The Ball Method for Training Setters

Megan Kaplon
Lloy Ball gets his feet around the ball for a perfect outside set.

At the setting demonstration by Lloy and Arnie Ball on Thursday at the AVCA Convention in Louisville, Ky., both men stressed the importance of a setter-in-training getting touches on the ball. Not just in practice, not just in club season, but making the extra effort to hit the gym in the off season.

“They need to be able to do this WITHOUT you,” Arnie, the head men's volleyball coach at IPFW and Lloy’s father, said. “In the NCAA, we only have two hours a day with these kids, and that isn’t enough to develop a setter.”

All a player needs to implement the Ball Setter Training Method is a gym and one other guy or girl. But it’s going to be hard work. Lloy, the current setter for the U.S. Men's National Team, was huffing and puffing as he spoke into the mike after demonstrating each drill.

“But this is why I’m in good shape and you aren’t,” he said, speaking of his absent teammates. “I’m the guy who wears Asics running shoes to practice and has to chase down your bad passes.”

The setter who decides to train individually outside of practice needs to be up to the challenge and able to get creative with the drills. Try having the hitter call the set at the last minute, incorporate game-like components such as defense and serving, and practice the out of system plays instead of just the ones that go as planned.

As far as choosing your setter goes, the Ball suggestion is, not surprisingly, to make them your most athletic player on the team. But the setter should also be the most dedicated. Willing to come into practice early and leave last after talking to you, the coach, about how they can get better. They also have to have the biggest ego.

“Setters always know when they’ve lost the game,” Lloy said. “You never know when we win it, but it’s obvious when we lose it. And you have to chose someone who is going to let that roll off of them.”

The Balls brought a few radical training ideas to the table as well. They suggested that the setter does not always have to run all the way up to the net in serve receive. The Ball opinion is that serving in this country has gotten so good, that passes are almost never perfectly to the setter’s position. “It’s a waste of energy and time,” said Lloy.

Instead, the setter should evaluate the server. “If it’s Clay Stanley back there behind the line, I know I’m probably not going to get a perfect pass,” said LLoy. “So I’m not going to release all the way to the net.” Secondly, the setter should take into account the angle of the passer’s platform and calculate where the ball will go.

The setter also may not always have to play defense out of right back. After setting one of those crazy off the net passes, it might be easier for the setter to play out of the middle back, or the left back. And if those situations are practiced often enough, than there’s no reason they can’t work just as well as the tried-and-true right back setter defense.

Lloy shared a gem of advice given to him a few years back by Randy Stoklos during a beach training session. “You know what, you guys should serve to one every time.”

“No matter who’s back there?” Lloy asked, incredulous.

“No matter who. Libero, best passer, doesn’t matter.”

The reason being that it is very difficult for the setter to set a ball coming over his head. Partially because it’s a less natural motion than setting when the player is able to track the ball all the way into his hands, but also because it’s almost never practiced.

“Where does the coach stand when we’re doing setting drills?” asked Arnie. “In front of the setter!”

This is yet another skill that needs to be incorporated into practiced and needs to be practiced individually by the setter (and that one extra guy who wants a few extra hitting reps).

In younger players just starting out, it’s all about having a ball in the house. “You’re sitting in front of the TV watching Spongebob Squarepants and a commercial comes on. You lay back and start setting to yourself. Shows back on, you sit up. Next commercial, do it again.

“I’m not a mathematician,” Lloy said, “I don’t know how many touches that is, but it’s a lot.”

“If,” Arnie interjects, “your mom will let you do that.”

“Well, we lived out in the country, so it didn’t really matter if there were Mikasa or Molten prints all over the garage door. Mom told me to stop it once, but Dad said, ‘Leave him alone—scholarship.’”

It’s hard to take setting advice from Lloy, who seems so naturally talented. The perfect height (aka giant), wiry, and quick, it can seem like he never had to work hard at this. But you can tell from the way his dad barks at him--“Higher, swing your arms, higher” that he had some great coaching and tough practices in his past.

The Ball Method might be the next big thing in setter development, but it’s really nothing radical: more touches on the ball, more hours in the gym, and a willingness to put in some hard work.

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