Setter’s Rules – Practice

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In the early 1990’s as Australia established a full-time, centralised, National Team program and sought to catch up with the rest of the world, ties were logically created with the United States.  They were after all the reigning Olympic champions, were culturally similar and had invented the centralised concept, or at least the version of it that we sought to emulate.  During that time various exchanges were conducted, mostly amongst coaches as the teams were not similar in level.  The exchange that I personally participated in, was a visit to Australia by Harlan Cohen.  Cohen had worked for a long time in the US at a variety of levels, including a stint coaching the women’s National Team.  At the time he came to Australia he was in his 60’s and, from memory, was working with Marv Dunphy at Pepperdine as a consultant.  He was definitely an interesting character and the theme of his visit was setting.

He had a lot of drills and theories that he applied and presented in National Team trainings and other sessions.  A few of things that come to mind are recommending that setters do some hand exercises in a bucket of rice for strengthen purposes, a lot of footwork exercises that setters did every day and the requirement that the ball should be passed low and fast to the top of the tape so that the offence could be fast.  Those are all very useful and interesting, but the greatest influence that  Harlan Cohen had on me, was to introduce to me the concept of the ‘Setter’s Rules’.

Learn the secrets of Lloy Ball Lindsey Berg and many others in this extended Setting Presentation.

The ‘Setter’s Rules’ were training rules that held effect in every single drill throughout practice, regardless of the specifc goals of the drill.  They were designed to emphasise and consolidate the techniques, skills and behaviours that were required of setters.  I have used them in different situations over the years, particularly with younger players.  I can remember a particular coaching situation I was involved in where the team only trained once a week.  Individual technical training under those circumstances was not possible.  But simply by applying the ‘Setter’s Rules’ in practice my setters made enormous progress, in every area.  I can highly recommend them at every level. For more explanation of exactly why they work, click here.





I have also found one of the actual information sheets that Cohen shared, a specfic conditioning program for setters.  Interestingly, my team uses all of the medicine ball exercises with all our players.  Note the ‘Bucket of Rice’ exercise and I don’t recall what an ‘Arm Sprint’ is.

cohen setting002


  1. This was something valuable that I took out of the setting seminar and have found it to be really beneficial. It appears in the setting section of all my “team system sites” now. It really sets the tone for the offence. makes the receivers pass better, the setter set better, and the spikers work harder (if the setter jumps, the spiker responds accordingly).


    1. I was coaching a session an ANU, and the scrimmage was crappy. so i told the setters we were going to do rules 1 & 2… then I said,, “Screw it, and we’ll do rule 3 too”…. in a matter of minutes the standard went up twofold!


      1. Raising the standards almost always works better to improve performance than lowering the standards.


  2. I would agree that the rules make sense and that a raised bar or aimed focus will help a team perform better; i,e. a jump setting setter that alwasy wnat the ball will always make a mental or visual target or the passers / attackers.

    I do however want to argue that rigid rules sometimes comes at the expense of fluid, appropriate and better decision making. And is mastery of that skill not the key to developing strong setters for high performance?:

    Deciding WHO to set, utilizing the technique available (HOW) in any given situation and even letting other people set if the pass or defense ball is not in a settable zone?


    1. the setters rules do a number of things from an information flow perspective:
      1) for rule one it is clear who sets, removing the precious time needed for tactical decisions. Of course, there are situations where the setter cannot set or the defensive contact was of low quality requiring another player to take the second contact
      2) for rule two, this improves control, precision and speed
      3) for rule three, this forces the setter to be at the exact spot with vertical motion only, ensuring a stable delivery. Of course, the setter could take their time to get to this spot but this removes decision time for better decision making, seeing if the middle blocker “bites” on the jump set or speeding up delivery to the spikers.

      Other rules added could help improve the tactical thinking and decision making flow by the setter.


  3. Thanks for sharing this Mark. I remember the tennis ball squeeze and tricept exercises and most importantly was the neck ‘ snap’ a way of speeding up the set when setting backwards. Have used that one in the right setting quite a few times for setters I’ve worked with.


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