French Reception Technique

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At the USA Volleyball High Performance Coach’s Clinic in 2015, French National Team coach Laurent Tillie caused quite some consternation amongst participants by explaining a reception technique that emphasised bent arms and cross over footwork.  It occurs to me that many who were so concerned have not seen his team using this technique.  Last week I had the very great pleasure to watch the French team attempt to qualify for the Olympics, and to see how they used these ideas in practice.

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I don’t want to editorialise in this forum so have simply transcribed (as best as possible) Tillie’s exact words, and then included a video of the French team in action. This link shows a perfect example of the cross step that Tillie discusses, demonstrated by the great Scott Touzinsky.

“The arms are relaxed.  From this position, go to the ball and think only of the orientation of the platform.  And finish the movement (shows cross step movement)….

(For float serve reception) Usually we ask to have straight arms and move the shoulders. If the ball comes fast and you stay (with straight arms) the ball goes away.  So we try to work bending the arms. Bending the arms it is easier to control the platform, gain time and be ready to bring the ball to the setter.”

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    1. In this match, that I studied, I didn’t see it. Maybe their position was so good that they didn’t need to use this 🙂


    1. I am careful about saying ‘prefer’. The clips in the video are the only actions like that in a four set match.
      I think it is fair to say they focus heavily on the platform and don’t require straight arms, as long as the platform is controlled.
      Re float serve, I didn’t see it in this match. They pass a lot with their hands. I have to take Laurent’s word for it that they do it.


  1. Thanks for this Mark. I was pretty confused when I first heard you talk about this and the video is worth 1000 words.

    For the serves shown to make the platform angle you have to turn the hips. It seems like they’ve given up taking the drop-step normally used to do this. Favouring speed of getting the platform out.

    Do you think they’re using the cross-over step particularly as a way to regain balance and stay on their feet so they can transition?


    1. I think the cross over as used here, is simply a way to stop from falling over. In a lot of other cases, they don’t stop themselves from falling over, especially the libero. They focus on the platform and making the play.


    1. Correct, scouting video. The two ways to get hold of it are to know someone (like me 😉 ) or you can try They have a section where you can buy videos of a lot of matches from around the world for about €1 per match.


      1. Mark, at first I was a little confused because you are using the words “bending the arms” After seeing the video it became clear for me. For me it makes sence anyway. In practice I tell my players (When there is no other possibility or option) to get their “shoulderline” behind the ball. And dead straight in the direction of the setter. That’s the only thing that counts at that moment. In what way you get those shoulders behind the ball is’nt important. When it’s with a cross over, so be it! It’s cool when you can controll the ball like the French do. I can also do it like them: in my dreams!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. The ball knows angles….and since the serve is so fast, makes sense. The arms for rotational serve should be like a defense in my opinion, you had to cushion the power, which is really different for a float serve.


  3. The ball knows angles…make sense since the serve is very fast. About the arms, for the rotational serve you need to bend your arms like a defense to cushion the ball in my opinion which is the opposite for a float serve.


  4. It would be interesting to have better quality footage, but from what I can see going through frame-by-frame (and I fully acknowledge that this is what I was looking for) is that the elbows don’t flex until after the ball is played, not before or during the play of the ball. So the ‘fundamental’ that the platform should be aimed at the target still remains.

    Regarding footwork, the natural footwork a person has, is cross-over. When we walk we don’t shuffle, and walking is effectively just overbalancing forwards and trying to keep balance (in a controlled way). In sport, any time shuffling is taught there needs to be a reason. This reason is usually so that you can change direction quickly (ie: if your feet are mostly on the ground, because you move with small shuffles, then you can change direction any time they are on the ground.). When we teach beginners, we use a variety of rationales for it, including keeping eyes at a consistent height above the ground to assist with tracking.

    From watching the French passing, none of the ‘standard’ fundamentals for passing are actually broken. I contend the platform is still solid when the pass is made (up for debate but that’s my opinion), and any foot movement is after the ball is played, and is just a more natural movement. Also, in men’s volleyball you rarely need to move more than a step to pass a ball (except with short serves perhaps).

    Lastly, as always, there is a big difference between a coaching cue and a technical necessity. Big difference. Really big.


  5. No matter how they do it, the big difference seems to be, that the French passers are encouraged to focus mostly on the platform. And the platform is defined as the part of the arms that passes the ball. The entire arm is not necessary for building the best possible platform under certain circumstances. That gives them a chance for more flexibility and creativity. They lack the restriction of common reception technique and focus on the best possible outcome instead. I think that’s kind of revolutionary.


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