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Coaching Hitting Volleyball

Handling the trap set

I’ve been a high school volleyball coach for about five years. The last three of those, I’ve been privileged and lucky enough to be the head coach. Before that, I played about 6-7 years of club and beach volleyball in New Zealand with, and against, some of the best in the nation. I wasn’t a star player, but I feel like I held my own and got the job done. 

Over the years, you kind of learn a few things as you play. Some of them good. Other things not so much. The players that learn and adapt their games the quickest tend to be the ones that become elite level players.

One of the key things that really separates the upper echelon from the rest of the pack is their ability to make something from nothing. Nothing exemplifies that more than what elite players do with a trap set.

So, what’s a trap set?

A trap set is ball from the setter that is just WAY too close to the net and blockers can pretty much reach over and grab it. These sets are a blockers wet dream because against most hitters this is a guaranteed block. Against seasoned, smart hitters, however, nothing is guaranteed.

Why do we care about the trap set?

I was recently playing a pickup game and I was in a situation where I was blocking one of these sets and the hitter had already resigned themselves to getting blocked before they even left the ground. I didn’t think much of it at the time, because we won that point (Yes!), but I had time to reflect on it later and really started to think about it.

As coaches, we tend to coach best case scenarios, then prepare a couple of bail out options. Just in case. One thing most coaches never touch, however, is how to deal with the trap set.

Many years ago, I was watching a college game and Karch Kiraly happened to be calling the game. At one point during the game, he said something to the effect of:

“As hitters, we have a lot more time and options on every set. Good hitters have two, or three options on every set. Great hitters have at least three.”

At least three? At least three?! That really stuck with me and for a long time I didn’t really get what he meant.

After a little thought though, it became pretty obvious that on a perfect set, you have the standard three shots (down the line, deep cross court, steep angle), but you also have three, or four tip shots available and we haven’t even begun to consider the tool shots yet!  (shots off the block).

That’s at least seven shots. Let me say that again. That’s at least seven shots! SEVEN SHOTS! WOW! It’s up to the hitter to pick the appropriate shot for the location of the ball and the positioning of the block and defense. Usually, by the time you’re up in the air those seven shots have dwindled down to just one, or two. At that point, experience should tell you which shot is the best one.

That’s great! Now what?

So how does all this apply to the trap set? If the ball is practically in the blockers hands, how can we still have options? Let me tell you!

On all but the worst of sets (tight and barely above the net), we have at least four options.

Option 1: Blast the ball at the block.

Blasting the ball at the block on a trap set is pretty much a guaranteed point. For the opposition. Sadly, 95% of hitters at all but the highest level commit to this option before they’ve even left the ground. This is the one option that should be thrown out right away.

Option 2: Blasting the ball at the sideline and tool the block.

Blasting the ball at the sideline should only be considered if you feel like you don’t have the stability, or time to push the ball into the block. This option is really the last ditch option to try to make something from nothing. If it works, you look like a genius. If it doesn’t, the ball sails way out of court and you look like an idiot. Either way, you get to blast at the ball. LOL!

Option 3: Push the ball in to the block and recover it.

Pushing the ball in to the block and recovering it is actually one of the smartest plays possible because it gives your team a second bite at the apple. If executed well, you give your setter a perfect pass and your entire offense is available and ready to try again. If you pass the ball high enough, you should be back in position and ready to take another swing. Win-win.

Option 4: Rub the ball off the block.

Rubbing the ball off the block is one of the hardest skills to learn, because it takes a cool head and a lot of patience. That said, it’s almost always a guaranteed point. You literally press the ball against the block, and swipe toward the sideline.

Smart, versatile hitters are extremely valuable because they are the ones that are willing to take their time during shot selection and really consider what they have in front of them and almost always score the point. If you want to be set more as a hitter, learn to make the plays on the bad balls. You will be amazed how often setters will go to a hitter they know will score.

Happy hitting!

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