The Keys to Setting
Setting: The Basics, the Good and the Great
Setting is a challenge to teach at a clinic due to the physical nature of the skill. Strong fingers and wrists are a must, and strength must be developed through weeks and months of pushing physical limits. Setting a basketball for five minutes a day and doing push-ups on your fingers are a couple of ways to gain the required strength. The issue I have at my clinics is that I can teach only technique―not strength―and players' fingers only get weaker as the day progresses.
When talking about passing or setting, knowledge of the “Rule of Ball Control” is crucial. Coaches have different ways of describing this phenomenon. I explain it to the participants at my clinic as an integral element of many skills; passing, setting and digging are the most common. The Rule of Ball Control implies that when the ball is either 30 feet or one-and-a-half seconds away from your body (whichever comes first), you do not move your arms or hands in relation to your body. Period. Many coaches call this a quiet platform when applying this rule to passing. Your body can move (very quickly, I hope) but your hands don’t move when you set and your arms don’t move when you pass or dig. There are two reasons good players do this. The first is that you set and pass better. How much better? In some cases, there's a one hundred percent improvement. The second and less obvious reason is that we tell the next person where the ball is going without saying a word. When hitting, a good player can look at the hands of the setter and know exactly where to line up his approach. They unconsciously read the hands of the setter. In sports, we call this nonverbal communication. How cool is it to be able to look at your teammates and know where the ball will be before they ever touch it? Many teams refer to this phenomenon as teamwork.
The number-one factor in teaching setting is to have players stagger their feet to increase power and control. Crossing the feet is a very common mistake that novice setters make. Setters running a normal offense always put their right foot forward for two reasons: It enables them to see the court with their peripheral vision, and if they do make a mistake, they are more apt to set the ball off the net instead of over the net—it is where their shoulders are facing. This is an issue young setters need to deal with when backsetting, as their shoulders are facing over the net and should be realigned to achieve proper placement of the ball. If you set the ball over the net, check your feet; chances are you have the wrong foot forward. When setting outside to the left side, the right foot goes forward; when setting to the right side, the left foot is forward.
Every player has a responsibility to make each contact better than the one before. This is the essence of what great setters do—they make their hitters better. Setters have a responsibility to control two aspects of the hitter. The first is to keep the hitter's approach always going into the cross-court. We have all dealt with sets that are set outside of our approach; the result is the ball location hangs you out to dry with a loss in power and efficiency. No matter where you start your approach from, the setter should be able to “see” the hitter and adjust the depth of the set accordingly. To find the second aspect of a good set, you have to ask yourself a question: “When hitting the hardest ball you have ever hit, you are slightly…?” Answer: You are slightly late to the ball. When you are late to a set, you accelerate through your approach, jump high and hit hard. The trick to setting is to always make your hitters slightly late into the cross-court shot. Simple to explain, but challenging to do. To sum this up in a single thought: Set the hitter―not the ball!
Setting is a matter of timing a hitter’s approach. What do good setters do? To answer this question, you have to ask yourself: Who watches the setter? The answer: the blockers―specifically the middle blocker. Again, good players don’t react to the ball in sports; what they react to are the bodies of other players. This is what we call anticipation. Middle blockers anticipate setters so intently that they watch them during warm-ups for any pattern of setting. Typically, setters will push out from their elbows when setting outside. They will elevate their hands when setting the quick, and they will arch their backs when setting behind them. To counter this, good setters need to learn how to set only from their wrists. This again takes an even greater amount of strength. By avoiding the use of the elbows when you set, you give the opposing middles less to watch on the release of the ball.
As part of their training, advanced setters learn how to set the ball past the apex of their jump. Jump setting is a skill that is mastered at advanced levels. However, what great setters learn how to do is set the ball not at the top of their jump, but just as they are going down. This enables them to hold on to the ball and hold the middle blockers for a split second longer. If you want to see two excellent setters who set from the wrist past the apex of their jump, watch a replay of the 2007 NCAA women’s finals and keep an eye on Stanford’s Bryn Kehoe and Penn State’s Alisha Glass.
The last article I wrote dealt with passing the ball low and to the net. Good players do not jump up from their legs to pass the ball. In fact, we do everything we can to keep the ball low. When you pass a ball low, you give the setter added peripheral vision. When you give the setter peripheral vision, they can time the approach of the hitters. The added value of passing a ball low is that you give your setter the ability to watch the block. Great setters learn how to split objects; what they look at and what they think about are two different things. After a ball is passed, great setters learn how to look between the ball and the block. They use this information to catch the middle blockers out of position and “set against the flow.” Setting against the flow is nothing more than seeing the blocker lean or step one way while the setter sets the other way. It is one more way the setter makes the hitters hit better by creating space between the middle blocker and the outside blocker.
Next Up: A Simple Drill to Learn an Arm Swing!