Secrets to Passing a Volleyball
The Most Common Problem with Passing
What volleyball skill determines who wins most matches? Passing? Serving? Hitting? Setting? Blocking? Digging?
It’s hitting. Outside hitting to be exact. If you average the hitting percentages of the two outsides and opposite and compare it to the same three players of the opposing team, whoever wins that battle will win 95% of all matches!
Here is a second fact that will make sense to you: When balls are passed high and off the net, the team’s outside hitting percentage goes down.
Passing a ball low and to the net is your goal when passing.
The most common error I see when players pass is they use their legs to elevate the ball. They jump up to elevate the ball so the setter has time to get to the ball. Bad move. This single action causes the ball to be passed high and/or off the net and the outside hitting percentages plummet.
Advanced players do everything they can to pass the ball low. The last thing we do is jump up from our legs to elevate the ball. The only time we pass a ball high, is to allow the middles to get off of the net, not to have the setter get in front of the pass.
How do we elevate the ball when we pass? From the arms. Let me explain. When I teach passing at my clinics, I have participants concentrate on one aspect of the skill: backspinning the ball. Backspin = Control = Cushioning = Cutting the ball. All of these words have essentially the same meaning. Whenever you spin a ball in sports, you put control on it.
There are four ways we backspin (control) a ball:
1 Bring your arms back to your body at the moment of contact. This is done all the time on hard driven balls. Specifically when we receive jump serves and when we dig. The arms in this case come back into our body and are used to cushion the impact and change the trajectory of the ball.
2 Pivot into the ball using your knee to go down and through the ball. This is why coaches stress getting behind the ball so you go down and through it on contact. The arms are used to elevate the ball from the shoulder joint.
3 Bend over at the waist when you contact the ball (See picture.) This is how I prefer to teach players to pass. Passers become more athletic (quicker) and learn how to “cut” the ball off of their arms. Again, we use the arms to elevate the ball.
4 Crunch into the ball from your upper chest (See picture.) Players always try to take balls in front of them, but sometimes the ball comes in too high. The only rule we use for passing is to backspin the ball. So, we use our upper body to “crunch” on the ball while using our arms to control the height. By the way, this method does allow us to jump up from our knees.
To teach a player who has always elevated the ball from their knees or waist can be a challenge. What I have found to be an effective teaching tool is what I call the “over-correction” method. It is a teaching concept I took from a golf lesson many years ago. As the name implies, the idea is to over-correct a problematic issue and learn the feeling of correct execution.
Over-correcting passing is fairly simple. To start I have the player put one foot in front of the other. This will create a pivot point on your body. Which foot goes forward? It depends on which side you are passing from. If you are on the left side of the court, put your left foot forward. If you are on the right side of the court, put your right foot forward. The ball will always go wherever your shoulders face as it helps square your shoulders to the target. Most players regardless of which side they are on put their left foot forward for a good reason; setters runs the offense from the right side of the court. Next, get your arms out in front of your face so you can see your wrists. Have you ever heard the expression “follow the ball into your arms?” Reverse this thought: “Follow your arms into the ball.” Lock your elbows so you don’t “pop” the ball. The last thing we do is bend over and touch the floor while contacting the ball. This action of “bending” into the ball and touching the floor will get you going in the right direction. It forces you to pivot down into the ball instead of lifting up from your legs or back. The trick is to let your arms elevate the ball. Since you were taught not to swing your arms, this can be challenging. Swinging your arms is defined by taking your arms out of your peripheral vision when the ball approaches your platform, not by swinging your arms up to elevate the ball. This is a key difference. The result of this whole process is the ball magically backspins (control) and the ball is passed much lower to the net. The feeling of backspin off the arms is what I refer to as “cutting” the ball. It has a much different feeling than jumping up and having the ball bounce off the arms.
Bending into the ball and cushioning it has one other important application: it is how we control power. I hear players coming back from tournaments lamenting how they were “overpowered” by other teams. When you use your legs to jump up on serve receive, you are at the mercy of a good jump serve. By learning how to bend into passes we minimize powerful serves from the other team.
NEXT UP: THE ISSE OF SETTING. WHY YOU WERE TAUGHT TO PASS A BALL HIGH!