As the primary attacker, you have a ton of responsibility to kill the ball efficiently which means you need to be exceptionally skilled technically.
I’ve compiled a list of 16 of the most important concepts you need to be aware of as an outside hitter.
I promise that if you practice each of these things regularly, you’ll surprise yourself at just how quickly you’re transforming into an elite passer hitter.
1. Practice Tooling The Ball Off The Block
Rarely in an actual match are you going to get that warm-up level perfect set with absolutely no block.
Sometimes you’ll be looking at extremely tall and dominant blockers since you’re going up against the opposing team’s opposite.
When the block is sort of in position, this is a an ideal time to tool the ball off the outer edge of the block (down the line) or aim for the seam (if there’s a gap in the block).
You don’t have to spike the ball to do this effectively either… You can tip or push the ball off of the block which works exceptionally well against swing blocks.
If the block is set up well, you should look to go high off the block by aiming for the fingers and swinging aggressively.
You can actually practice this skill really easily with just 3 players.
Toss a volleyball to the setter and have them set them your normal outside attack.
Have a friend practice blocking against you on the other side of the net.
Your job is not to hit around the block, but to deliberately practice a variety of shots that make use of the block.
If you successfully tool the ball off the block 30 times in practice, you’re going to find it a lot easier in game.
2. Don’t Be Afraid To Tip The Ball
While for the most part it’s a good idea to try to hit the ball hard, you shouldn’t do this every play.
Weak outside hitters only have 1 tool in their toolbox…
When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.
Great outside hitters are smart enough to know when to spike the ball hard, and when a smartly placed tip over or around the block is going to be more effective.
I used to win an ungodly amount of points at the national level just from tipping as a middle blocker.
You should always approach the ball as if you’re going to spike it, but tipping the ball at the last second is seriously overpowered, especially when your opponent is commit blocking and they go up a little too early.
3. Spend A Lot More Time Passing
Once you get to a high enough level of the sport, all outside hitters do a pretty decent job of spiking the ball.
What separates the great from the good are their ability to pass the ball exceptionally well.
How do you get better at passing? Assuming your footwork and platform is decent, the only way is to pass more balls.
If everyone else is passing the volleyball 100 times a week, and you’re passing it 200 times a week, who do you think is going to become better at passing quicker?
Find a friend who also wants to improve at volleyball, drag them to the court, and force them to serve at you repeatedly.
Focus on maintaining solid form and strive to pass every ball perfectly.
4. Aim For The International Hitting Zone
The international hitting zone is a concept my old coach made up which refers to the outer edge of the back court.
When an outside hitter aims for the IHZ, it’s often a lot harder for the defense to get into position to make a successful dig.
Since you’re aiming for the back of the court, you can contact the ball nice and high which will make you very difficult to block.
You’ll also win more points by inadvertently tooling the ball off the block.
Everyone loves to practice spiking the ball straight down to see how high you can bounce it, but this won’t make you a better outside hitter.
Instead focus on hitting the ball just as hard, but into the back corners of the court.
5. Increase Your Spike Height
Another way of putting this would be to increase your vertical jump!
Take two identical outside hitters…
One of them contacts the ball at 300cm on average and the other spikes at around 320cm.
Who are you picking?
Being able to jump higher means you can contact the ball higher which means you immediately have more options as a hitter.
- You can hit the ball over the block…
- You can hit sharper angles…
- You can tool the ball off the block more effectively…
- You can block more effectively…
If you’re taking this game seriously you should be in the gym regularly, working hard to increase your vertical jump.
6. Make Good Use Of The Roll Shot
The roll shot is an excellent way to attack when you don’t quite see an obvious way to kill the ball.
Perhaps the block is well positioned or the set wasn’t very good.
Instead of whaling the ball into the net or the block, aim for the empty court and roll the ball around or over the block.
Instead of contacting the top of the ball as you would when spiking, contact the ball lower and roll your hand over it.
You can also use a roll shot when there’s nothing wrong with the set, just as a way to get the defense on their heels and keep them guessing.
A roll shot should be incredibly difficult for the defense to detect and should catch them off guard.
As such, you need to approach the shot exactly as if you were going to spike the ball.
Your approach still needs to be fast, you still need to jump high, and you still need an aggressive arm swing.
The only thing you’re doing differently is taking the pace off the ball at the last second.
7. Talk To Your Middle Blocker More
As an outside hitter, it’s your responsibility to be extremely vocal in the front court, particularly when blocking.
You should be constantly relaying information to the middle blocker so that the two of you can form a more effective blocking strategy.
Call out which players like to hit where and what angles.
Call out what combination plays to be aware of.
If the setter is in the front court, let your middle know if you’re planning on staying in close to the center of the court to help them block.
Perhaps you’re up against a really solid opposite hitter and you need to commit more on the outside…
Tell your middle!
8. Practice Hitting ‘Release’ Balls
Sometimes on serve-receive your team is going to make a bad pass that doesn’t go close enough to the setter.
The setter (or someone else) will have to run deep into the back court to make the set and this will often lead to a very high set, often too far off the net, that’s far from your ideal hitting window.
In order to hit this ball you likely won’t be able to jump as high as you usually would be able to.
The ball is also coming from a very tough angle to hit with power.
On top of that, you’ll often have to contend with a triple block…
But regardless, your team has sent the second ball in your direction and your job as the outside hitter is to make the best of a bad situation.
You can recreate these tough shots in training by having a setter set the ball as high as they can from the back/right corner of the court to somewhere around the attack line.
Your task as the hitter is to practice timing your spike so that you can actually return the ball with some power.
Focus on jumping high but also focus on ensuring the ball lands in the court.
If you have some teammates who can block, this will make it more challenging and you’ll have to pick some more crafty shots (like the one above) to get it around the block.
9. Run Faster Attacks
The better you get at volleyball, the faster your offensive plays will become.
By this I mean the setter is pushing the ball out to you much quicker in a lower-arcing set.
You don’t see great big looping sets in high level volleyball.
The reason for this is because the quicker your offense becomes, the tougher it is for the block to get into position.
A 2nd step attack is when the outside hitter is already on the second step of their approach as the setter is making contact with the ball.
Admittedly, these plays are very tricky to get right because you need a setter who really knows what they’re doing.
Timing is also really difficult to perfect as the hitter.
So not ideal for beginners, but definitely something to keep in the back of your mind as you advance in the sport.
10. Practice Block To Spike Transition
One of the toughest parts of being an outside hitter is having to block and then sprint back off the net to get into position to hit the ball.
Not enough people practice this in training and when this situation arises in-game, they do a poor job of it.
A simple drill you can do is to perform a block jump at the net, rush back to slightly beyond the attack line and have your setter (who’s standing in their usual spot), toss a set.
It should be quick enough where you barely have enough time to transition out far enough before moving in to spike.
11. Practice Hitting The Pipe
Great outside hitters have to be able to attack the ball from the back row.
If you’re just a beginner, you probably don’t have to think about this, but eventually you’ll need to learn how to be an offensive threat from behind the attack line.
This is super easy to practice in training.
Have the setter hit you a down ball in the 6 position, dig it back to them, and practice swinging from the back row.
Aim for the last foot of court before the baseline.
12. Use Side Spin When Spiking
This is another more advanced concept that beginners need not worry too much about.
But side spin plays a big role in spiking when you get better at the game of volleyball.
Being able to slice or chop at the ball is an excellent way to help control the ball when spiking, especially if you’re up against a formidable block.
The idea is to hit the side of the ball and wrap your hand around it as you follow through.
You’re still putting top spin on the ball, as you need it to go down, but you’re adding just a hint of side spin to help guide it towards the angle you want.
13. Identify Weaknesses & Exploit Aggressively
Smart outside hitters will be able to detect weaker players on the other side of the net.
It could just be something small like a slow middle blocker, or an opposite who doesn’t penetrate the net when blocking.
The best outside hitters are able to find the flaws in their opposition and exploit them relentlessly.
Communicate to your setter when you’re approaching a rotation in which you think you can exploit a weaker player and tell them to give you the ball.
14. Aspire To Be Extremely Consistent
This one’s about personal philosophy…
What kind of volleyball player do you want to be known as?
Would you rather be that amazing warm-up spiker who’s incredibly athletic and powerful, and will occasionally string together some great plays…
Or be known as the silent killer who executes on the fundamentals extremely efficiently, aims only for the deep corners when spiking – yet has the highest hitting percentage on the team – and passes the ball more accurately than even the libero?
You might even think that the former athlete is more exciting to watch, but I’d disagree.
There’s something incredibly awe inspiring about witnessing someone who is so fundamentally sound simply go about their business.
Coaches will definitely prefer having the latter player on their team, that’s for sure!
15. Improve Your Transition Footwork
As an outside hitter, you need to be able to pass the ball and then spike it just a couple seconds later.
To do this well requires efficient transition footwork as you move from serve-reception into your jump approach.
Here’s a great clip demonstrating exactly what your transition footwork should look like.
Understand that if you’re the one passing the serve, you may not have time for a full approach and have to be considerably more deliberate with the footwork you use.
16. Wear The Right Shoes
This one’s last on my list for a reason, because it’s really not that important…
But believe it or not, outside hitters will benefit by wearing different volleyball shoes to both liberos and middle blockers, for instance.
Since the outside hitter is doing a good mix of passing as well as hitting and blocking, they should pick a volleyball shoe caters to these needs.
They should wear a highly responsive shoe that’s low to the ground with excellent traction, so that they can pass the ball effectively.
At the same time they need a shoe with some bounce as well as adequate impact protection to protect their joints from the large volume of jumping they do.
If you’re an outside hitter, I’d suggest reading my article in which I reveal the two best volleyball shoes for outside hitters!
Parting Words Of Advice
A lot of what it takes to become a better outside hitter is simply doing more repetitions than your competition.
Pass the ball more often and hit the ball more often.
That’s the 20% that will get you 80% of the results you’re looking for.
Head to practice an hour early, stay an hour later, and practice those simple drills over and over.