A Good Approach is Essential to an Effective Attack

Coaches will agree that attackers are most effective when the attacker implements a quality attack approach. One of the positives of running an offense with high sets at every position is that it is easier to implement a dynamic 4-step approach to attack. However, when running a quicker tempo offense with middle and outside attackers, there can be challenges in putting players into positions to take the quality approaches needed to score consistently.

I see, too often, outside hitters focusing on getting to a spot outside the court to start their approach when the action does not afford the time to do so. The result is a poor attack approach with questionable results. The same is true with the middle attacker. Their primary focus after blocking is to get to the middle of the court to start their approach when time does not allow the middle hitter to get to this court location. Players must become adept at recognizing situations and putting themselves into a position for a quality attack approach.

A coach can assist the player by implementing flexibility and creativity in their offensive system. Despite the game’s randomness, players are programmed to begin their approaches from a singular place on the floor. The outside hitters are instructed to get about 4′ outside the sideline and about 14′ off the net. Middles are encouraged to get to the middle of the floor. To get more quality attacks, regardless of the situation, players and coaches must embrace the concept that it is more important to have a quality approach than it is to start the approach from a specific spot on the court.

Even though circumstances might prevent a full 4-step approach on every play, the more an attacker can get a full approach, the more effective they will be. The challenge for the attacker is to be able to move around the court to cover tips, receive serve, or block from random net areas and still put themselves into a court position to take a dynamic 4-step approach.

I use two phrases when working with hitters on their attack approaches. The first is for outside hitters, “get off before getting out.” The second is for middle attackers, “get to home base.”

Let’s focus on the middle attacker going from blocking an outside hitter and then transitioning to attack. When I say, “get to home base,” it means wherever they block, the first move is to drop directly off the net. Getting to the middle of the court isn’t the priority. The picture below will provide a visual.

Once at home base, they can attack with a full 3-step or 4-step approach. If blocking the opponent’s left-side attack, they will drop straight off the net, then depending upon events, take a 4-step approach and attack a quick in front of the setter (drifting laterally), or attack quick behind the setter, or take a slide or 4-step approach and attack behind the setter at the antenna. A similar sequence will occur if a middle goes to their left to block a right-side attack. They drop straight off the net, attack a 31 set, or take a four-step approach and attack a 1-set in front of the setter, or should time allow, attack behind the setter with a slide. The takeaway is getting off the net is the key, not getting to the middle of the court.

Also entering into the equation is when the middle hitter drops straight off the net; there is increased time to locate the opponent’s middle blocker and attack away from that blocker. For example, after blocking a right-side attack and dropping straight off the net, if the opponent’s middle blocker goes to the middle of the net, the attack should be a 31-set. If the opponent’s middle block locates the middle hitter, the attack should be a 1-set at the setter. In a recent blog post, we discussed the “if/then” concept and visual cues when making on-court decisions.

For the outside attacker, I use the term “off before out.” It is more important for the attacker to get to a court location that will allow a four-step approach than it is to get outside the court and perhaps compromise the quality of the approach. If defending a tip or a serve takes an outside attacker to the center of the court, the attacker will implement their full approach to attack, going from inside the court to outside. Most hitters are comfortable going outside/in with their approach angle but not as comfortable inside/out. Hitters must be comfortable with both outside/in and inside/out approach angles. Korea demonstrates both attack angles below.

Inside/Out and Outside/In Approaches

Without question, the ability of the hitter and setter to improvise the offense based on events is essential. However, that is what good players and teams do. The offense should incorporate flexibility regarding where the ball is set to allow the hitter to attack effectively in as many situations as possible.

I encourage coaches to incorporate a variety of attack approach angles, inside/out and outside/in, along with attacking various areas of the net when working with their team’s offensive system. The game is quite unpredictable and random. Make sure the players are exposed to this randomness when instructing the attack. Be careful not to start every hitting activity with the player standing outside the court in preparation for the attack. That won’t happen very often in the game.

The setter must also be mindful of the situation and place the set to maximize the hitter’s effectiveness. For example, if the LS hitter comes to the middle of the court to defend a roll shot, the transition set to that LS hitter won’t go to the antenna. The setter will leave the set inside, making it easier for the attacker to get to the ball.

The takeaway is, for all hitters, that it is more important to get a quality approach to attack than to get to a specific location and perhaps sacrifice the quality of the approach.