Characteristics of a Setter [ARTICLE]

Characteristics of a Setter
By: Wayne Kreklow

Originally Published in: The Volleyball Coaching Bible Volume II

Provided by: Human Kinetics


No two setters are exactly alike, but when we are evaluating setters, we find it useful to examine certain characteristics we feel are most important. We separate those key characteristics into four main areas: physical skills, technical skills, tactical skills, and leadership skills.

Physical Skills

Physical skills are those unique physical traits that setters are simply born with. Over the years, there have been many debates about what physical attributes help to make great setters. We all want tall, quick, agile setters with great hands who are strong leaders and straight-A students! Unfortunately, because such players are few and far between, most of us have setters who have only a few of those attributes and it is our job to maximize their strengths and minimize their weaknesses.

When deciding on a setter, consider again what your team needs to do to succeed. Because we already know the importance of being a great offensive team, we focus on the physical attributes that facilitate an efficient offense. We need a setter who can get to errant passes and keep us in system as much as possible. This means that we need someone who is quick and agile. Obviously, we are going to look for someone who can, first, consistently deliver a hittable ball and, second, run an efficient offense.

If you are a high school coach with limited time to train setters, keep it simple. Identify a player who can get a ball to the same place consistently and let your hitters go to work. I have often seen high school and club teams beat themselves with errors because they were trying to do too many tactical things that their players were not skilled enough to execute. Remember the adage, "Don't attempt to do tactically what you can't execute technically."

Our teams have competed against many great setters of all sizes, shapes, and levels of athletic ability, and all have been very good. The key is that they were all really good at something, and that was, more often than not, setting the ball. We have competed against tall, great blocking setters who were not particularly quick or agile, but had great hands and could put a ball anywhere. We have also competed against shorter, slower setters who were likewise great because of their ability to consistently get their hitters great swings. In addition, they usually had great coaches who recognized their limitations and knew how to play around them. Slower setters had ball handlers who put the first balls higher to give them time to get there, or the team played a rotation defense so that the slower setter did not have to cover as much court.

Technical Skills

All good setters must be technically proficient. This requires the investment of a lot of time on the part of both the setter and the coach. The time required to develop a really good setter, more than anything else, is what makes a great setter so hard to find. Most high schools and clubs simply don't have the time to train a great setter. Even college coaches, who are restricted by NCAA by-laws governing allowable practice hours, have difficulty training setters.

Knowing that we have limited time to train setters, we again need to ask our-selves as coaches, "What are the most important things my setter needs to be good at for our team to succeed?" Most of us would answer - setting the ball! Thus, we should use every allowable minute we have in the gym to train setters to set the ball. We must organize and prioritize our setters' training so we don't waste precious time in the gym.

In training, regardless of position, I believe in progressions. We start with the fundamentals and work toward more advanced techniques. That doesn't mean that we never expose players to more advanced techniques before they master the basics, but making sure players feel confident and good about themselves is important. We never want them to walk out of the gym feeling bad about themselves.

In training our setters, we focus on front sets, back sets, and jumps sets every day. It is very important that every setter master these three basic skills. Once the setter feels comfortable with them, we incorporate movement. We all know that setters spend more time chasing down errant passes than setting from perfect passes, so they must spend time training those movements. We do this for 30 minutes before practice, every day! At the NCAA Division I level, we obviously train more than simple front sets and back sets, but the principle of concentrated repetitions is the same regardless of level.

During the individual setting sessions, we rarely spend time on blocking, serving, or defense. We save that for regular team practice. During these 30-minute blocks, we often have to remind our setters of the concept of mindful repetition—paying attention to what they are doing and striving for perfection even when the task seems mundane.

Tactical Skills

We obviously look for setters who understand the game of volleyball. This understanding takes the longest to master, and you could argue that it is never fully mastered because the game is continually evolving. A high-level setter needs to be thoughtful and have a desire to really dig into the game on a deeper level than other players. Much like NFL quarterbacks, setters need to understand not only their own team and what each player is doing, but also the opponent players and tendencies. Once again, extra time is required to really study videos, digest the stats, and process the information.

Leadership Skills

Leadership in a setter is extremely important to the success of the team. Again, just like the quarterback, the setter needs to be respected and trusted by the entire team. Leadership and trust, however, are concepts that players can misunderstand, particularly younger players. In my opinion, leading means showing the way rather than pointing the way. Leading means being out in front, not bringing up the rear and telling everyone where to go and what to do. To garner the trust of the team, a player must first prove himself trustworthy in both what he says and what he does.

When evaluating setters, watch them setting, but also watch their interactions with teammates and coaches. Setters need to be steady and consistent, both mentally and physically. I have never been a fan of loud, emotional, and intense setters (the only exception has been when they were incredibly positive). Players look for the setter to be under control and steady at all times - not too crazy when the team is on a roll and not too down when things aren't going well. I have often compared the emotional requirements of a setter to those of a ship captain. When things are going well, no one needs the captain. When the ship is sinking, though, everyone looks to the captain to save them. They need to see a calm, composed person in charge and giving direction, not someone who is panicking!

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25 Oct 2017

By Human Kinetics
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