Volleyball setters are responsible for coordinating their team’s offense while on the court.
A large part of this involves telling each of the spikers exactly what plays to run during the rally.
After a point ends, setters will often be seen using hand signals to instruct their teammates on what sort of an attack they intend on setting for them.
Each different type of set has a different hand signal which is used to quickly and inconspicuously let players know what’s going on.
In this article we’ll run through each of the most common hand signals used by setters as well as an example of what that play looks like.
Note that the names of each set/attack as well as their corresponding hand signals vary a lot from country to country, so if you’re outside of the USA, these hand signals may be different for you!
Left Side Attack Hand Signals
There’s usually 4 different types of set you’ll see on the left hand side of the court: 4, Hut, Go, Rip. It’s usually the outside hitter responsible for attacking these balls.
A “4” is indicated by holding up 4 fingers.
This is a traditional high ball set to the left side attacker.
A “hut” is indicated by making a slashing motion across your chest. A single slash is usually enough – excuse the gif below which is a little excessive…
This is a slightly faster tempo, lower arching outside set.
A “go” is indicated by making a gun symbol with your index and middle fingers and thumb.
This is an even faster “2nd step” tempo outside attack.
For this speed of attack, the outside hitter should be on the second step of their approach when the setter is contacting the ball.
A “32” or a “rip” is indicated by making an arch with your hand.
Referred to as either a “32” or a “rip”, this is slightly shorter and quicker outside high ball set between positions 4 and 3.
A (Back Row Attack)
An “A” is indicated by drawing a line over your upper chest near your right shoulder.
The “A” ball is an extremely uncommon back row attack from the back/left side of the court (position 5). It’s the mirror opposite to a D.
Right Side Attack Hand Signals
For the right side of the court, we’ve got the Back 2, 5, Red, as well as the D which is a back row attack. You’ll typically see the opposite hitter running these plays.
The “back 2” is indicated by holding up your pinky and ring finger.
This is a set directly behind the setter to the right side attacker. The ball should be set in between positions 3 and 2.
A “5” is indicated by holding up 5 fingers.
This is a fairly high ball set out to the sticks on the right side of the court.
A “red” is indicated by making a closed fist.
A “red” is a lower, faster tempo version of a 5.
D (Back Row Attack)
A “D” is indicated by drawing a line over your upper chest near your left shoulder.
A “D” is a right side attack from the back row, usually run by the opposite hitter.
Middle Attack Hand Signals
The middle blocker usually runs quick attacks through the center of the court: 1, Push 1, 3/Shoot, Back 1, Slide. There’s also the 2 AKA a meter ball.
A “1” is indicated by holding up 1 finger.
This is a standard quick set to the middle blocker in front of but close to the setter.
A “push 1” is indicated by flexing your index finger.
Slightly off center quick set (further to the left than a typical 1).
A “3” or a “shoot” is indicated either by holding up 3 fingers or by making a gun symbol with your index finger and thumb.
Referred to as both a “3” or a “shoot”, this is a quick attack pushed even further to the left of the setter than a Push 1.
A “back 1” is indicated by holding up your pinky finger.
This is identical to a “1” except that it’s run behind the setter and not in front of them.
A “slide” is indicated by making a shaka sign.
This is an attack where the MB begins in the middle or left of the court but runs to the right side to hit the ball. The ball should be set 3-4 feet above the net usually. The attacker will usually jump off one leg for a slide.
A “2” is indicated by holding up 2 fingers.
This is a high ball set to the front middle of the court. The lower/quicker version of this is known as a meter ball (shown below).
Pipe (Back Row Attack)
A “pipe” is indicated by drawing a line down the middle of your chest.
The “pipe” is a back row attack through the center of the court.
B (Back Row Attack)
A “B” is indicated by drawing a line down the middle of your right chest muscle.
You draw the line between where you’d signal an A and a pipe, which is where the B attack should be on court.
The “B” ball is a back row attack taking place between positions 6 and 5 – it’s right in between an “A” and a “pipe”. It’s also a fairly uncommon attack.
C (Back Row Attack)
A “C” is indicated by drawing a line down the middle of your left chest muscle.
You draw the line between where you’d signal a D and a pipe, which is where the C attack should be on court.
The “C” ball is a back row attack taking place between positions 6 and 1 – it’s right in between an “D” and a “pipe”. It’s also a very uncommon attack.
Back Row Quick Attack (BIC)
A back row quick attack (BIC) is simply a faster tempo/lower version of the aforementioned back row attacks.
A BIC is signaled by making a fist and flashing your thumb like you’re lighting a lighter.
The setter does this BIC signal while making the typical back row play signal (A, B, C, D, pipe) to indicate the faster tempo.
A BIC pipe looks like the following:
This play from Lucas Saatkamp is a textbook BIC pipe.
At the high level, this BIC concept doesn’t really exist because it’s simply a given that back row attacks are run quickly.
Top volleyballers would therefore simply refer to a BIC pipe as a pipe.
For lower level volleyball players, even if you don’t distinguish between the back row attack tempos, it’s nice to know what these different hand signals mean so you’re not caught off guard if you see it.
Combination Play Hand Signals
Occasionally, setters will choose to run combination plays which is where attackers run unorthodox attacks around a condensed area of the court.
Usually the outside hits from the left, opposite from the right, and middle from the center, but during a combo play both the middle and one of the wing attackers will attack out of the center of the court.
The idea is to confuse opposition blockers.
X Combo Attack
An “X” combo play is indicated by crossing your index and middle finger over one another.
Often referred to as a tandem attack, the ‘X’ combo involves the middle blocker as well as one of the wing spikers. The middle will run a quick and the wing spiker will usually run a 2, Back 2, or 32.
The play gets it’s name because the two attacking players should cross paths in their approach, almost like an X.
Double Quick Combo Attack
A “double quick” combo is indicated by holding up your index and pinky fingers.
The “double quick” combination play is fairly self-explanatory. It’s a play run by both the middle blocker and opposite hitter – the MB hits a “1” and the opposite hits a “back 1”.
How Do Setters Communicate To Spikers?
Setters use hand signals to communicate with the spikers because they don’t want to reveal their strategy to the opposition team.
Communicating verbally would tip the other team off as to who’s running what sort of attack, which would allow the blockers to respond perfectly.
Why Do Volleyball Players Hold Fingers Behind Their Back?
In between points, setters use hand signals either behind their back or by using their shirt to shield the signal from the opponents across the net.
Some setters will even use a teammate as a shield for these hand signals so that the spikers next to/behind them can see them but the opposition can’t.
Other Hand Signals In Volleyball
You’ll often also see players other than the setter on the indoor volleyball court using hand signals behind their backs.
Middle blockers use open and closed fists to indicate whether they’re commit or read blocking the opponent middle.
Wing spikers hold up 1 or 2 fingers behind their back to indicate to the libero and other defenders whether they’re going to block the line or cross court.
This is also common practice in beach volleyball.
In both disciplines, players may also use hand signals to communicate to the server where they should serve the ball.
These Setter Hand Signals Are Not Universal!
I grew up playing volleyball in Australia where we have a completely different set of names and hand signals for every one of the above sets.
I know the hand signals are also very different in the Netherlands and in other places in Europe.
Each country seems to have their own set of hand signals and they’ll even vary from region to region within individual countries.
If you’re within the US, the signals I’ve talked about above should be fairly commonplace throughout the country.
Volleyball Setter Hand Signal FAQ
The 2 fingers pointing down behind the back is usually a blocking hand signal which means the player is planning on blocking their opponent cross court.
If the 2 fingers (peace sign) hand signal is coming from the setter, it refers to a meter ball attack (AKA a 2) which is a relatively low, medium tempo attack through the center of the court (see above).
If the 2 fingers held up are the ring and pinky finger, the setter is indicating a “back 2” which is the same as a 2 except behind the setter, and slightly more to the right side of the court, between positions 3 and 2.
If it’s the setter making the closed fist, it means they’re indicating to their opposite hitter that they want them to run a “red”.
The closed fist is also a blocking hand signal which indicates that the player will not commit block on the opposition player.
This means they’ll hang back and “read block” depending on the set.