Fixed vs. Floating Attack Zones for the Middle Hitter

Whenever I’m in the development phase of an offense, I have two primary goals. First, I want to develop the offense from the middle one-third of the court, then work to the outside. The attack from the middle of the court is not restricted to the middle hitter. The backrow attack from the center-back player is an essential component to my offense. Second, in the perfect world, I’d like my middle hitters to get around 30% of the sets. Although, strictly from a statistical perspective, you’ll probably win or lose a match based on the performance of the outside hitters. However, if you have an efficient middle attack, the job of the outside hitters will be easier.

There are multiple ways to organize and develop an attack from the middle of the court. The tempo may vary, the attack location can be diversified, and multiple hitters can attack the middle zones. Let’s focus on two specific methods of organizing your system. First is the fixed zone attack. The second is the floating zone attack. These two methods of system organization can apply to any or all front or back-row attackers. For the purposes of this article, we will focus on implementing floating and fixed zone systems using the middle attacker hitting a “31” set.

The fixed zone offense is designed for a hitter, in this case, the middle hitter, to attack a specific net area (zone 3). In a fixed attack zone system, the location of the attack zone is predetermined. It is the responsibility of the middle hitter to locate their approach to the appropriate zone, and it is the setter’s responsibility to place the ball accurately into that zone.

By contrast, in the floating zone offense, the attack zone is based on the court location of the setter. The quick attacker will see the location of the setter and locate their approach at a predetermined distance from the setter.

The fixed system is easier to manage. The middle hitter’s focus is to get the correct area of the net and establish good timing with the set. The setter focuses on locating the set accurately and quickly to the appropriate attack zone. A downside might be the relative inflexibility of the offense. If the setter needs to move to track down the pass, the quick hitter may not be an ideal attack option.

The floating system challenges the middle hitter to read the developing play and locate their approach at the predetermined location relative to the court position of the setter. The floating system allows every set to be constant. So, the tempo of the offense stays the same if the setter moves along the net. However, there are challenges for both the hitter and the setter because every play differs, and adjustments in the attacker’s approach are essential. The setter must also be able to find the hitter if they aren’t in the perfect position along the net.

Most teams will use a fixed system of designing their attack. A predetermined set location is easier to implement into a system, especially with younger players. However, I prefer the floating system. The floating system can be more challenging to develop as there is a component of absorbing visual cues to arrive at the ideal attack location. Running a floating system is a worthy consideration, especially for middle hitters and hitters attacking out of the center-back position. These two positions rely on the quickness of attack. Keeping these hitters at a consistently close position to the setter will allow quickness and consistency of these attacks.

The video examples below focus on the “31” set to the middle hitter. This set is a staple attack for many teams. The goal of the “31” is to attack the seam between the RF and MF blockers with a fast-tempo attack. The “31” places pressure on the RF blocker as two hitters (MF and LF) attack their blocking zone. There is also pressure on the MB to focus on the “31” hitter, risking their ability to block an attack from the opponent’s right side.

In this clip of the USA offense running a “31” set, focus on the trajectory of the set, the timing and location of the middle hitter, and the lateness of both the MF and RF blocker in defending the attack.

This is an example of a “fixed” zone attack. The middle hitter approaches to a precise location along the net, and the setter delivers the set with good accuracy and tempo. The distance from the setter to the hitter is about 2.5 meters. The distance is due to the setter’s location. In a fixed system, the hitter goes to the same location at the net regardless of the location of the setter.

In the two videos below, Korea demonstrates a floating attack system. In the first video, given the setter is in the same court position as the USA setter, the first impression is this is a fixed zone offense. The location of the quick attacker is the same, as is the set location and timing.

This attack was from an “in-system” pass, so the execution was similar to the USA example of the “31” set. The distance from the setter is 2.50 meters. I placed the distance from the setter to the right sideline as a comparison tool for the next video.

In the second clip, you will see the floating component of the offense. The pass takes the setter backward along the net in the second clip. The quick attacker will adjust their approach to allow the “31” set to be at the same distance and set trajectory as the previous video clip. As the setter moves along the net, the middle hitter will keep the same distance from the setter, or at least as close as possible. The result of this offensive concept is the timing and trajectory of the “31” is the same regardless of the location of the setter.

Even though the pass took the setter toward the right sideline, the middle hitter recognized this and worked hard to maintain a consistent distance from the setter. In the above clip, the distance from the right sideline was 3.43 meters, and the distance from the setter to the hitter was 2.50 meters. The setter is only 2.50 meters from the sideline in the clip below. As the setter moves along the net, the middle hitter will keep the same distance from the setter, or at least as close as possible. The result of this offensive concept is the timing and trajectory of the “31” is the same regardless of the location of the setter.

There isn’t a correct or incorrect method to organize the middle attack. You are only limited by your imagination (and the passing abilities of your team). In the fixed system, the middle hitter is responsible to get to the correct location at the net. In a floating system, the middle hitter must establish the correct distance from the setter.

The concept of a floating zone attack can apply to any hitter. In an upcoming post, we will focus on floating vs. fixed attack zones for a backrow attacker.

I would encourage coaches to experiment with these systems. Both systems rely on similar techniques of a good pass, an accurate set, and a middle hitter that works hard to establish a consistent spatial relationship with the setter. The creative coach can use a combination of the two systems based on the talent of the personnel.