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Set up for success – a deep dive into the volleyball Setter position

As you watch a high-level volleyball game, it’s exciting to see the massive swings and the incredible saves that turn into winning points. But who is calling the shots to execute these plays? The setter. 

The setter on the volleyball team is the player who touches the second ball and decides who to set the ball to based on where the blockers are on the other side of the net and where the first pass is coming from. 

The setter must be calm, smart and able to make split-second decisions on the court all match long. 

Now that we’ve set up the rest of the article…let’s dig into the volleyball setter position. 

History of Setter Position in Volleyball

The game of volleyball was created in 1895 in Holyoke, Massachusetts, U.S. by William G. Morgan, a YMCA physical education director. 

The sport really evolved in 1916 when the set and spike was introduced in the Philippines and then four years later, a “three hits” rule was established. After this, the setter position was created to account for that second touch and setup for the hitter. 

USA Volleyball setter, Alisha Glass in action at the Rio 2016 Olympics

What does the setter do in volleyball? 

The setter is one of the strongest cognitive forces on the court. They are always looking at where the opposing blockers are in relation to their own team and then setting up high quality attacks by distributing the ball to his or her spikers / hitters. 

Most of the time, the setter will play the second ball. The only times that they will not touch the second ball are if they make a play on the first touch or the passer shanks a ball and the setter cannot physically get there. 

While setters might not be as flashy as spikers, they usually possess the best ball technique and heightened court awareness. After all, the hitters can’t make a soul-crushing spike without the setter’s split-second decisions on where to send the ball.

Rules of the setter position

The setter can either take the ball with their hands or with their forearms. Most of the time they will set using their fingers because it gives them more control, but if they can’t quite get in position, then they will use their forearms to send a high ball to one of their hitters. 

When using their fingers, setters may be called for a double hit, meaning the ball hit each of their hands at different times, causing the ball to rotate sideways. The tell of a really good set is the ball looks like it’s frozen in the air without any rotation. 

Setters can attack if they are in the front row, which is called a dump. But when they are in the back row, they cannot attack above the plane of the net, which is why you might see a setter jump set a ball from out of the net to his or her own teammates. 

Tall, young Italian setter Simone Giannelli is destined for greatness

What makes a good setter in volleyball?

Also known as the control tower, the setter is responsible for bringing the ball to the player with the highest probability of scoring. With that being said, a really good setter knows how to read players well, whether it be the opposing setter, blockers or hitters. 

They are players who can be cool, calm and collected when it comes to making game-time decisions. They are also leaders because they are driving the ship when it comes to their team. They tell the spikers which hits they are running and make quick decisions as to who they are setting the ball to. 

When running a 5-1 rotation, they are in the match the whole time with no substitutions, so they need to be physically fit as well. 

Setters used to be shorter players, but as the game evolved, taller setters are more sought after because they can be a blocking force at the net in addition to their setting skills. 

Equipment

One of the best things a setter can do is get a ball in their hands. You can get your hands on the Molten FLISTATEC Volleyball, which is FIVB-approved and used by USA Volleyball, the NCAA and the Italian National League. Pump it full of air and get reps in by setting it against a wall or to a friend. 

If you’re looking for more of a training tool, then look into investing in a heavy weight volleyball. This is a volleyball that weighs twice the weight of a regular volleyball and is used to strengthen a setter’s fingers, wrists, shoulders and forearms. After setting this heavy ball, a regular set with a regular ball will feel like a breeze.  

Volleyball setter Maja Ognjenović in action at the net for Serbia

Famous Volleyball Setters to Look Up 

Get some setting inspiration by watching a few highlight reels of the players below. 

Simone Giannelli [ITL]

Is making big waves right now on the Italian national team. He’s a young player and relatively taller than setters on other teams standing at 200cm. He’s a very instinctual player with his sets landing perfectly in the hands of hitters whether it’s a quick back set or a lob to the outside.

Bruno Rezende [BRA]

One of the best male volleyball setters and an experienced one at that. He led his team to a silver medal in both the 2008 Beijing and 2012 London Olympic Games and then won gold at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. He’s played on the Brazilian national men’s volleyball team since 2007, so YouTube highlights are endless for this player. 

Alisha Glass [USA]

ne of the best setters to play on Team USA. She was credited the title of “Best Setter” in the 2016 Olympic Games, 2014 FIVB World Championship and 2013 World Grand Prix. Her strength and height allowed for her to make huge plays for her team by dumping the ball in the far corners of the court and slamming down overpasses. 

Maja Ognjenović [SRB]

One of the sneakiest setters out there because nobody really ever knows where she’s going to set next. She will nod her head toward the outside hitter and then set the opposite hitter. Her quick sets barely come above the plane of net and land right in the hand of her hitter. She earned the title of “Best Setter” at the European Championship in 2019, 2015, 2011 and 2007.

Tobio Kageyama [Haikyuu!!]

He came to Karasano as a first-year and edged out the older setter for the starting position early in the season due to his phenomenal skills. Kageyama is tall for a setter and is a very instinctual player, with his sets landing perfectly in the hands of hitters whether it’s a quick back set or a lob to the outside. 

Legendary Bruno Rezende in perfect tandem with team-mate Lucas Saatkamp