Outside hitters are viewed by many as rock stars of the volleyball court…
They’re often the most talented offensive players on the team, but with enough dexterity to step back and pass the ball well.
They hit the ball from the left side of the court and are sometimes referred to as left side hitters, wing spikers, or pins.
Outside hitters are usually set more balls than the other positions and are often the go-to player tasked with getting the ball over the net when play gets scrappy.
In this article we’re going to take a deeper look at the roles and responsibilities of the outside, as well as run through all the things you can do to be a better outside hitter.
What Does An Outside Hitter Do In Volleyball?
The outside hitter is what we call a ‘passer hitter’ which means their role is twofold: pass the ball first, and then hit the ball.
They operate out of the left side of the court, usually passing from position 5 and hitting from position 4.
If you are unsure of what these numbers mean, check out my full article on positions in volleyball.
When most people think of outside hitters, they think of highly athletic, powerful front court attacks.
Though it’s far less glamorous, it all starts with serve reception.
Outside Hitters Are Critical To Serve-Reception
An outside hitter who can’t pass is like an out of tune opera singer…
Passing the volleyball is a central responsibility for the role of outside hitter.
They pass from position 5 and are often targeted by the opposition server, as most outsides are pretty average at passing – or at least significantly worse than the libero.
Once the pass has been made, the outside hitter quickly transitions into their offensive approach as they prepare to spike the ball.
Outside Hitters Are The Primary Spikers
The outside hitter will usually be set significantly more balls than the opposite or middle blocker.
This is because they’re in front of the setter, meaning it’s physically easier for the setter to set to the outside since they can see them.
For the same reason, when a setter receives a bad pass, it’s usually easier for them to push a release set to the outside hitting window.
This means outside hitters are usually tasked with hitting some pretty dodgy sets, especially at the youth level.
At the junior level, outside hitters tend to be more athletic and more consistent spikers than opposites, so it simply makes sense to set them slightly more often.
They’re also often responsible for hitting from the back row and will usually attack via a pipe from the middle back zone on the court.
Outside Hitters Have To Block & Dig
If the outside hitter is not set the ball, they must immediately transition into a defensive coverage position and look to dig the ball and cover the blockers.
After their own team serves the ball, the outside hitter’s first responsibility is blocking.
The outside hitter will be matched up against the opposition team’s opposite hitter.
Outsides Assist The Middle Blocker
When blocking, outsides may choose to stay in the ready position closer to the middle of the net so they can help the middle defend against front court setters and strong back row hitters.
Outside hitters must also communicate well defensively.
It’s important that they talk with the middle blocker to let them know if they’re planning on hanging in to assist with blocking in the middle of the floor.
What Are The Strengths Of A Good Outside Hitter?
Outside hitters are very different to opposites and middles. They have their own unique set of attributes and skills as summarized below.
Good Outside Hitters Are Excellent Passers
Weak outside hitters are often pretty decent spikers, but they fall down when it comes to passing the ball.
Servers will target them relentlessly because it’s obvious they’re passing the ball poorly, and the outside hitter may start to become a liability on the court.
Strong outside hitters build their game on serve-reception excellence.
At the highest levels of the game, all outsides can hit the ball fairly well. But the best outsides pass the ball far better than the rest.
Good Outside Hitters Are The Smartest Attackers On The Floor
Weak or inexperienced outside hitters are one dimensional. They hit the ball the same direction every time, with the same speed.
They struggle to adjust when the opposition has time to get into position and often get blocked.
Great outside hitters are crafty and actually use the block to win points by aiming high for the fingers, or by swiping the ball off the block and out of bounds.
They have access to a large toolbox with a variety of different shots and tempos.
They often roll, tip, and push the ball.
And the best outsides simply hit the ball harder.
Great outside hitters also use side spin to control the ball as they navigate the block.
They also never telegraph where they’re going to hit the ball.
Regardless of the set, each attack looks virtually identical until the very last moment.
Good Outside Hitters Are Athletic & Can Jump High
One thing that separates outside hitters from opposites and middle blockers is that they’re often far more athletic and explosive.
Good outside hitters are power houses who usually jump higher than anyone else on the court.
Outside hitters tend to be considerably shorter than opposites and middles but make up for it with this explosive jumping ability.
They often have powerful upper bodies too and can hit the ball almost as hard as the taller players on court.
Outside hitter is really the only offensive position for shorter volleyball players.
Good Outside Hitters Are Usually Right Handed
It is significantly easier to hit from the left side of the court if you’re right handed because the ball doesn’t have to cross your body before entering your hitting window.
Basically it’s much easier to get the timing and placement of the arm swing just right when you can spot the ball with your left hand and contact the ball on the inside of your body.
This is the same reason why most opposite hitters are left handed.
Having said all that, by no means do you have to be right handed as an outside hitter.
A few of the best outside hitters have been left handed, just as plenty of the best opposites have been right handed.
However it is slightly less common to see left handed outside hitters than right handed opposites.
This is mainly because opposites tend to be taller, meaning really skilled but tall right handed players will still gravitate towards that position.
And also because there’s a lot less left handed players in general.
How Important Is The Outside Hitter?
The outside hitter is likely the second most important position in volleyball after the setter.
It’s also one of the hardest positions on the court.
A good outside hitter will be the backbone of your offense.
Being the recipient of the majority of sets, outside hitters have a very large responsibility to hit the ball well.
They need to perform well under pressure and get kills even in tough situations.
This requires confidence in one’s abilities and the ability to shrug off mistakes, refocus, and do a better job in the very next point.
Is Outside Hitter A Good Position In Volleyball?
I don’t refer to outside hitters as being rock stars of the court for nothing!
Everyone loves to spike volleyballs. Outside hitters spike the most volleyballs, so naturally it’s a very popular position.
Being the go-to attacker, you have more opportunities to make highlight-level plays like crushing the ball into the 10 foot line or six packing an opponent.
That’s pretty cool!
But the outside position is very demanding.
It’s not like middle blocker or libero where you only play half the rotations…
At the same time, because you’re thrust into more situations both offensively and defensively, it becomes a great position to get lots of touches and plenty of experience.
Should I Be An Outside Hitter?
So how do you decide if outside hitter is the right position for you?
Let’s first run through some physical attributes of an outside hitter to see if you fit the bill.
After that we’ll have a look at some other points to consider before you decide to pursue becoming an outside hitter.
Physical Attributes Of An Outside Hitter
Before we go any further, go back and reread the section where I talked about the strengths of an outside hitter, and see how many of these you already align with.
The good news is you don’t need to be crazy tall to be an outside hitter.
Outsides are usually a bit shorter than the opposite and middle, but slightly taller than the setter.
Obviously, the taller you are the better.
But if you’re really tall, perhaps you’d be better served as an opposite or middle blocker where height is in higher demand.
To find out exactly how tall you need to be to be an outside hitter, be sure to check out my full article discussing the height of outside hitters.
It goes into great detail about how tall both men and women need to be for this position at varying levels of the game.
How agile are you? Can you jump decently well?
Do you have good body control while in the air?
Outside hitters need good balance, speed, and coordination.
How strong and powerful are you? Are you capable of killing the ball consistently or do you find your attacks getting dug a lot?
These are all things that can be developed over time, so if you don’t yet possess all of these attributes, don’t panic.
Decent At Passing
How accurately do you pass the ball?
Do you often find yourself in the zone during serve-reception, often making perfect passes?
Or do you struggle to contact the ball with consistency?
This is another one which can be improved with practice.
Personality Traits & Attitude Of An Outside Hitter
There are also a few intangible traits outside hitters need to have to be successful.
You almost need to be borderline cocky to be a good outside hitter.
All eyes are on you. You’re the star hitter.
And you need the skills to back it up.
There’s no where to hide on court as an outside hitter. You’re involved in almost every point and need confidence in your ability to get the job done.
Perform Well Under Pressure
As an outside hitter, you’re going to get set some really tricky balls to hit. Your job is to make the best of a bad situation.
You might do a decent job of that in the first set, but are you able to keep your head late in the 5th when your team needs you to make some magic!
Do you have the confidence to still swing aggressively when you’re just 1 point away from losing the match?
Outside hitters have a lot of responsibility to communicate with the other players in the front row.
They’re calling which players are running which attacks, where the setter is, and what combination plays to look out for.
They’re working very closely with the middle blocker to continually calibrate their blocking strategy throughout the match.
If you’re still not sure if this position is right for you, check out my full article on what things you need to consider when choosing a volleyball position.
What Do Coaches Look For In An Outside Hitter?
Coaches and recruiters alike are interested in a variety of different factors when looking at outside hitter prospects.
Outside Hitter Recruitment Guidelines
Let’s first take a quick look at some of the recruiting guidelines for outside hitters.
Jumping Ability & Arm Length
The below numbers are for women’s volleyball as per the NCSA website.1https://www.ncsasports.org/womens-volleyball/recruiting-guidelines
I honestly don’t see how serious recruiters could get excited over an athlete who has the same block jump as their attack jump, so take these numbers with a grain of salt.
Official men’s recruiting guidelines haven’t been published but based on the numbers they have made available, as well as my personal experience with top level athletes, a solid college level outside hitter will have stats similar to the following.
|Standing Reach||8’2″ (249cm)|
|Attack Jump||11′ (335cm)|
|Block Jump||10’8″ (325cm)|
Standing reach, while it’s important, is less important for outside hitters and is a stat used more for middle blockers and opposites.
The most important stat here will be spike height (attack jump). Realistically, anything over 330cm is decent, but it’s something that needs to be improving over time.
To play professionally as an outside hitter, you’ll want to have at least a 345cm spike height.
Hitting percentage is a stat which measures how efficient you are as a spiker.
It’s unlikely that recruiters will have access to these stats, but a decent benchmark for outside hitters is to aim for 0.325.
Recently I wrote an article addressing what hitting percentage is, how it’s calculated, and what figures you should aim for based on position.
Be sure to check that out to see how you’re faring on this front.
Recruiters look for certain height benchmarks for each different position. Outside hitters don’t have to be the tallest players on the court, but they can’t be short either.
You need to have played a good amount of club volleyball for recruiters to consider you.
At least 2-5 years of decent level competition is what they’re after.
Basically you need to show them that you know what you’re doing on court.
Outside Hitter Coaching Guidelines
What are all the little things that coaches look for in an ideal outside hitter?
Physical attributes aside, a lot of it comes down to attitude and how you act on court.
A bunch of these things we covered earlier but I’ll explain why they make for happy coaches.
An outside hitter should think of themselves as the captain of the front court.
They’re the primary attacker and need to take responsibility for a large chunk of the offense.
They need to keep a cool head at all times and remind teammates of the game plan when things get tough.
Even if they’re really skillful, a quiet outside hitter is not a good thing.
You need to be one of the more vocal communicators in the front row.
You should be constantly in the ear of your middle blocker as you discuss the opposition’s formation and blocking tactics.
You also need a constant line of communication with the setter, giving feedback on what’s working and what things they can do better, so you can kill more balls.
There’s a huge difference between an outside hitter who is skilled technically, and one who really understands the nuances of the game on a deep level.
This comes back to being able to select the right shots at the right time.
It’s about reading the defense and use the block.
It’s about getting in the setter’s head and understanding opposition tendencies like which way the opposite likes to hit, and who the setter likes to set from where.
It’s about understanding what combo plays your opponents favor and being able to formulate a smart counter, and then communicate that well to your team.
How To Be A Better Outside Hitter
One of the benefits of the outside hitter position is that a lot of the required skills are highly trainable.
Unlike opposites and middle blockers, who need to be very tall, brilliant outside hitters come in many shapes and sizes.
How good they become at volleyball largely comes down to how hard they’re willing to work to improve.
I could come up with a huge long list of tips and tricks for outside hitting, but instead I’ve decided to reveal the 20% of things which will get you 80% of the results.
Below are by far the 3 most important things you need to put your time and effort into to become a better outside hitter.
1. Spend More Time Passing
As a passer hitter, your first job is to pass the ball really well.
The best way to become better at passing is to simply pass more balls.
If you’re serious about improving as an outside, you’ll find a way to pass more balls each week than your competition.
Go to the court with a friend and have them serve at you over and over.
If you have access to a serving machine, this is another great way to get lots of reps in.
Even if it simply means playing an extra game of pick-up volleyball each week, those extra reps will really help.
2. Hit The Ball More
The exact same thing goes for hitting…
Want to get better at hitting? Hit more balls. It’s really that simple.
Partner up with a setter and drag them to the court for some extra work each week.
If you can find another hitter to block while you hit, this would be ideal.
The two of you can alternate.
Don’t just go through the motions here either, you need to be very deliberate and highly focused in order to make actual progress.
Formulate a plan. Maybe it looks something like this.
- Hit 5 balls sharp down the line
- Hit 15 balls at the back left corner
- Hit 5 balls sharp cross court
- Hit 15 balls into the back right corner
If you have a blocker, make it your mission to never once get stuff blocked.
Maybe as part of your plan you’re going to hit 5-15 balls high off the hands of the block.
There’s really no excuses to not get more hitting repetitions in.
All you need is a net, a setter, and another hitter/blocker who wants to improve also.
3. Live In The Weight Room
As an outside hitter, you need to be able to jump.
Some of you will be gifted and naturally springy; the vast majority of us are not.
The primary goal of your strength and conditioning routine should be to increase your spike height as much as possible.
To play volleyball internationally, male outside hitters will ideally have a spike height of 345cm or more, and women should aim for 320cm.
You also need to train your upper body so you can hit the ball harder.
Can You Be A Left Handed Outside Hitter?
You can absolutely be a left handed outside hitter!
It’s a lot less common simply because it’s harder to hit the ball with your outside arm as it has to cross your body first.
Most left handed hitters will gravitate towards the opposite position because they won’t have this problem hitting from the right side of the court.
But if you’re an excellent passer and really like hitting out of the left side, you can definitely be an outside hitter.
Some top level professionals have been successful left handed outside hitters, Uroš Kovačević of Serbia to name one.
Volleyball Outside Hitter FAQ
Can an outside hitter hit from the back row?
Outside hitters can and often do hit from the back row.
The outside hitter will usually defend from position 5, but often teams will switch the OH with the libero so that the OH is defending deep in position 6, which allows them to hit the pipe from the back row.
Is the outside hitter the strongest hitter in volleyball?
It’s hard to say, but probably not.
Opposites and middle blockers tend to be taller which means they have longer levers, allowing them to generate more power and hit the ball harder.
What are some outside hitter volleyball quotes?
My favorite one is, “I got 99 problems but a block ain’t one!“
Is outside hitter the coolest position in volleyball?
Without a doubt outside hitter is the coolest position in volleyball.