What’s With All the Tipping?

Like most in the volleyball community, my watching of collegiate matches is restricted to my television or computer. I want to be measured with my comments because I'm not in the gym during games, and I'm most definitely not in the practice facility daily. This spring season is not one without multiple obstacles. The practice routine for many teams has been disrupted, generally due to the Covid-19 protocols. The general quality of play reflects these disruptions. In most cases, the more successful teams are also the teams that have managed to cobble together a competition and training schedule without interruption.

With that disclaimer, and with no statistics to back up my observations, it would seem there is an inordinate amount of tipping taking place. I find this especially true with middle attacks and with some teams more than others. I have seen too often where middle hitters leave the ground with no intention of hitting the ball. They are going to throw the ball down or tip to a sideline or the deep corner. Since my coaching days are behind me, and I'm now a spectator, I find this type of attack annoying. Watching a match last weekend, a referee correctly called a hitter's throw on an attack. The result was thunderous protests from the small crowd. We have convinced spectators that anything goes when it concerns ball handling violations on the third contact.

I do not consider myself a hard-core traditionalist when it comes to how the game is played, however; it is my belief, is the game was meant to be played with athleticism and skill. The rules and interpretations should reflect the essential components of the game. The referees are under pressure to extend rallies, so they are encouraged (told) to be lenient on ball handle violations.

If the goal is to extend rallies, there is no defense for a quick middle attack thrown to the floor. Letting this type of attack be part of the game will not extend rallies; it shortens rallies while allowing unskilled teams to compete with a skilled team. This type of unskilled play also takes away from a foundational element of the game. I can go into the stands, grab an unathletic spectator capable of throwing the ball to the floor. If throwing the ball results in a lost point, the attacker would need to learn how to hit the ball, i.e., gain some skill. A quick set attacked with velocity is what spectators want to see.

I have less of an issue with outside attackers using an open hand to attack. At times, the quality of the set impacts attack options. Besides, outside attackers generally are not throwing the ball.

I have a couple of possible solutions for what I consider an attack on the game's core elements.

  1. For the referee to do their job and call ball handle violations. A ball that is thrown to the floor by the attacker should be a violation. Included in this would be calling double hits on the second contact. If a player cannot set a ball legally, there should be a penalty. If the problem is the referee being inconsistent, let's work hard on addressing this variable. Understand there is inconsistency and missed calls on the part of referees in all sports (note the Baylor vs. UConn women's basketball game last night). But, as my father, who was also a coach, always said, "for every mistake a referee makes, players will make ten mistakes." There is also a misconception that double contacts on the set are not called internationally. In the U-18 World Championships that I've attended, I can say this is not true. Double contacts are called; they don't occur that often due to the players' elevated skill level.
  2. Prohibit attacking with an open hand. I'm not necessarily a fan of this; however, it is an option. This type of rule would be easy to enforce by the referee.
  3. Allow the block to go over the net to block the ball at any point of a rally. In theory, this rule would move the offenses of the net, allowing the defense more time to react to a ball being thrown to the floor.

Of these options, I favor the first option. I'm confident that professional referees are capable is discerning legal from illegal contacts. I'm equally sure this would raise the level of play that we all want to see.