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Training the Attack.

The availability of proper equipment will greatly impact the quality of your training. Having carts with plenty of balls allows coaches to break the attackers into “Half and Half” sides with half the athletes hitting while the other half shags. This allows for better tempo and quality of reps. The availability of tennis balls has also gone a long way in helping our training the transition game of our athletes.

Three-step Approach: Most coaches in the province teach a three-step; that is, right foot forward followed by a left, right-left approach for right-handed athletes. Naturally, the final two steps are a quick right-left, two-foot take-off. The arms are slightly forward with the initial left foot and swing back on take-off. Many coaches teach this approach for both outside and inside attackers. For the transition game I prefer what I call a short three step (others call a two-step) for both my middles and left-side hitters; that is, the left foot is forward and they perform a left, right-left from this starting position.

Timing vs. Spacing: The fact is that spacing is much more difficult for younger athletes to learn than timing. I often hear coaches yell out to their athletes, “It’s your timing!” when athletes are early with their approach. In other words they have arrived at the ball and must now wait for it to fall on top of their hitting shoulder. Sometimes they find that they have overrun the ball and our hitting a ball that is now behind their hitting shoulder. The reality of the sport is that their timing is quickly set, so if they are early with the approach simply have them pull back a few feet and they should improve on their timing. That is actually their spacing.

Transition vs. Side-out Footwork: Increasingly I hear of coaches instructing their athletes to pull back and approach with four steps. Even middle attackers are now being asked to do this in some cases. Although I believe that this is a good idea in a side-out situation (when athletes have more time to get away from the net), in my opinion, athletes should be trained on shorter footwork patterns for a quick transition game.

Arm Swing: I’ve often heard coaches describe hitting a ball as similar to a “baseball throw.” Although leading with the elbow is the same whether throwing a ball or attempting to hit one, a volleyball spike must be hit with a high point of contact, unlike throwing a baseball which has a low release point. The follow through is also different in that a baseball throw should finish with the throwing arm across the mid-section while a standard volleyball attack would have the follow-through along the side of the attacker’s hip.

Cue Words:

  • Wait, then accelerate – describing the approach;
  • Eyes on the ball – see the ball;
  • Arm draw – the hitter’s arms are up and ready to attack;
  • Arm exchange – the arm swing (exchanging the elbow from behind to the front so that you lead with the elbow);
  • High contact – point where ball should be hit;
  • Short-finish – when a ball is hit down (usually tight to the net) and the hitter can no longer follow-through;
  • High-finish – a ball that is hit with no follow-through;
  • Hitting window – ball travels through the hitter’s attack area;
  • Cut shot – dropping the hitting thumb to cut the ball around the block;
  • Cross-body shot – a deceptive shot with a follow-through that is across the mid-section;
  • Roll shot – off-speed shot where the ball is “rolled” over the blocker;
  • Tip – an off-speed shot that is poked over the blocker with the attacker’s fingers;
  • Wipe-off – sometimes called the “sweep” it is when an attacker pushes the ball into the block and sweeps it off;
  • Tooling – when the hitter successfully hits a ball off the blocker;
  • Swing hitting – running out, then turning back in to hit a ball;
  • Outlet hitter – a designated hitter in broken plays;
  • One-step take-off – attacking the ball off the left foot;
  • Slide step – a one-foot take-off away from the setter, generally by the antenna on the right-side of the net;
  • Accordion – absorbing the landing.

Tips: Attackers should let their setters know what type of sets they prefer. These types of discussions should occur freely between hitters and their setters. Attackers shouldn’t be restricted to one generic approach. Hitters must learn to adjust to the ball and the various situations they will face.

IMPORTANT: The following are hitting drills and the focus must remain on the hitters. Whenever live blockers are used they should reward the attacker when he/she has executed the technique correctly. Blockers should not be exerting themselves aggressively attempting to block the ball. That is not helpful to your hitters.


Training: Footwork Patterns.

When teaching younger athletes I make a point of reminding them that they must “Water their Tomato Plants.” This metaphor is meant to remind them that they will only be as good as the effort they put into it, and that effort isn’t limited to their gym time. Footwork patterns, whether for blocking, transitioning, or for the attack, can all be practiced at home for 10-15 minutes on off-nights. All my athletes (regardless of their age) will have such assignments.

Another tip when teaching beginners the proper footwork pattern involves the use of visual cues. Try using shoes laid out the way their feet should move. Seeing the shoes often helps.

Three-step approach: There’s not much that I can say here that coaches haven’t figured out long before I came along. Whether you line them up in hitting lines or all together on the attack line (or sidelines) only through repetition will this movement become a reflex. I use both interchangeably to review the progress of our younger athletes.

Training: Arm Swing

Coaches should remember that running hitting lines does not improve the speed of an athlete’s arm swing. For athletes to increase the speed of their arm swing they must perform exercises on a regular basis.

Cue words for training the arm swing:

  • High elbow;
  • Elbow behind the (hitting) shoulder;
  • High contact;
  • Snap the wrist;
  • Get over the ball;
  • Follow-through;
  • Weak hand comes in.

Individual Drills: These drills are all performed with an athlete hitting/throwing a ball against the wall. A good introductory to the arm swing mechanics involves having young athletes throw a tennis balls off the floor and against the wall.

Volleyballs are hit down onto the floor, then off the wall and are hit again before they bounce. With younger athletes you can allow them to have the ball bounce before they hit the ball. The focus here should be on the wrist snap over the ball. Another way to isolate the arm swing in this situation is to have your athletes hit off their knees. This exercise focuses more on the arm – elbow stays high and the athlete leads with the elbow.

Partner Drills: I prefer to have players face each other on opposite sides of the net whenever possible. When there are too many athletes in the gym I will have them facing each other from the sidelines.

  • Hit balls off the floor and over the net from the attack line;
  • Toss ball with both hands and hit the ball off the centre line to your partner;
  • Toss & hit ball over the net with a high finish;
  • Toss to partner who rolls a ball back to you;
  • Toss to partner who tips the ball back to you;
  • Toss ball with both hands and hit the ball off the floor and over the net from the mid-court;
  • Toss ball with both hands and hit the ball off the floor and over the net from the end-line;
  • Mini-jump serves from mid-court with the ball being hit off the centre line;
  • Jump serves from the end-line with athletes hitting over the net.

Training: The Attacker

Hitting Circles: Whenever possible, I prefer to run our training lines with half the athletes in the drill and the other half out shagging the balls. This allows for better focus on the part of the hitters.

Hitting Lines: Refers to athletes hitting, then shagging their ball and returning it to their coach prior to resuming their place in line. Depending on the available equipment and number of athletes this is another common drill for training attackers.

Depending on the level of the athletes, the progression I would follow might include the following:

  • Down ball hitting: with coaches a few feet inside tossing the ball straight up above the hitter’s hitting shoulder. The athlete should be in their jump-ready position (bent over with arms back). This exercise allows the coach to isolate the arm swing mechanics;
  • Hit with approach: Athletes would then be permitted to approach and swing at a ball;
  • Tip/roll with approach: Athletes are now required to hit an off-speed shot;
  • Hit to area: Athletes are now required to hit to pre-determined areas of the court. Coaches can use target such as mats or chairs or designate an area with the use of cones;
  • Out-of-system hitting: Coaches must make sure that attackers learn how to hit balls that come in from different angles and at different speeds. For this exercise toss balls to your left-side hitters from position six so they can appreciate the reduced hitting angles they will have;
  • Transition footwork: Perform plus 3 or plus 5 drills; that is, toss consecutive balls at your hitters and they have to transition and hit all 3 or 5. Keep in mind that these drills are best when you toss different types of balls. In other words, two might be high while the second is low or inside;
  • Alternate hitting lines: Athletes hit in one line then shag their ball and go hit in another line;
  • Transition & hit: Athletes must mock block prior to releasing and transitioning into their attack;
  • Pass & hit: Athletes must now pass a ball prior to transitioning into their attack. Naturally, a setter must be introduced at this time if one hasn’t been yet.

When performing hitting lines please remember that it is very simple to add some complexity to every drill so that your athletes do not get bored. For one thing you can add a target and give your athletes a pre-determined team or individual goal to win the game. You can also add a setter if you have been tossing balls for some time. You can also add passers who pass to the setter. Finally, you can add blockers and have the hitters move from hitter to blocker to shagger. The point is that there is no reason not to keep hitting drills progressing along in an active manner.

Training: Various Hitting Situations.

Cover Yourself: During given hitting drills have a coach or other athletes toss a ball in over the net after the athlete spikes the ball to simulate a blocked ball. The athlete must then quickly respond to that situation by learning to recover the ball that has come back.

Tight Sets: These are among those examples where less experienced coaches should seek the advice of more experienced coaches. Some options for outside hitters include a wipe-off, cut shot, re-deflection off the block, or a high flat shot. None of these can be properly explained in words and need to be seen to be understood.

When training our middle attackers, who tend to face this situation on a very regular basis in the younger age classes, I teach a short finish that allows them to get over the ball and hit around the block. Some coaches believe that all athletes should hit with a full follow through at all times. Teaching athletes this limits their hitting options in my opinion. It takes several years of competitive volleyball and a great deal of maturity for middle attackers to learn to space themselves properly and stay off the net when approaching. They are therefore always early to the net and setters are quickly conditioned to chase their middles with the ball. Neglecting this fact is not helpful to the development of younger middle attackers.

Training the Quick Attacker:

  • Attacker must approach and hit a ball tossed by the coach (from position ½ on the court) without the use of the setter;
  • Attacker tosses ball to the setter, approaches, jumps and catches the ball;
  • Attacker tosses ball to the setter, approaches, and attacks the ball;
  • Attacker must approach and hit three balls consecutively (all tossed by the coach).

Training the One-Step Attack: My review of the one-step take-off might include the following depending on the level of the athletes:

  • Standing knee raises – consists of lining your attackers on the attack line, facing the wall to their right. Since the two most common problems with this attack consists of athletes not driving with the right knee properly and not pulling up with the arms simultaneously with the right knee, this is a very simple way of isolating these two problem areas;
  • Three-step walk through – now athletes walk through all three steps with the left, right, left footwork pattern;
  • Approach & knee raise – now the athletes three step with the left, right, left footwork pattern. We still have not introduced a ball;
  • Slide sprint - Athletes line up by the sideline on position 4 with a coach at the net in position 3. The athletes must run past the coach and hit the ball off a one-foot take-off. The coach tosses the ball by the antenna in position 2. Attackers must drop their hips at the start of their sprint; accelerate at the same speed as the ball; hit with high knee and high elbow; and follow the net (parallel) then turn (perpendicular) to the net. 

Note: I generally prefer a short finish on this type of attack. I believe it provides athletes with better control and will allow them to hit different areas of the court.

Hitting: Games.

Wall Dual: Players are paired up and hit the balls to each other off the wall. This game can be performed in two separate ways. The first is better with younger athletes and involves each pair attempting to hit the ball more often than other teams. The winner is therefore determined by having hit the ball repeatedly more often than the other teams in the gym. The second way of performing this game involves each athlete attempting to defeat their opponent. For example, “first player to reach five points.” This is also a good conditioning drill.

Two vs. Two: I regularly have two-on-two, queens-court games. These are half court games with two contacts only. Whenever you have two contact games and force your athletes to play the second ball aggressively you are teaching them strong out-of-system attacking skills.

Left vs. Left: If you have the space to play this game it is an excellent way to practice your power hitters’ cross-court hitting skills. It is essentially a three vs. three queens-court game. Players are in position four and five with a setter in position two.