Ask Coach Houser: 3 Basics for Young Setters

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Q: My daughter tried to set this fall on her 7th grade team. I said "tried," because very few balls ever came close to her. People were crashing into her, balls were falling--it was worse than third graders on a playground. Do you have any advice?

There are three basics that I teach young setters.

Ask for the Ball

I want my setters to say, "Judy, here I am!!" or say, "Phyllis, here, here!" If my setter says something like that, then the ball is more likely to be passed to her and not up in the air or over the net.

I ask my setters to not say the same words each time. A few years ago, a setter at one of my camps had this shrill, "HERE!" I've also heard numbers of setters say, "Target!" Regardless of the decibels or the wording, if you setter never changes what she says, then those words become just more noise that players will eventually not hear any longer.

If a setter can learn to call someone's name, then that's the best way.

Make a Decision About Who's Taking the Second Hit

Sounds simple, huh? Well, for a middle school kid, it's not. She has to decide if she can make a decent second hit. And if she can't, is there anyone else who can? If there's no one else to take that shanked pass, she has to go for the ball. That's a lot to think about in a split second.

As team members get older, this won't be as big of an issue. Not just because of their age, but because the passing is better and the setter anticipation and quickness is better.

If a young team of mine mess up a second contact, the first thing I ask my setter is, "What did you say." If she answers with "Nothing," then that was the problem. If she says, "I said 'Mine, Jenny, mine, mine!'," then I know she did what I asked and my next conversation will be with the hitter who got in her way.

What Setters Should Say When They Can't Take the Second Hit

Setters on my team don't say "Help!" That word is vague and doesn't assist the team enough. Seriously! "Help" only tells the teammates, "I'm not taking it, one of you guys take it." That's not enough.

If my setters aren't taking the second hit, I want them to tell a teammate to take it. For example, if Cailin wants Samantha to take it, she should say, "Sam take it!!" And if Cailin will say this, guess what Sam will do? Sam will take that second hit nearly every time. Why? Because it's a critical, panicky situation, and the girl who's in charge told her what to do. If I were Sam, I'd take it too!

In fact, the only time a hitter like Sam will let this ball fall is when the ball was actually closer to Cailin and Sam is surprised. But this happens. And it's OK. Young setters will make that mistake.

But the bigger mistake than making the wrong decision is not making a decision at all, saying nothing. Then many second hits will be problematic as every few minutes girls let balls fall in between them or they crash into each other trying to play them.

Coach Tom Houser is the head coach for the Roanoke Juniors 15s, as well as the director of STAR volleyball camps. He is the author of the volleyball drill collection, "I Can't Wait," and two eBooks on volleyball technique. Visit for more resources on coaching and playing volleyball.

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