It’s no secret that the setter is the most important player on the volleyball court.
It can be a really difficult position to play which comes with a lot of responsibility, so your team’s relying on you getting it right.
In this article I’m going to run through 15 ideas and concepts you need to be familiar with as a setter in order to do a decent job in this position.
Let’s get right into it!
1. Identify Weak Rotations & Favorable Matchups
Your only job as the setter is to help your team win as many points as possible.
If there’s a really short player on the other side of the net who can barely get above the net when blocking, a smart setter will repeatedly set the player they’re matched up with.
Perhaps the other team has a rookie setter in the front row and you’ve got your most skilled outside hitter standing there just licking their lips…
Don’t feel bad about finding the weakest player on the other side of the net and going after them!
Every time you set the ball, you’re entering a battle. This battle is fought above the net.
If your opponent brought a knife to the fight, and you’ve got a tank at your disposal… Use the tank!
Being a good setter isn’t about being completely random and unpredictable. It’s about winning points.
If that means setting the same guy 15 times in a row, then do it!
2. Train With A Weighted Volleyball
If you’re a setter worth your salt, you absolutely must be using a weighted setter training ball regularly – I recommend daily use to see the best results.
These things are 70% heavier than regulation volleyballs so they develop your arms, hands, and finger strength extremely effectively.
When you switch back to a regular game ball, you’ll be able to set further, with more consistency, and for longer.
Be sure to check out my full article discussing the 4 best weighted volleyballs for more info on which ones are actually worth buying!
You might also like to take a look at my article regarding strength training specifically for setters.
3. As You Get Better, Practice Running Faster Tempo Plays
When beginners first start playing volleyball, you tend to see lots of really high, loopy sets.
As you progress in the sport, these sets get lower and quicker.
The reason low and quick sets are so effective is because it makes it very difficult for the middle blocker to get out and set up a double block.
Essentially, the quicker you can deliver the ball to your hitter, the better chance they’ll have at a 1 on 1 attack.
Let’s take a quick look at a few of the progressions in terms of tempo.
Slow Tempo Set Outside: 4
This is what we’d call a high ball or a 4 and is very common with beginners in volleyball.
Medium Tempo Set Outside: Hut
You’ll notice the middle tempo set has become lower arching which allows it to move to the outside much quicker.
Fast Tempo Set Outside: Go
This is about as fast and low as you’ll get when setting high level players.
It’s uncommon to see sets like this below the collegiate level as it’s very difficult to get the timing perfect.
If you’re new to the sport, don’t think you’ll be setting fast like this any time soon, but understand that this is how elite setters do their jobs.
When the opportunity arises for you to start practicing quicker tempo plays, take hold of it with both hands!
Check out this article to see a list of all the various setter plays and examples of what those sets look like.
4. Memorize The Setter Hand Signals
As a setter, one of your main responsibilities is effectively communicating which attacks your hitters will run each play.
The most effective way of doing this is to use hand signals which quickly and covertly indicate which play you’re looking to set.
If you’re not already familiar with the setter hand signals, be sure to click on the above link so you can learn them ASAP!
5. Practice At Home With A Target Net
It’s pretty hard to train as a setter at home because it’s difficult to gauge accuracy without the volleyball net there for reference.
One of the best solutions to this problem is to use a setter target net which allows you to set up a target in any location around your home so you can practice setting as you would in a game.
Setting up against the wall repeatedly is fine, but it’s simply not a very efficient way to help you become more accurate on the volleyball court.
If you want to take your game to the next level, I’d strongly recommend getting one of these!
6. Perfect The Setter Dump
The setter dump is a move where you, as the setter, ‘dump’ the ball over the net on the second contact as opposed to setting up one of your spikers.
Since the blockers and defenders on the other side of the net are expecting you to set the ball to someone else, if done correctly, you can catch everyone off guard and win a point for your team.
The issue is, people often fail miserably when attempting to do setter dumps.
The Setter Dump Mustn’t Be Telegraphed
The key to a great setter dump is deception.
You must go up with both hands as if you were to jump set normally. Only at the last second can you swipe the ball down across the net.
If you drop your right arm too quickly, it becomes obvious what’s happening since you can’t set without both hands up.
You Must Dump The Ball Downwards
I often see younger setters attempting this just tapping the second ball across the net. It lands somewhere in the middle of the court but it’s usually pretty easy to dig.
Part of the issue here is that they didn’t jump high enough. You absolutely must be jump setting in order to dump well.
This allows you to actually get some downward trajectory on the dump, turning it into almost more of a slam dunk.
Most of the time the ball should land within the 10 foot line, usually just behind or beside the blockers… just slightly out of reach of defenders.
7. Exploit Slow Middles By Setting To The Pins
As we discussed, great setters are constantly on the look out for weaknesses they can exploit.
A slow middle on the other side of the net should have your setter licking their lips!
Some middle blockers, particularly at the junior level, simply move very slowly and have a hard time coordinating their body.
It’s usually pretty obvious after a few points whether the middle is lagging behind or not.
If they are, tell your pins that you intend on setting them a lot and that they should aim for the seam which will inevitably present itself in a lot of double blocks.
That middle will only be on the floor for 3 rotations, so make sure you make the most of it by targeting them over and over.
8. Frequently Communicate With & Remind Your Hitters What They’re Running!
As a spiker, the setters I enjoy playing with the most are the ones who are constantly reminding their players what to run.
Not because you need to be reminded, but because it shows that they haven’t forgotten about you as a hitting option.
Obviously that’s never going to be the case, but just seeing that quick flash of a hand signal in between each point gives you that little reassuring hit of dopamine.
It’s like a vote of confidence in your ability to come through with the goods.
For you as the setter, frequently reminding hitters of what plays to run is a great way to organize your own mind as well.
9. Master The Setover
The setover is a play very similar to the setter dump in that it relies on deception and timing to be effective.
Put simply, a setover is where the setter will set the second ball just over the net into an open space as opposed to setting their spiker.
There’s honestly not a great deal of technique involved in pulling off a great setover… It’s more about picking the right moment.
Of course you want to set it just behind or next to the opposition blocker into an empty area of the court.
Keep it nice and low and quick – make life real difficult for the defenders.
Aside from that, it’s all about intuition and experience.
If you ask a top setter how to get great at the setover, they probably couldn’t describe exactly how they do it.
It’s just one of those things that you get better at over time and some players have an excellent eye for it.
10. Set Against The Flow
Setting against the flow is a concept where the setter sets the opposite direction from where the play is moving. It’s easiest explained with an animation…
Often when a pass comes into the setter, it’s a bit off center which causes the opposition blockers to “cheat” by scooting over further to one side of the court.
This is effectively the blockers’ way of saying they’ve made a read that the ball will be set a certain way, so they’re trying to jump the gun.
In the above example you can see both the middle and left side blockers started quite far to the right side of the court because the pass indicated the ball would move out there…
By recognizing this and setting against the flow, you can often catch blockers out of position, giving your wing attacker a wide open look.
11. Run Smart Combination Plays
Combination plays should be run as a means of exploiting a certain weakness in the opposition.
Perhaps you’ve got a middle blocker who’s commit blocking far too aggressively on your middle.
If that’s the case, by running an X combo, you can have your middle act as a decoy while your wing hitter comes through and swings on a meter ball with no block.
There’s all sorts of different combinations you can experiment with, but always aim to have some method to the madness, otherwise you complicate the game for no good reason.
Honestly if you told me your reason was “because it looks cool”, I’d say that’s as good a reason as any!
12. Set The Hottest Player Way Too Much
If one player on your team is absolutely killing it, do not stop setting them.
Go up to them in between points and tell them you’re going to set them relentlessly and ask them to rise to the challenge.
Obviously they won’t receive 100% of sets, because certain passes will make it impossible.
But really make a point of it.
You want the opposition thinking, is this guy for real?
Watch to see whether blockers start cheating and as soon as you notice them start moving early, set against the flow.
13. Practice Your Poker Face
A great setter should be virtually impossible to read.
If the pass is perfect, your opponents shouldn’t have a clue if the ball’s going outside, behind, or to the middle.
Your setting technique should be such that until the ball makes contact with your hands, it could go anywhere.
Inexperienced setters will often lean forward when setting forward and shoot their hips forward/lean backwards when back setting.
Great setters are completely neutral and use their wrists to send the ball forwards or backwards.
When the pass is quite tight to the net, it should also be very difficult to read whether you’re going to setter dump or set the ball.
Some setters will look to dump virtually every tight pass when they’re in the front court. But great setters will find a way to make great sets even from really tight passes.
14. Improve Your Vertical Jump To Become A Better Blocker
Being a tall setter can be a really valuable asset because it allows your team to run more than just a 6-2 rotation. Tall setters can block and score points via setter dump.
If you’re not particularly tall, you should look to compensate for this lack of height by learning how to jump higher.
Doing so will transform you into not only a better blocker, but a more efficient and dangerous setter.
At the end of the day, becoming a better setter is about becoming a more valuable asset on the court.
A 185cm setter with a 330cm block reach is a lot more valuable than a 185cm setter with a 310cm block reach!
James de Lacey, S&C Coach & Owner of Lift Big Eat Big, suggests “to jump higher, focus on developing lower body strength and power within the gym.
Use heavy squats to develop strength, and various loaded and unloaded jump variations for speed and power development.”
Learning how to jump higher brings me to my next point…
15. Turn Your Jump Serve Into A Weapon
Any volleyball player becomes more valuable when they have an excellent serve.
A powerful, reliable jump serve is one of the best ways to separate yourself from other setters.
Being able to jump high is 1 part of the equation, the other half is developing a strong and explosive upper body, so you’re capable of hitting the ball just as hard as the spikers on court.
For more ideas, be sure to check out my full article on strength training specifically for setters.
16. Setting Is A Numbers Game
By far the biggest thing you can do to improve as a setter is simply set more volleyballs.
Not more than you have been, but more than your competition is.
If the setters you’re competing against are setting the ball 200 times a week, you should endeavor to set the ball 400 times!
Get yourself a weighted setter ball and keep that thing with you all day. Any time you get a spare moment, practice setting the ball to yourself.
Anything you can do to get more contacts on the ball, do it.
Part of that means actually setting hitters multiple times a week as well.
It’s very difficult to practice setting shoots and other quick attacks without having a middle blocker there to coordinate with.
Find a hitter who’s serious about improving and drag them to the court for a few extra hours per week. Tell them you’ll set them as much as they like.
Now suddenly you’re both getting more reps in than your competition!
Parting Words Of Advice
Setting is a tough gig.
It always seems to be the hitters getting recognition for putting balls away, but rarely will you get the recognition you deserve for serving up all that butter!
But the more you practice, the better you’ll get, and eventually you’ll develop a reputation as a setter coaches love and players love to play with.
Make sure you’re aware of each of the concepts I’ve discussed in this article today and be willing to go out there and put a ton of reps in!
Good luck and may your sets be nectar!