Everything Is Timing – Mythbusters Edition

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There are (at least) three myths in volleyball.

‘It’s all about repetitions’

‘Good setters see the block’

‘Good spikers can spike in every direction’

I have written a lot about the first myth.

I have never written about the second, but I can assure that it is not true.

The third myth was part of the background to my recent ‘Everything Is Timing‘ post.  In that post, I asked the question ‘At what moment does the spiker decide whether to spike cross court or down the line?’  That is the big decision that spikers must make.

The poll results were interesting.  Over 50% of respondents answered that the spiker makes this major decision when he sees the blockers hands, i.e. at the very last moment.  I am reasonably certain that this is the only incorrect answer.  For that statement to be true, it would require a spiker to be able to control his armswing in to spike in a full 90° range after the motor program has been initiated.  I suggest that is improbable.  You will find that spikers who seem to spike in every direction, don’t do so with full power.  One of the directions is most often a shot or some kind.

The reality, I believe, is that the spiker chooses his main direction (line or cross) early in the process.  In some cases the set dictates the spike direction (‘the set leads the spiker’).  In other cases, the spiker sees the starting position of the blockers, or some characteristic of their movement.  In still other cases, a spiker just has a favourite shot.  Once the main decision has been taken, the spiker can then make small adjustments of height, angle and timing much later depending on the final movements of the blockers.  This explains the phenomenon of a spiker who is effective even though he always hits the same shot.  And the phenomenon of the ‘cross’ spiker who suddenly hits line.

Sometimes things aren’t the way you think they are.


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  1. While I am also sure that it is impossible to decide which direction to hit, after the hitter has seen the blockers hands, it would yet be interesting to acually KNOW where a hitter does look, and which factors he uses to make his decision. Any research articles out there you know about?


    1. I don’t personally know of any research into it.
      As I wrote in the post, I think it varies from player to player. But I think by studying the player you can often work it out. Which is what inspired the post in the first place 😉


  2. Martin, it’s almost twenty years old, unfortunately out of print and on top only available in German, BUT it’s also a good read and gives a theoretical perspective (which I see no grounds, why it should be outdated) as well as practical suggestion of how to enhance performance by teaching the players where to look when: Westphal, Gasse, Richterin “Entscheiden und Handeln im Sportspiel”, Philipka, 1987.


  3. My poll answer was that the spiker decides immediately after the set. This was probably a bit of an exaggeration but it was based on the knowledge that a passer gets most of their information about the serve before the ball has been served (yes, I know there are differences in distance and speed, etc.

    I certainly don’t think that the spiker ‘decides’ after they see the block, but I do think that the final decision is made very late. The key point though, is that it is not a final decision between ‘I will spike anywhere I want’ and ‘I will spike down the line’. It is more like the final decision between two or three options, that had been decided upon earlier in the ball’s trajectory.


  4. The amount of attention the spiker pays to the block is a funktion of the distance to the block.

    Large distance -> no attention.
    Close to the block -> max. attention

    Only some spiker armswings allow late decisions.

    -> Denis Kaliberda
    -> Mariusz Wlazly
    -> Wallace de Souza


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