Volleyball perfectly balances defense and attack, with the dig being an essential defensive move.
In volleyball, a dig is a defensive move that prevents the ball from touching the ground after the attacking team’s spike or tipping. There is another, simpler definition: a dig is a situation in which the defending team receives an attacked ball and keeps the ball in play.
Defining a dig and determining the difference between a dig and a pass in the middle of a game isn’t as easy as it might seem.
In this article, we’ll define exactly what a dig is, see where the confusion occurs, and learn how to properly dig a ball.
What Is and Isn’t a Dig? (Misconceptions About Digs) and Why Are Digs Useful?
A player has to resort to a dig after the attacking team has spiked or tipped the ball into the defending team’s half.
The dig is useful for two reasons; firstly, it prevents the ball from touching the ground, which prevents the attacking team from scoring a point.
Secondly, a good dig can set up a counterattack.
Digging is often the only way to stop the attacking team from scoring. If the spiked ball hasn’t been blocked, it will pass through to the back lines and you’ll have to keep it from touching the ground with a dig.
To be as accurate as possible, we’ll refer to the NCAA’s rulebook on volleyball statistics.
First of all, contrary to popular opinion, the attacking move doesn’t necessarily have to be a spike for a dig to be awarded. Defending a tipped ball is also accepted as a dig.
Secondly, the reception of a serve does not count as a dig. You may find some sources saying that a successful dig is the reception of the attacking team’s spike, tipping, or serve. This is incorrect.
A dig is only awarded when a spiked or tipped ball is defended and passed to another player. The reception of a serve is not a dig.
Thirdly, a dig resulting from the opposition’s block does not count as a dig. For example, if Team A spikes the ball and Team B successfully blocks it, the defensive intervention by a player on Team A does not count as a dig.
A dig is only awarded from attacking play!
Finally, a dug ball has to reach a teammate (stay in play) in order to be considered a dig. If you hit the ball but still concede a point, your attempt at saving the ball will not be considered a dig.
Different Types of Digs
There are a few different types of digs in volleyball: the regular (traditional) dig, the side dig, the diving dig, and the overhead (overhand) dig.
The regular dig happens when the defensive player has accurately anticipated where the attacking team will direct the ball. The player then simply takes up the right position, digs the ball, and makes a pass to another player in the team.
The side dig is almost identical to the regular dig, with hand positioning being the only notable difference. In a side dig, the ball is heading to the player’s left or right-hand side, not directly at the player.
This usually happens because the ball bounces off an unsuccessful block, or because the defensive player misjudged the ball’s original path.
Since the player doesn’t have the time for repositioning, they have to hit the ball from the side. This makes the dig much more difficult.
The diving dig, also known as simply ‘the dive’, is a dig in which the defensive player has to throw themselves to the ground to prevent the ball from touching it. This usually happens when a ball is too fast and the player doesn’t have enough time to properly position themselves.
Although players usually try to dig with both arms, a diving player will often perform a one-armed dig because it’s quicker.
There is a special technique in the diving dig called ‘the pancake’. Pancaking the ball means diving into a dig and letting the ball hit the back of your hand. This is a last resort, though, and you won’t see it used often.
Finally, we have the overhead dig or the overhand dig. This is the type of dig in which the ball is directed above the defending player’s head (as the name implies).
In that case, the defensive player has to reach over their head to strike the ball – usually with the heel of the palm.
The most important rule when it comes to dig statistics is this:
“Team A’s digs CANNOT total more than Team B’s total attacks minus their kills and errors. Those are the ONLY balls that can be dug.”
Simplified, this means that it’s mathematically impossible for one team’s number of successful digs to be greater than the opposition team’s number of attacks.
It is mathematically possible for a team to have the same number of digs as the opposing team’s number of attacks. This means that the team has dug out every single spiked and tipped ball throughout the match. This is, obviously, almost impossible, but it can happen.
Another rule that we need to think about is that a dig can only happen from an attacking play. For example, if the team has mishandled the ball and a player has to dig the ball, that does not count as a dig statistically.
Digs play an important part in passing statistics as well, as they’re technically a type of a pass.
There are four pass grades:
- No pass (attacking team scores)
- Poor pass (teammates have difficulty playing the ball)
- Acceptable pass (good ball, but it puts the team out of the system)
- Perfect pass (keeps the team in the system and allows a counterattack)
What Is the Difference Between a Dig and a Pass?
A dig is only considered a dig if the defending player dug the ball from the attacking team’s attack.
If a player digs the ball after it was mishandled by their own team, then it’s considered a pass, not a dig. Also, if the defending team has touched the attacking team’s ball in an attempt to block it, the next touch is not a dig, but just a simple pass.
The same rule applies to a situation in which the attacking team’s player isn’t attacking the ball, but is just getting it over the net to get rid of it. For example, this happens in situations where the ball was already touched twice and the player on the ball can’t make an attacking play, so they just pass it over the net to avoid a four-hit violation.
If this happens – there can be no dig, only a pass.
While you may not be too concerned about the difference between a dig and a pass as a player, it’s very important for statistics. If digs and passes get mixed up, you can quickly end up with an impossible statistic saying that there were more digs than the opposing team’s attacks.
How Do You Properly Dig?
There are a few steps in the process of digging that happen very quickly on the court. It may seem complicated and a little bit chaotic when you’re reading it, but you can practice these things to such a high degree that you instinctively know how to dig the ball.
1. Position Yourself Right
The first step towards digging a ball is proper positioning. When the attacking team is making their play, you and your teammates need to be ready and waiting in your spots. That way, no matter where the ball is headed, one of you will be able to dig it.
When it comes to digging, you’re always making a few small steps to perfectly position yourself – your arms are just finishing the job by digging the ball. If you think about it, positioning is one of the most important aspects in volleyball, not just when it comes to digs, but also in spikes, blocks, and receiving serves as well.
2. Stay Nimble and Ready to Pounce
Secondly, you need to stay light on your feet, low to the floor, bent in the knees, ready to move at a moment’s notice, with forearms coming together (bump position) ready to receive the ball.
This way, when you spot its trajectory, you’ll be able to intercept the ball with ease.
The ball will come at you at an incredible speed, and you need to be at the ready when it does. If you’re stiff and your arms are at your sides, you will not have enough time to react to the ball.
3. Predict the Ball’s Trajectory
The third step is to observe the attacking team’s play and predict where the ball will land. This may sound like too much at first because the ball will move at such a speed that you’ll have just a moment to predict its trajectory, but this is where your reflexes come into play.
Once you know where the ball will land, you can reposition yourself to receive it.
If you’re observant enough, you’ll be able to pick up on the attacking team’s patterns. This will allow you to predict where the ball will land before it’s even hit. To read the game this well, though, you need to be an experienced player.
4. Reposition Yourself
Once you know where the ball will land, you need to move to intercept it.
This can be very difficult during spikes – the ball will move at an insane speed and you’ll have almost no time to reposition yourself. However, if the ball is spiked into your zone, you should be able to make small, quick adjustments to position yourself right and dig the ball.
If the ball is too quick and you simply don’t have the time to adjust your body, you’ll have to dive for it. Diving is, truthfully, improvisation – it’s a last resort. Throw yourself to the spot the ball will hit with one or both of your arms stretched out and try to hit it from the bottom.
5. Strike the Ball
The final step in digging a ball is to actually dig the ball. You predicted the ball’s trajectory right, you positioned yourself right, and all that’s left to do is hit the ball.
The best way to dig the ball is with both arms in the digging position (forearms coming together), also known as the bump position.
Sometimes, you’ll see players dig the ball with just one arm – they do this because they found themselves in a bad position and they don’t have enough time to bring their arms together. Using only one arm is much quicker than using both arms, but it offers less ball control to the player.
This is a decision you have to make on the spot, and you’ll get better at it with more experience.
When you’re striking the ball, you should always pass it to a teammate so they can organize a counterattack. If the ball doesn’t reach a teammate, the dig has failed.