weighted training ball to develop this hand and finger strength.
2. Increase Your Vertical Jump
One of the easiest ways to compensate for not being super tall is to be able to jump extremely high.
Most people think of outside hitters or opposites as the high flying volleyballers but there’s absolutely no reason you, as a setter, can’t also get up there.
By increasing your vertical jump, you’ll not only get more blocks, but you’ll make win more jousts, get more dumps, and save more overpasses.
On top of that, you’ll become more explosive in general, which means you’ll be faster on court and able to chase down more stray passes.
I’ve put together a list of the best strength exercises for setters, so make sure you’re doing these when you’re in the weight room!
Being stronger and jumping higher will also make you a significantly better server, which brings me to my next point…
3. Make Sure Your Serve Is An Asset
If you’re a setter who lacks height, in order to get picked for teams, you need to increase your value as an asset to said team.
You may be a weak blocker, but all may be forgiven if you are a dangerously reliable server.
This means spending more time practicing serving and developing that skill through repetition.
Get to practice early, stay late, and aim for 50-100 extra serves per week.
Those extra contacts will add up and eventually you may become some what of a Yuji Nishida!
4. Communicate Well & Develop Volleyball IQ
Above all else, great setters are super smart.
They can read game flow better than most and are able to construct really smart offenses by exploiting their opposition’s weaknesses in each rotation.
A lot of this comes naturally and it’s hard to say how trainable this skill is, but it can most effectively be developed by simply playing a lot of volleyball.
You may not have this innate natural talent and if that’s the case, maybe you could spend more time combing through game footage in your down time.
There’s thousands of hours of high quality game footage on YouTube you can watch for free.
Spend some time each day watching matches and putting yourself in the shoes of the setter.
Vividly imagine what options you’d see yourself running and attempt to predict how the setter responds in each rally.
The importance of height to a setter simply cannot be understated.
If you’ve chosen this position, for your sake I pray you’ve reached the height benchmarks we’ve discussed throughout this article!
If you haven’t, succeeding at the highest level just got a whole lot harder…
But if you take just one thing from this post, it should be that almost any height disadvantage can be overcome through hard work and dedication.
Good luck and may all your sets be butter!