In a previous post, we looked at the fundamentals of attacking a 1 or 31 set (terminology can vary) with the middle attacker. These sets are designed to provide a quick middle attack in front of the setter. In this article, I’ll examine keys to facilitate your middle attacker attacking the zones behind the setter.
One of my core offensive philosophies is there must be attackers at both antennas, forcing the blockers to defend the entire net. Without an attack behind the setter, the blockers are free to move laterally to defend the attack zones in front of the setter, thereby shrinking the net area to defend. Without a right-side attack, the blockers’ job becomes easier, while the attackers’ job becomes more challenging. In the video clip below, you’ll see that Japan does not have a right-side attacker (front or backrow); consequently, the LF block adjusts to their right enabling a two-person block on the quick attack.
Some teams will ensure a right-side attack by running a 6-2 offense, allowing three front-row attackers in all rotations. However, there is an inherent downside to having an offense with multiple setters. A team running a 5-1 offense will have three rotations with a front-row setter. One of two items must be a component of the 5-1 offense to have attackers at both antennas. First, have a backrow attacker from the right-back area in both serve-receive and defense. The second option is to have your middle hitter attacker go behind the setter with what is commonly termed a “slide” attack.
Incorporating the Slide Attack
When executed at a fast tempo, a slide attack can be challenging for the block to defend. The key is for the set to be at a trajectory that makes it problematic for the middle blocker to assist. The other key is for the attacker to drift in the air to the point of attack. The slide is a horizontal attack, not a vertical attack. It is not unusual for the attacker to beat the block to the outside, facilitating an effective line shot for the slide hitter. In the video clip below, you see that the LF block recognizes the slide, but since the attacker is using their jump to drift horizontally, they drift past the block to attack the line.
If the block releases early to protect the line shot, the slide hitter can attack inside the block to the crosscourt area, or the setter can set the backrow attacker. In the video below, you’ll see the LF blocker move out to block the line shot on the slide. For every move, there is a countermove. If the LF blocker moves to defend the slide attack, the setter can set the backrow attacker coming out of center-back. Or, if the setter sets the slide, the attacker should see the location of the blocker and direct the attack to the crosscourt.
The slide attacker aims to attack outside the block down the line or inside the LF blocker crosscourt. The block’s position will dictate the attacker’s choice of shots. To execute either shot effectively, the set must be at a tempo where the middle blocker will be challenged to participate in the block. The goal is to have the attacker going against one blocker. The secondary goal is to have the block drifting laterally with the hands, which allows the attacker to hit off the hands of the blocker and have the ball deflect out of bounds.
Eyes Focus on the Ball-A common mistake young players make when running a slide is they tend to watch the setter instead of the ball. The timing of the slide is based on the ball. So, it’s important that the attacker focuses on the trajectory of the incoming pass to the setter, then accelerates or delays their approach, depending on the pass trajectory. Notice in this photo how the attacker is focused on the ball and lets the ball get in front of her before initiating the approach.
Run to the Point of Attack– The attacker should use good running form in their approach. The elbows are bent, and the shoulders are forward. There should be acceleration to the antenna.
Lift the Right Knee and Left Arm in the Jump– Even though there will be lateral drift in the air, the attacker must use good jumping form to elevate. The right knee is driven vertically, and the left arm assists in jumping.
Pay Attention to the Shoulder Angle– In preparation for the attack, the left shoulder is at an angle slightly above the right shoulder (see red line). Also, notice how the elbow of the attacking arm is drawn slightly below the shoulder and is drawn back to facilitate upper body rotation into the swing. This is where the athlete uses the correct throwing mechanics they have been practicing.
Contact at Full Extension in Line with Shoulder– From the previous position, throw the hand up to the ball while drawing the non-hitting shoulder to the midline of the body.
The Timing of the Slide – Since the slide attack is a faster tempo set, there must be consistently good timing between the setter and the hitter. In the photos below, two hitters from the same team have slightly different timing with how they run a slide attack. The video on the left shows the attacker on their Right Foot as the setter touches the ball. With this timing, the set will have a slower tempo. The photo on the right shows the hitter on their Left Foot as the setter releases the set. This timing will result in a faster tempo attack.
There isn’t necessarily a preferred timing for the slide attack. The coach must judge the accuracy and consistency of the setter, along with the talent of the slide attacker, to develop a consistent slide attack. At a minimum, the set must be at a speed and trajectory that challenges the middle blocker to form an effective block.
In the rotations with two front attackers, the ability of a middle attacker to run an effective slide will force the block to defend both antennas and open attack areas for other hitters. I encourage coaches of all levels to work with their setters and attackers to make this attack a component of their offense.