There are many who maintain that the premier skill in is volleyball is reading. It is no secret that I am one of those people. But in my defence, I am not the only one. It is impossible to be competent at playing volleyball without being highly proficient in reading. But like everything, a focus on reading has unintended consequences. What would happen if reading was our system, without guidelines? Let’s do the thought experiment.
Firstly, in most skills or game areas we would see a high level of play. Receivers would receive well, setters would set the right option, spikers would spike past or off the block as appropriate, and there would always be a good block at the point of attack. And what about defence? If all players are reading well, they should making constant adjustments and they should all try to get to where the ball goes. In fact, that is exactly what we do see; a lot of (pointless) activity and players ending up getting in each other’s way, as we’ve seen here and here. This is what we should see. If they are all reading the same thing, they should all stand on the same spot. What we also see, and here is the real unintended consequence, is that in practice defenders are so intent on reading the spiker that they end up disregarding the effect of the block, which leads to a few spectacular digs, from clean attacks, and many missed ‘easy’ opportunities, easy balls that come off the block.
In just the same way as a system without reading is wrong, reading as a system, which is actually the absence of a system, is equally wrong**. The highest level of volleyball requires players to work together. Playing together does not mean doing the same thing at the same time, it means doing complementary things at the same time. Players have to be able to read in a way that services the team. And the coach has to create a system that optimally balances the players’ freedom to read with team outcomes.
**It is interesting that technical and tactical extremes in volleyball follow the same rules as ideological extremes in real life.
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