21 Types of Volleyball Sets Every Setter Must Know

Types of Volleyball Sets

I remember last year’s incident when our friends decided to play a friendly match.

As we played, a setter in team A experimented with different ways to pass the ball.

He was looking for the perfect way to set up a spike. 

His experiments worked well, and as I got home, I started thinking of the different setting techniques that could change the game’s dimensions.

It led me to compile this comprehensive guide, which discusses the different types of volleyball sets, breaking them into five main categories.

Each category serves a unique purpose and requires a specific skill set.

So, let’s set the ball rolling and dive into the world of volleyball sets, where every pass is a step toward victory.

What is a Volleyball Set?

A volleyball set is a crucial skill involving the second of the three contacts a team can make with the ball before sending it to the net.

The primary goal of setting is to position the ball perfectly for a teammate to attack or spike it into the opponent’s court. 

A good set is crucial for a successful offense, as it sets up the opportunity to score maximum kills.

Let’s break it down with a simple example:

You are playing a best-of-five volleyball match, and your team receives the serve from the other team. 

The first contact is usually a bump or a pass aimed at controlling the serve and getting the ball to the setter.

The setter then performs the set, which involves using their hands to push the ball into the air precisely.

He does it so that one of the hitters can jump and hit the ball down into the opposite court.

In short, the set is like the assist in basketball.

It’s the setup for the main action, which, in volleyball, is the spike.

A well-executed set can distinguish between an easy point for the spiker or a missed opportunity.

a hitter in action after the ball being set by the setter

Types of Sets in Volleyball

In volleyball, setting means to give the ball a perfect lift so your teammate can hit it hard over the net.

It’s crucial to recognize that how we set the ball can vary significantly.

Factors like the tempo, court location, player position, strategy, and play pattern all play a role in this variation.

Setters sometimes use hand signals to communicate which type of set they’ll use, but these signals can change from team to team.

Let’s start with some key terms to understand set types better.

Firstly, the tempo of a set is most important in determining the rhythm of the attack.

It refers to how quickly the ball is set to the hitter, affecting their approach and timing for the jump. 

Typically, we can break down set tempos into three main categories:

  • 1st Step Tempo: It is the fastest type of set. As a setter, you set the ball quickly, allowing your teammate to hit it almost immediately. Think of it as a sneak attack that happens so fast the other team barely has time to react.
  • 2nd Step Tempo: This tempo is moderate, neither fast nor slow. It gives your hitters more time to assess the situation and decide the best place to send the ball. It’s good for keeping the defense guessing and offering your team flexibility in their attack strategy.
  • Last Step Tempo: The slowest among the three, this tempo gives your hitter plenty of time to get into position, observe the opposing team’s setup, and choose the best spot to aim for. 

Secondly, you must understand “hitting numbers” and “setting numbers.”

Hitters and setters use hitting numbers as codes to know where to set the ball.

These numbers inform the hitter about the height of the set and the location on the court where they should expect to hit it.

For example, A “2” could be a bit higher and closer to the middle of the net, giving the hitter more time to get to the ball.

In conjunction, setting numbers works together with hitting numbers.

The setter uses them to signal to the team what kind of set they will make.

It helps the hitters know where they should be and how fast they need to get there.

A setter in play during a volleyball match
Photo by Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Pol

For instance, if the setter plans to do a quick middle set (a “1”), they’ll use a specific hand signal or call out before the play starts.

With these fundamentals in place, we can now look at the five main categories I’ve outlined for volleyball sets, considering all previously mentioned factors.

These categories are:

  • Outside Hitter Setter Plays: These sets aim at players who hit from the sides of the court. They can be fast or slow, depending on what works best at that moment.
  • Middle Hitter Setter Plays: These sets are usually quick because they help surprise the other team by hitting the ball from the middle of the net.
  • Right-Side Hitter Setter Plays: Similar to the outside hitter one, but for players who hit from the right side. The sets can vary in speed.
  • Back Row Sets: These are for players who hit from behind the line that divides the court. It’s another cool way to mix things up.
  • Volleyball Combination Plays: This is when players use a mix of different sets to confuse the other team and create chances to score.

Next, I will discuss the specifics of each category, providing a detailed look at the types of sets within them.

Also, I’ll share some hand signals commonly used for specific sets.

Remember that these aren’t universal, and teams often have their variations!

Outside Hitter Setter Plays

When discussing “Outside Hitter Sets” in volleyball, we focus on setters’ strategies to assist OHs in making effective attacks.

These sets are super important because the outside hitter often has to deal with strong blocks and needs smart plays to score points.

Let’s break down some common types of sets for outside hitters, along with the signals setters use to communicate them and talk about how fast each one is.

4 Set

The ‘4’ set is a classic move for outside hitters.

It’s a high ball set to the left side of the court, which gives the hitter a lot of time to see where the blockers are, plan their jump, and hit the ball hard.

While this set gives the hitter more time to prepare, I would classify it based on its height and speed rather than directly putting it into the “last step tempo” category.

So, you can call it a “high tempo” set, allowing for a three-step (or more) approach for the hitter to generate maximum power and precision. 

To show the hand signal for a “4” set, extend your hand straight up with your four fingers (index, middle, ring, and pinky) held high.

Keep your thumb tucked in.

4 set volleyball setter hand signal

Hut Set

The Hut set is quicker and has a lower trajectory than the ‘4’ set.

This acceleration demands the hitter to respond rapidly, making the Hut set a powerful tool for surprising the defense.

This setting most closely aligns with a 1st step tempo due to its fast nature, requiring the hitter to be ready almost immediately.

To show the hand signal for a Hut set, extend your hand straight up with your four fingers (index, middle, ring, and pinky) held high and quickly flash them open and closed.

Go Set

The ‘Go’ is low and quick set right outside the antenna, and the Outside Hitter needs to be fast to strike the ball effectively.

It is all about speed and timing, making it perfect for a quick attack.

The Go set is in the 2nd step tempo because it provides enough time for the hitter to make a calculated approach, typically involving a quick two-step sequence.

It is especially effective for dynamic offensive plays, balancing speed, and strategic placement.

To show the hand signal for a “go” set, form a gun symbol with your hand, extending your index and middle fingers with your thumb tucked.

Go set volleyball setter hand signal

Middle Hitter Setter Plays

Let’s talk about the types of volleyball sets, which are all about how the setter helps the middle hitter make great attacks.

The middle hitters’ position in volleyball is vital because they can quickly score points with solid and fast hits.

So, knowing the different ways to set the ball for MBs helps the team use the middle of the net to their advantage.

Here’s a closer look at each type and its tempo: 

Gap Set

The Gap set is all about making a space or “gap” between the blockers on the other team.

Picture the setter quickly tossing the ball up.

But instead of right above their head, it’s a bit to the side.

It’s not exactly in the middle.

It means the middle hitter has to be quick on their feet.

They need to shift a bit to reach the ball.

The goal is to use this gap to trick the defense.

Since it’s a speedy move, the hitter must react quickly.

Despite emphasizing quick execution, the Gap set falls into the 3rd step tempo category.

This classification acknowledges the need for the hitter to take a moment to assess, move, and then jump, allowing for a slightly longer approach that involves a full three-step sequence.

Push Set

The Push set is a clever trick play where the setter sends the ball just behind the middle hitter.

Here, the setter sends the ball a little behind the middle hitter, requiring them to either step back or move sideways to reach it.

It’s quick enough to keep the defense guessing, but the setter’s skill in disguising the play’s direction is key.

Despite its speed, the Push set is in the 3rd step tempo.

It means the hitter has more time to move, allowing for a strategic and well-placed attack.

The volleyball setter’s hand signal for the “push” set will be in a way that extends your hand and flexes your index finger inwards, towards your palm.

Push set volleyball setter hand signal

1 Set

The ‘1’ set is a quick move for the middle hitter.

The setter passes the ball straight up but not too high, so the hitter must jump and hit it fast.

This play happens quickly, making it a surprise attack against the other team. 

Although it’s a speedy set, we call it a last-step tempo, emphasizing the need for immediate action and coordination between the setter and the middle hitter.

It’s a direct challenge to the opposing team’s blockers, as there’s little time for them to react.

To show the hand signal for a “1” set, raise your hand and extend only your index finger upwards.

Keep your other fingers curled towards your palm.

1 set volleyball setter hand signal

A Set

The ”A” set is a quick and sneaky move just behind the setter.

In this play, the setter lightly taps the ball right behind them.

The middle hitter needs to be fast to catch and hit this ball.

We call this a last-step tempo because it happens so quickly that the hitter has to be ready to jump almost immediately after the setter touches the ball. 

There’s hardly any time for the hitter to take more steps or prepare.

They must move in the moment, using their last step to launch into the air. 

To indicate an ‘A’ set, hold your hand high and extend your index and middle fingers straight upwards, tightly pressed together.

Curl your other fingers firmly into your palm.

Slide Set

The Slide set is a unique play designed for middle hitters.

In this strategy, the setter delivers the ball so the hitter can perform a “slide” move to the side, hitting the ball while in motion. 

This lateral movement creates confusion for the opposing team’s blockers, making it challenging for them to predict where the hit will come from. 

Because the hitter has a moment to assess their path and time their hit, this set falls into the 2nd step tempo category. 

To indicate a ‘slide’, form a shaka sign and give it a slight twist back and forth.

This signals the dynamic movement of a slide attack.

Slide set volleyball setter hand signal

B Set

The ‘B’ set is a strategic play between the quick ‘A’ set and the wider Slide set.

This set sends the ball about six feet behind the setter, an ideal spot for middle hitters looking for a strong hit.

Placing the ‘B’ set challenges blockers since it’s not directly above the setter nor too far to the side, creating a guessing game for the defense.

I categorize it under the 2nd step tempo because it allows the hitter a brief moment to adjust their position and time their approach.

Right-Side Hitter Setter Plays

The effective teamwork between the setter and the opposite hitter is a game-changer in volleyball.

The setter’s skill in delivering the ball sets the stage for the hitter to make powerful spikes and smart plays.

It’s about finding the perfect balance of speed and strategy with each set. 

Here are the essential setter plays that are the foundation for a right-side hitter’s success.

Red Set

The red set is a fast-paced set designed explicitly for the right-side hitter.

It’s a speedy set lower than a high ball, making the play faster.

The hitter needs to be ready with a quick two-step approach, fitting into a 2nd step tempo.

This set is perfect for a fast attack that can surprise the defense and throw them off.

To signal a ‘red’ set, make a closed fist.

This indicates a pre-planned play or a specific set variation.

Red set volleyball setter hand signal

5 Set

The 5 set is all about immediacy and is the ideal 1st step tempo set for the right-side hitter.

Typically, the setter sets a high and fast ball to the right antenna.

The Opposite Hitter must be quick off the ground with a minimal approach, just one step to receive it.

This play is perfect for quick strikes and keeping the game’s pace up.

To signal a ‘5’ set, extend your hand straight up with all five fingers held high.

5 set volleyball setter hand signal

Back Row Sets

Back-row sets are all about launching attacks from behind the front row.

These sets allow players in the back row to jump and hit the ball over the net, even though they start from further back.

It’s a cool way to mix things up and keep the other team guessing.

For this guide, I am focusing on the 6 most common types of it.

But there are tons of back-row setter plays that you can try yourself as a setter and surprise your opponents.

Bic Set

The Bic set is a fast play aimed right behind the middle blocker.

It’s a 2nd step tempo set, meaning the hitter has some time to see the ball and decide how to hit it.

Undoubtedly, it’s great for a sneaky attack down the center.

As the setter, you communicate this play to your hitter using the following discreet hand signal:

Quickly extend your thumb downwards in a motion that mimics flicking a lighter.

This tells your middle hitter to prepare for the quick back-row attack.

Bic set volleyball setter hand signal

Pipe Set

The Pipe set is a clever move from the back row, aiming straight down the middle.

It’s a 2nd step tempo play, giving the hitter just enough time to take a couple of quick steps before jumping and spiking the ball.

This set is about timing and precision, as the player must quickly figure out the best spot to hit while moving fast.

It’s like a fast break in basketball, where the player rushes down the court and makes a quick play before the defense.

30 Set

This set goes a bit to the left from the back row and is a 2nd step tempo.

The player has a moment to decide how to hit it.

It’s like taking a quick side step and striking the ball where the other team isn’t expecting it.

40/C Set

The ‘40’ or ‘C’ set is similar to the ‘30’ set but on the right side of the back row.

We can put it into 2nd step tempo category because of its moderate approach.

It’s like finding a clever spot on the right to attack from.

10 Set

This 2nd step tempo set is another quick middle hit from the back.

The player gets some time to aim and go for an open spot.

It’s like quickly deciding where to land the ball in the middle of the court.

D Set

The D set is a strategic play designed for back-row attackers.

It specifically targets the back left side of the court.

This 2nd step tempo set allows the hitter to approach quickly and precisely hit the ball.

Let me elaborate more with the help of an example.

Imagine the volleyball game at a critical stage, and the team needs to score.

The setter, positioned near the middle of the court, quickly assesses the formation of the opposing team’s blockers.

He spots an opening on the back left side and executes a ‘D’ set.

The hitter, moving fast, takes two steps and jumps to meet the ball high in the air.

They hit it sharply down, surprising the other team and scoring a crucial point. 

This quick and strategic play shows how a well-timed D set can outsmart the defense and win points.

Volleyball Combination Plays

The volleyball combination plays are the steps that keep the opposition guessing.

Each set type is a unique move that can unlock a defense when combined with others.

These sets range from the fast-paced ‘Rip’ to the strategic ‘X.’

Let’s explore the main types of this category to help your team get ahead in the game.

Rip Set

The Rip set is a quick pass to the left side for the hitter to attack.

The setter sends the ball just slightly above the net so the hitter can jump and hit it down fast before the other team can block it.

It’s like a speedy surprise that helps score points and is signalled by the setter forming an arch with their hand.

Rip set volleyball setter hand signal

X2 Set

In combination plays, the X2 set is a clever move.

It starts with the setter, who tosses the ball just behind the middle area of the net.

This is where the right-side hitter comes in.

They have to be fast and coordinate with the setter’s toss. Their quick move to hit the ball is part of a team strategy.

It’s all about teamwork and surprise.

X Set

The X set is about creating a cross pattern with the ball’s path.

One hitter starts the play by pretending to go for the ball, while another hitter comes in from a different angle to take the actual hit.

It’s like drawing an ‘X’ in the air with the ball’s movement, hence the name.

This set requires good teamwork and timing to ensure the right hitter gets to the ball for the attack.

Boy Set

This one is a variation of the ‘X’ set but for the middle hitter.

The ball is passed in a way that crosses paths with another player’s approach, creating confusion for the blockers.

The middle hitter must pay attention and quickly take advantage of the distraction.

It’s an intelligent play that uses a little misdirection to make the hit more effective.

Final Words

I hope the overview of 21 volleyball setting techniques has been enlightening.

Although explaining every type in simple terms wasn’t straightforward, I have attached the relevant YouTube videos and examples for clearer understanding.

Remember, practice is the key to mastering these skills.

As a setter, merely reading about these techniques or watching videos isn’t enough.

You need to apply them during practice drills and real matches.

That’s when you’ll truly experience their effectiveness and see the difference they can make on the court.

Keep practicing, and you’ll witness the transformation in your game!

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