The setter is widely regarded as the hardest position in volleyball for a number of reasons which can be summarized with just one word: responsibility.
You’re responsible for coordinating your team’s entire offense.
You’re responsible for ensuring your spikers actually have the opportunity to kill the ball.
You’re responsible for controlling the flow of the game as well as getting the most out of your teammates.
As a setter, when things go wrong, there’s nowhere to hide.
While this position isn’t for the feint hearted, it can be extremely rewarding if you do a good job.
Some players simply thrive on the thrill of calling all the shots out on the volleyball court.
In this article we’re going to take a closer look at the roles and responsibilities of a setter, what qualities make for great setters, and the 3 most important things to focus on to become a better setter.
What Does A Setter Do In Volleyball?
The setter is the glue that holds the team together.
They’re a designated player responsible for ‘setting’ every second ball (after it’s been passed or dug) to a spiker.
They operate out of the right hand side of the court. When in the back court, they’ll defend from position 1, and in the front court they’ll block in position 2.
The setter’s base position is between positions 2 and 3 – this is the location on court from which they’ll look to set balls from.
If you are unsure of what these numbers mean, check out my full article on positions in volleyball.
Let’s take a closer look at each of the responsibilities of a setter.
Setters Don’t Usually Pass
Most of the time, the setter is not involved in serve reception, because we want them setting the second ball… which they can’t do if they’ve touched the first ball.
Because we need our setter in position to set at the start of every point, serve receive formations are designed to allow the setter to ‘push up’ and start as close to their base position as possible.
Setters Are Responsible For Every Second Ball
The setter’s number 1 responsibility is to get to the second ball and make as good of a set as humanly possible so that a spiker can kill the ball.
This is really important as it allows the spikers to focus on transitioning into offense, so we have maximum offensive options at our disposal.
Does The Setter Always Get The Second Ball?
Thing don’t always go according to plan and occasionally the pass will be shanked so far away from the setter that they’ll have to call for help.
On rare occasions, the setter will end up passing the ball, in which case they definitely won’t get the second ball!
Setters Design, Communicate, & Execute The Team’s Offense
Since the setter is the all-important connection between the passers and the spikers, they’re essentially in charge of the team’s entire offensive strategy, along with the coach.
In many ways, a setter is a proxy for the coach out on the court.
Setters must tell their spikers exactly what offensive play they want them to run during each point.
They communicate this information to the attackers using hand signals designed to quickly and discretely indicate the type of set they’re planning on giving them.
As you can imagine, this is no easy task.
They have to decide what set to run for 3 separate attackers, communicate that with them, remember what they told each of them, and then actually decide in real-time which player to set.
Setters Also Have To Serve & Defend
Setters also have to serve the ball, just like anyone else.
After that, they have to be able to play defense first before going back to setting the ball.
Inexperienced setters will often ‘forget’ to defend when they’re in position 1 because they’re so focused on making sure they get to the second ball.
But if they’re playing defense in the back/right zone of the court, their first responsibility is making the dig, otherwise there will be no second ball to set!
Setters Also Have To Block!
Depending on what particular rotation your team runs, it’s not uncommon to see setters blocking.
They’ll usually be matched up against the opposition team’s outside hitter, which is why height and jumping ability can be extremely valuable to a setter who often finds themselves rotating through the front court.
What Are The Strengths Of A Good Setter?
Seeing a really excellent setter, a master of their craft, go to work on the volleyball court is a thing of beauty.
These athletes are master tacticians and are some of the smartest players on court who understand how the game works on a deeper level than most.
Great Setters Are Quick & Agile
Since setters are responsible for getting to every second ball, they often have to chase down stray passes.
Being speedy is definitely an asset for setters as it allows them to actually make good quality sets on balls which slower setters would barely be able to reach.
Great Setters See Things Most People Are Blind To
Brilliant setters have excellent court awareness.
They almost have a sixth sense for where players are on court, who’s in position, who’s lagging behind, and who to target.
They Identify Favorable Matchups
One of the primary jobs of a setter is to identify favorable matchups and to repeatedly exploit this in order to win as many points as possible.
A good setter will notice if there’s a shorter or less experienced player matched up against the best hitter on their team, and won’t be afraid to set them repeatedly.
They Identify Weak Defenders
Great setters have a good eye for things like whether the opposition middle blocker is moving too slowly.
As soon as they notice this, they’ll communicate it with their wing spikers and encourage them to aim for the seam, which will inevitably present itself as the MB fails to close the gap.
And then they’ll continually set to the pins as long as that middle blocker is in the front row.
Really smart setters will also know where the weakest back row players are at all times.
Perhaps that slow middle blocker has just served and is now defending out of 5, so the setter decides to set behind knowing their opposite will be able to kill more line balls with such a weak defender in the back row.
Great Setters Have Incredible Intuition
Part of being able to identify weak defenders and favorable matchups is being able to do it without even thinking.
Quite often, the best setters just know intuitively where the ball needs to go.
A great example of this is knowing when to use deceptive moves like the setter dump or setover.
Top Setters Know When & When Not To Use The Setter Dump
Inexperienced setters often haven’t developed the intuition needed to perform the setter dump with high efficiency.
This is a move which relies on timing and deception in order to catch the defenders off guard.
Weaker setters will dump the ball at virtually any chance they get, but it’s easily defended.
Great setters will often find a way to set the really ‘obvious setter dump’ setups, because they know they can give their spiker a better opportunity to kill the ball.
Great Setters Are Usually Taller Than You Think
Most volleyballers understand intuitively that setters aren’t the tallest players on the volleyball court and agree the order of height is something like the following:
Libero –> Setter –> Outside –> Opposite –> Middle
While this is the case, what people don’t realize is that setters are on average only 2cm (0.8″) shorter than outside hitters but are still a good 10cm (4″) taller than liberos!
The average height of an Olympic setter is almost 6’3.5″ for men and 5’10” for women.
This is really tall for someone who is virtually never hitting the volleyball!
Tall Setters Add Depth To Offensive Strategies
One of the reasons we often see setters playing in the front court is so that teams can run multiple offensive systems, not just 6-2.
This makes you a more unpredictable team, making it more difficult for opposition teams to come up with effective counter strategies.
By running front court setters, teams are able to make use of the setter dump which can be extremely effective against certain opponents.
Great Setters Are Technically Sound
Setting the volleyball isn’t the easiest skill to master technically speaking.
It’s a very unintuitive movement which takes a while for beginners to get the hang of and even longer to become an expert at.
Setters not only need smooth hands, but they need perfect footwork and efficient biomechanics.
They Don’t Telegraph Their Sets
A lot of beginners will lean forwards when setting to the left side of the court and shoot their hips forward/lean backwards when setting to the right.
This makes it pretty obvious where the set is going.
World class setters are completely neutral and impossible to read (like Bruno in the above clip).
Everything is consistent right up until the moment the setter contacts the ball with their hands, at which point they’re using primarily their wrists to send it where they want.
Great Setters Are Excellent Communicators
There’s no such thing as a good setter who is quiet and unassuming on the volleyball court…
They’re constantly talking back and forth with their hitters, letting them know which plays to run, and seeking feedback on the sets they’ve made.
Great setters are also engaged in constant dialog with the libero and other passers as well as the coaching staff to ensure the best offensive decisions get made.
Great Setters Are Incredible Leaders & Bring Out The Best Of Their Teammates
It’s no surprise a great deal of setters are also team captains.
Even if they’re not the captain, they need to act like one while on court.
They need to take charge and command attention to ensure everyone on the court is playing their role properly.
The best setters are incredibly fun to play with because they’re able to get the most out of everyone on their team.
They set the hitters who are hot, they run really smart plays that make spikers’ jobs easier, and they are exceptionally reliable.
How Important Is The Setter?
Without a doubt the setter is the most important position on the volleyball court.
It’s not the most glamorous role, but it’s central to a team’s ability to win the game because the setter is involved in every play, in a big way.
Think of the setter as the playmaker, the point guard of volleyball.
Bad Setters Limit Your Offensive Potential
If you’re stuck on a team with weak setters, it is not a fun experience…
The main problem is inconsistent setting.
If a setter simply cannot get the ball to where you need it on a reliable basis, they’re going to make your life as a spiker really difficult.
In turn, this massively reduces your hitting percentage which massively reduces your team’s chance of winning the match.
Good Setters Maximize Their Team’s Hitting Efficiency
If, on the other hand, you have an incredible setter, you’ll really be able to wind up and hit the volleyball hard, because you know exactly where the ball is going to be.
If you can hit the ball harder, you usually have a better chance of killing it and winning the point.
But great setters will take it one step further by making really smart setting decisions.
This means they’re able to select which of their spikers has the best chance of winning the point at a better rate than most.
They identify more favorable matchups, they sniff out weak players, and are great at finding holes in the opposition’s defense.
Armed with this information, they can get the ball to the best hitter for that particular point which massively increases the team’s hitting percentage.
Is Setter A Good Position In Volleyball?
This is a question with a very subjective answer.
It’s certainly good for some players, but definitely not a good match for others.
Personally, I like to be able to hit the ball a lot, so it’s not a role I gravitated towards.
But for anyone who possesses the strengths I’ve discussed above, it could well be a very rewarding position for you.
Should I Be A Setter?
If you’re trying to decide whether you’d make a good setter, it’s important to understand just how well configured you are as an athlete to play this position.
Let’s take a quick look at a few of the things which will make your chances of success as a setter much higher.
Physical & Mental Attributes Of A Setter
While there’s always exceptions to the rule, meeting certain benchmarks in each of the following areas will drastically improve your chances of succeeding as a setter.
So we know that for men at the highest level of the game, the average height for a setter is 6’3.5″ or 192cm and for women it’s 177cm or 5’10”.
These numbers are also reflected by the average heights in college volleyball.
Obviously, the shorter you are, the tougher it’ll be to make it to the top as a setter in volleyball.
A number of the best men’s setters are right around 198cm which is really, really tall.
For that reason, I always quote 6’1″ (185cm) as the bare minimum height to be a successful high level men’s setter (we’re talking professional/international level here).
For women that number is 5’8″ or 178cm.
For more details on height benchmarks for setters, how tall you need to be as a setter to get a college scholarship, as well as some examples of really short setters who found success, be sure to check out my full article on setter height.
Quickness, Agility, & Jumping Ability
This isn’t exactly a prerequisite for setting success, as it’s something that can be developed over time, but it will help a lot.
As far as speed goes, the main thing here is having quick acceleration because on a volleyball court you’re only ever going to be sprinting 5-10 meters max.
If you can chase down and set slightly more second balls than slower setters, logically your spikers will be able to make more effective attacks.
Jumping ability is a massively underrated aspect which I think all setters need to be working on, particularly if they’re on the shorter side.
We’ve already established that being able to play in the front row gives your team more options, but this means our setter can’t be a liability when in the front court.
They need to be able to block, otherwise none of this makes sense.
For that reason, a 185cm setter with a 310cm block reach is significantly less valuable than a 185cm setter with a 323cm block reach…
By improving your vertical jump, you immediately increase your blocking ability as well as offensive options as a front row setter.
Well Developed & Consistent Technical Skills
How good are you at actually setting the ball?
Chances are if you’re interested in becoming a setter, you’ve probably got a decent set of hands on you.
If you’re naturally a pretty useless setter, don’t assume that you don’t have what it takes. Setting is a very practicable skill that you can rapidly improve at if you give it enough time and effort.
Strong Leadership & Communication Skills
This is probably one aspect that is a lot less trainable, but again it can be improved.
A lot of this comes down to personality type. Extroverts tend to make better communicators and leaders for the most part.
Do you even like the idea of constantly being the center of attention? Does the idea of being involved in every single play resonate with you? Or are you pretty shy and prefer just keeping your head down and playing your role?
Having said that, I’ve seen some really shy and quiet people off the court turn into completely different people when they step on the volleyball court!
Learning how to communicate and lead better is not that difficult if you’re serious about becoming a great setter.
Ability To Perform Under Pressure
When the score is 25-26 and you’ve been having a lousy game, how do you respond?
Are you the type of player to crumble under pressure? Or do you tend to perform well?
As a setter there’s absolutely nowhere to hide in that moment. You still have to get to the second ball and you still have to put it where it needs to go.
If you’re still unsure, be sure to check out this article for more information on how to choose the right volleyball position for you.
What Do Coaches Look For In A Setter?
Now that you’re sure you want to pursue the role of setter, perhaps you’re interested in playing college volleyball and like the idea of a sports scholarship.
Perhaps you eventually want to play professionally as a setter…
In any case, you have to understand how marketable you are as an athlete.
Setter Recruitment Guidelines
Let’s take a quick look at what scouts and coaches are paying attention to when it comes to setters.
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
It always amazes me where they get these numbers from… to suggest any volleyballer has a higher block jump than attack jump is nonsense, so I would take these figures with a grain of salt.
Men’s recruiting guidelines aren’t public, except that they suggest a “good spike height” for college setters is 320cm, which I think is a fairly reasonable benchmark.
Height is more of a factor now than ever when it comes to sports scholarships in volleyball.
It’s probably less sought after in the position of setter than elsewhere, but is still highly desirable as teams really like the idea of running multiple offensive systems.
For a full list of the height benchmarks required for college volleyball setters to appeal to recruiters, be sure to check out my full article on how tall setters need to be.
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.
There’s a huge difference between a setter who is skilled technically, and one who really understands the nuances of the game on a deep level.
Coaches can see this sort of stuff from a mile away and these are exactly the types of players they want to work with.
In Europe, entire professional teams are built around setters and the same concept applies universally: coaches want really smart players to lead their team.
You can be slightly too short, remarkably unathletic, and still be an absolute killer of a setter if your decision making ability is really on point.
A lot of ‘volleyball IQ’ is innate – some people are just really good at it from day 1 – or because they play a ton of volleyball. For others, it takes a lot longer to develop.
In the next section of this article, I’ll reveal my number 1 way to rapidly develop this skill.
How To Be A Better Setter
One of the benefits of the setter position is that a lot of the required skills are highly trainable.
How good you become at volleyball largely comes down to how hard you’re willing to work to improve.
I could come up with a huge long list of tips and tricks for setting in volleyball, but instead I’ve decided to reveal the 20% of things which will get you 80% of the results.
Below are by far the 4 most important things you need to put your time and effort into to become a better setter.
1. Do More Repetitions Than Your Competition
Setting is a numbers game.
If you want to become a top setter, you need to set the ball more times per week than your competition.
If they’re setting the ball 200 times per week and you’re setting the ball 400 times per week, who do you think will become the better setter?
It’s really that simple.
This will often mean playing more volleyball games each week as well as spending more time practicing.
Find A Highly Motivated Friend
If you’re a setter who wants to improve, find an equally motivated spiker and drag them to the volleyball court for a couple hours extra each week.
You can do extremely simple drills like hitting lines (downball to set wing) with as few as 1 other player. Practice running quicker tempo attacks from different locations on court.
2. Use The Right Equipment
This goes back to doing more reps than your competition. Using the right equipment will allow you to get more quality reps in.
If you’re serious about developing as a setter, there’s a couple of pieces of equipment I strongly recommend using which will increase the rate at which you improve.
Every Setter’s Best Friend: A Weighted Volleyball
If you’re a setter, you need to be using a weighted volleyball. Period.
It’s one of the best ways to develop the hand, finger, and wrist strength needed to set effectively in games.
By regularly using a weighted training ball like this, when you switch back to a regulation game ball, you’ll be able to set further, with more consistency, for longer.
Be sure to check out my full article explaining which setter training balls are best for which types of volleyballers.
Practice Setting At Home Using A Setter Target Net
If you don’t have regular access to a proper volleyball net, or simply want to get some extra repetitions in, one of the best tools you can use is a setter target net.
The benefit of using one of these is that you can set them up virtually anywhere around the house and they allow you to practice actually setting the sets you would in a game.
The net is a great way to get feedback on your accuracy without needing a training partner.
Also be sure to check out my full article discussing the best volleyball setter traaining equipment.
2. Develop Setter Specific Upper Body Strength & Explosiveness
One of the best ways to improve your consistency when setting is to develop strength in your arms and shoulders.
At the highest level of the sport, setting is ‘all in the wrists’.
Junior athletes often struggle to back set without telegraphing their intentions, because they lack the lower arm strength to make the set, and need to generate power with their whole body.
I’ve written a full article explaining the most important lifts and exercises for developing upper body strength specific to setters, so be sure to check that out!
It’ll Improve Your Serving Ability
One of the easiest ways to increase your value as a setter is to develop a killer jump serve.
Having a powerful jump serve requires both lower body explosiveness (vertical jump) as well as upper body power so you can hit the case off the ball!
3. Develop Volleyball IQ Through Studying Game Footage
There is so many hours of high quality volleyball gameplay footage on YouTube just waiting to be watched.
Instead of watching Haikyuu on Netflix for an hour every night, spend that time watching the volleyball Nations League matches.
As a setter you should try to imagine you’re making the decisions of the setter on court and try to predict their moves.
Pause the video after every point and ask yourself why the setter chose to make the play they did.
Study the rotations and research all of the players. Find out who the players are, what their player ranking is, and try to identify all of the favorable matchups in each rotation.
This is probably the most effective way you can become a better setter without so much as touching a volleyball!
Volleyball Setter FAQ
Yes, the setter has to serve in volleyball. All positions except for sometimes the libero are required to serve in volleyball.
Setters can absolutely spike the volleyball but only if they’re in the front court. If they’re in the back court, they’re not allowed to ‘attack’ the ball.
Some setters, particularly left handed setters, will often be seen spiking the second ball when the moment calls for it.
Any player on the volleyball court, including the setter can receive a serve.
It’s not particularly common for setters to receive serves, as they’re usually pushed right up to the front of the net during serve reception.
However, occasionally the ball will dribble over the net right in front of the setter, forcing them to pass the ball.
Yes, the setter along with every other position rotates in volleyball.
Although they do rotate, serve reception configurations are designed such that the setter is closest to their ‘base position’ in all rotations, so it looks like they don’t move around the court a lot.
The setter’s base position is in the front of the court between positions 2 and 3.
This is the place on court where they’re able to most efficiently set all positions.
When on defense, they block from position 2 and when in the back court they defend from position 1.
Usually the setter will start in position 1.
“Setter hands” are the result of thousands upon thousands of repetitions.
Setting using a weighted volleyball is a great way to fast track the development of setter hands.
A ‘double’ in volleyball refers to when the setter fails to make a clean contact when setting the ball, and the result is 2 contacts.
The point is awarded to the other team.
You can often tell when someone’s made a double by excessive rotation on the ball after it’s left their hands.
Setting is a really technically difficult skill for beginners to learn as well as for advanced players to master. It’s a movement unlike anything else in the sporting world which doesn’t really come naturally to anyone.
To become really efficient and smooth at setting simply requires a very large amount of repetitions.