What Is a Good Set in Volleyball?
Before we talk about the standard and quality of the setting, we need to understand the role of setting in the volleyball game as a whole.
Setting is a transitional skill that allows the team to manage going from a defensive situation (passing) into an offensive situation (spiking and/or attacking).
Therefore, we all need to understand that this transitional skill requires a lot of calculus, spatial coordination, complex manipulative skills, and temporal analyses.
In essence, good setters have a deep understanding of how the level of difficulty of the opponent’s serve can affect the quality of the pass. Very smart setters also position themselves at the middle of the attacking zone to anticipate passes and set a good target for passers.
What is a good set?
To answer this question, I went back to my notes from when I interviewed two of the best setters in the world: Volleyball Hall of Famer, Helia Souza (Fofao), and Bernardinho, Captain of the Men’s Brazilian Volleyball team.
For Fofão, a good set is a set that allows the hitter to execute an effective spike and helps the team to overcome the blockers of the opposing team. Setting is an act of love and friendship. When setting, Fofão analyzes the passes, sees where the blockers are, and then makes the decision to whom she will set: to the middle, wing players, or the back row.
Fofão told me that, in addition to all tactics involved in setting, she also knows where the hitter “likes” the ball. Some hitters like the ball to be “hanging in the air”, others like a good tempo not too tight to the net. She balances following the pattern of the offense with delivering a ball that the player prefers the most. The key point to perform a good set is to get underneath the ball and have the middle player available to attack the ball.
Bruninho also agrees with Fofão and adds that he will not hesitate to set to the middle player so the opposite blockers will stay put, even when the pass is not as good. There are many different names for the sets but in essence, a good set is the one that the hitter can spike effectively.
Bruninho sets up the offense, so he has always three hitters available to spike the ball. The idea is to have the outside hitter, the right-side, and the players from position 6 (pipe) available to hit the ball regardless of where the middle player is.
For instance, if the team performs a good “A” pass, close to the net (P3), or a “B” pass close to the 3m-line, or even if they get a “C” pass at the middle of the court, he likes to go, get under the ball and deliver some spectacular sets to the back row or the P4 or P2. For Bruninho, the very definition of a great setter relies on his/her ability to set well with good or bad passes.
A good set is a ball delivered in between the antennas, and with one or two feet off the net. For both setters when a ball is in front of the hitter that gives a lead-up position that facilitates the hitter’s approach.
Learning how to set takes lots of time and practice. For this reason, setters and coaches arrive earlier and leave late from practices like the one below. (Courtesy of Leonardo Carvalho and the Brazilian Volleyball Federation at the Center of Volleyball Development in Saquarema, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil).
Check the SportsEdTV volleyball library to learn more about setting.
There are many different philosophies about what a good set is, but the consensus among volleyball players and coaches resonates with the fact that if a hitter can hit the ball well, that was a good set.
In sum, a good set fulfills the criteria that if the ball is hittable then the set is a very good set, but if the setter can deliver a set in which the hitter can spike the ball against a late, or with not block, then, that is a great set.
Thanks to the generosity of all Brazilian volleyball players and to the Brazilian Confederation of Volleyball for allowing Dr. Da Matta to document all practices in 2013. Photos by Dr. Da Matta.