3 Tips to Become an Effective Beach Volleyball Setter

by Tim Maruyama

"Well, I'm not a setter!"

What’s typically the first question you are asked when you tell a friend you play volleyball? You've got it! “What position do you play?”.

Specialization is nothing new to the sport, but over the last several years we have seen a significant shift in philosophy. Coaches often think that you need to train in a specific position at the age of 11 if you want to play in high school. As this trend continues, we lose something. We lose the six-rotation players. We lose the out-of-system plays. We lose the interest of new players who don’t fit “The Mold”.

The biggest counter to this trend is the sun, the sand, the wind, and your best friend: beach volleyball.

Never "been a setter" before? Here are three tips to become an effective setter without using your hands.

Learn how to read
On the beach, you have several elements you need to “read” every second of every play. Let’s just focus on a few. The attack is coming over and you see it’s not going to you but to your partner. You have now read the angle of the attack and are focused on the angle of your partner’s platform and the ball quickly approaching her. In a fraction of a second, you decide which direction to start heading.

As the ball is starting to soar in the air off your partner's platform, you are now reading where you are in relation to the ball, the net, and your partner. You look up to keep tracking it while battling the sun and the wind to better the ball. You take a second to peak over the net to see what’s going on. Glance back at your partner to see how she is transitioning and if she called a specific set and then try to find the ball again.

There is so much to think about on every play that it’s important to learn how to see from the eyes of a trained setter. Pick one element to read next time you are setting.

Move your feet
I’m sure you have heard this phrase a million times, but it can’t be emphasized enough. While setting up your partner requires a good platform or great beach hands, it's significantly more important to have great footwork. In the sand it’s much harder to move, so we are forced to explode out of the pit of sand we have wedged into with every step. Many players make the mistake of waiting and watching. Don’t be that player. Be the player that explodes in a direction way before they “need” to. 

This is different than when your coach or parent is standing on the sidelines yelling “Talk, talk, talk.” I’m not talking about the times when the ball drops between you and your partner because you forgot to say “Mine”. As a doubles player, there is so much going on that communication makes a world of difference.

It’s important to talk because teaching is the best way of learning, and muscle memory is enhanced when multiple senses are associated with it. As a doubles partner, the more you tell each other what you are seeing the easier it will be to make good reads and the earlier you will know to explode and move your feet.

As a coach in the sand and indoors I hear people lean on this phrase all the time: “Well … I’m not a setter.” It is often said to save face when an error is made, but that simple phrase tells us so much about the culture we have created in our gyms. Athletes quickly learn on the sand that you do not get that option of an excuse anymore. You have to be the best libero, setter and attacker every play.