Ask Coach Houser: The Quick Set

China utilizes the quick set technique during their 2004 gold medal match against Russia. Photo: Robert Laberge

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Q: Our coach has recently introduced our team to the quick set. It's great when it works, but more often than not it fizzles.? What do you think about 51s for eight and ninth graders?

Running quick sets in the middle--I call them 51s--is a low priority for me as a coach for this age level.? If my team is having serious serve/receive problems, setting issues and/or offense and defense breakdowns, then my team doesn't need to spend time on the more advanced parts of the game like the 51s. If we don't have the basics down, why waste time on areas of the game that are more complex??

However, my 15s club team does run quick sets. Why? Because we're a good passing team; we have athletic, quick and accurate setters; my team has a middle blocker (MB) who is going to be an incredible high school player, and two others who will be very good.

So your coach must have some of the same feelings about your team.? And if your coach is correct, the advantages of running a quick offense far outweigh the occasional fizzles!?

Advantages to the quick set

The 51, when run at the proper speed, will beat the opposing MB like a drum, especially at young ages. When the 51 hitter follows her setter, the hit is even more lethal, as the hit will often split the block.? This forces the opposing MB to either follow the 51 hitter (which disrupts their blocking and defense) or not follow (which leaves your MB unblocked).?

If the 51 hitter sells the hit and makes the opposing MB follow her and jump with her, then when the set goes to another hitter, the opposing MB will be so faked out that your team's hitter will probably be hitting against one blocker rather than two.

So few teams use a quick offense that they can't defend against it.? They've never seen it before!? My team just got back from the Early Bird Tournament in Columbus, Ohio where we finished third out of 28 teams with a 8-1 record.? We were the only 15s team in three days who could hit the quick in a game situation.? Before many teams figured out what we were doing, the match was over.?

What a properly run 51 does to your opponent's middle blocker

It forces the opposing MB to guess if the set is going in the middle.? If she waits to see where the set is going, the 51 will happen so quickly that she's beat.? If she decides to guess that the set is going to the MB, but our setter sets somewhere else, she's beat again!? So there are two situations where she will have practically no chance of blocking.? Will she have this same problem against a team that sets nothing but high outside, middle and back?? No.? She can just stand there and wait for the set.?

To confuse the opposing MB even more, we only set the quick about 30 percent of the time.? This makes the MB even more reluctant to guess that we're setting the middle.

For a 51 to have optimum success, it must be quick enough that the opposing MB can't wait for the set to be made before making her decision whether to jump or not, and still be able to block the 51.? We jokingly refer that kind of set as a "51.5".?

If your team's quick attack allows the opposing MB to still be involved in blocking all of your hitters, then it's too slow.? Your quick attack must make the opposing MB guess. One of our team goals is to have opposing MB's say, "I can't block these.? I can't tell where the set is going."?

Yes, you will make a lot of mistakes.? But if you work on it, and work on it, then within just a few months, you'll find that it'll produce many more winning rallies than losses.??

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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