Volleyball Court Awareness – How To Play Smart

“You’ve gotta play smart!” Every player has heard that at some point in their lives, either from a coach, parent, or other teammate. But what exactly is  playing smart?

Playing smart means that you know not only what is going on on your side of the court, but also what is happening on the opponent’s side. There are many things you can do to play smarter. The following are a few that you can implement into your game play:

  1. Watch the opponent compete before you play them (if possible). Does #8 always hit line? Where do their defenders play? What spots are open for a tip or roll shot? Continually asking yourselves these questions will make you think about the game more critically. Spotting weaknesses that you can exploit is always easier when you are not in the game and distracted by other things such as teammates, fans, or coaches. When watching your future opponent compete, note what shots are going down against them. Do they have problems picking up tips? Does their setter always leave early on defense? Those one or two extra points could be the difference between winning and losing a match.
  2. Listen to your opponent. If you’re an outside hitter and the opposing blockers are talking about being on you, chances are that you are going to have at least a double-block up on you when you go up to hit. Being aware of this and knowing when to tip might save you from being roofed. Additionally, if their setter is talking for a while to one particular hitter (even if you cannot hear what they are saying), chances are that the hitter will get the set.
  3. Get in their head. Say #12 likes to hit line. If you are on defense in the back row, be very vocal about covering the line. Call them out on their favorite shot. “#12 loves to hit line! I’ve got line! Annie, you cover the tip!” This will make #12 think twice about hitting line or tipping, which means she might try to hit angle which she may not be very good at. Even if she does end up hitting line, you have already mentally prepared yourself to dig that ball.
  4. Know their blockers. If you’re a right side hitter and you notice that your opponent’s middle blocker is slow, hitting angle is probably your best bet because there will probably be a hole in the block. Or, if you notice that both of your blockers are very tall, you might want to try tipping and/or using their hands to score points.
  5. Mix it up. Imagine that you are playing a game of Battleship. You call out A5. You miss. Do you keep calling out A5 or do you try something else? A lot of players have this problem. Do you keep hitting angle and keep getting dug? Or do they keep picking up your tips? Time to mix up your shots. Even if your angle hit is your best hit, there is no point in hitting it right at their defenders each time. Try a sharper angle, try a line shot, try a roll shot. Getting frustrated that you are not scoring any points is just going to make you play worse. There is 900 sq. ft. of court… figure out a way to get the ball to the floor.
  6. Know their defenders. Does their setter always leave early on defense? Hit it to where he should be playing defense (but won’t be because he cheated). Make their coach yell at their setter. Get him flustered, and force him to dig a ball. Also, if you see that they have a middle blocker serving, figure out where that middle blocker will be playing defense. Middles typically are not the best defenders, so hitting it to where they will be in the back row is often an easy point for your team.
  7. Know yourself. What is your best shot? Where are you most successful? If you are a hitter, know where and how you hit best (a low, fast set vs. a high, inside set). When you need a point, go to your bread and butter. Alternatively, if you are a setter, you need to know where your hitters are most successful. Giving someone a low, inside set is fine as long as it is a good shot for them. What is right for one hitter might not be right for another.

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