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Learn about implementing a fast-tempo strategy

This is an excerpt from Volleyball Systems & Strategies by USA Volleyball.

Advantages and Disadvantages

Fast-tempo sets are difficult to defend for both front-row and back-row defenders. Teams that develop the ball control needed to run fast-tempo sets will find themselves hitting quite often against zero- and one-person blocks, giving the offense a clear advantage. Even if there are two blockers, to get a well-formed block up, the blockers must correctly guess where the set is going to go.

A fast-tempo offense is exciting and entertaining, both for players and spectators. If a team has the technical skills they need to run this offense effectively, they can have a lot of fun doing it. Enjoyment is a good motivator, so if teams are having fun in an offensive scheme, they'll likely be more motivated to endure the kind of training fast-tempo plays require. Another advantage is that these plays may give your team the feeling of confidence that comes with having a secret weapon. Often getting to try these plays may be held up to the team as a reward of sorts for achieving goals or for performing well in other areas.

One of the disadvantages of a fast-tempo strategy is that mistakes in timing are crippling. For instance, a left-side hitter who's hitting a 13 set has a much smaller window in which to attack the ball when compared to a traditional high set. The same can be said for the middle hitter hitting the 51 and 31 and the right-side attacker hitting the 71. Even if everything (pass, hitter's transition, setter's transition) is perfect leading up to the setter setting the ball, there's still a chance that the timing of the set and of the hitter's approach won't be in sync, leaving a team scrambling just to get the ball over the net. Also, the faster you run your offense, the more stress you put on your own hitters to transition quicker and possibly father along the net, which could cause some hitter fatigue.


The game of volleyball should proceed from simple to complex techniques, tactics, and strategies. Diggers must learn the basic dig before working on the diving dig, the sprawling dig, and so on. The principle of simple to complex progression definitely applies to teams wishing to employ a fast-tempo offense. Setters and hitters must become adept at running traditional higher plays and developing excellent ball-control skills before trying to perfect the skills necessary to play the fast-tempo offense.

Many teams attempt a gradual incorporation of fast-tempo sets into their offensive plan. To run even one type of fast-tempo set requires very good passing and digging for the players involved, but there's no requirement that all front-row hitters must be involved in fast-tempo strategies. Consider a team that hits traditional high sets with the left- and right-side hitters (15s and higher for the left sides and 95s and higher for the right sides) and uses their middle hitter for the fast-tempo sets. This type of offense can be very effective because the opponent's middle blocker must defend the quick attack and will thus have trouble getting out to block either outside hitter, even though they're hitting a higher set.

Think also about using two of your three front-row hitters in a faster-tempo offense. A team who uses the left-side hitter as its outlet hitter (the hitter who will probably get a traditional high set when the pass or dig doesn't allow other sets) can use its middle-front and right-front attackers for faster-tempo sets. A play within this strategy might be a 15 for the left side, 31 for the middle, and a 71 for the right side. This allows the setter an outlet set if the pass isn't perfect, but also many offensive options when the pass is perfect.

Finally, there will be times when an opponent manages to defend the quick-tempo sets. If this occurs, mix some slower sets into your offense. Good blocking is a matter of reading and timing, so mixing up the timing of your sets might be enough to throw the defense off.

Coaching Points

Because the margin of error is quite small when running fast-tempo sets, many gamelike repetitions during practice are necessary. Here are a few elements to consider for front-row hitters hitting fast-tempo sets.

-Left-side attackers. Very rarely should left-side attackers begin in the zone from which they want their approach to start. Invariably, a left-side attacker is a primary passer who passes when in the front row. If left-side hitters are running a fast-tempo set out of the serve-receive pattern, they need to work on drills that require them to pass, transition, and then hit, just as they would in a game. Further, if the left side is hitting fast-tempo sets out of their defensive position, he or she should start at the net, block an opposing attacker, then transition off the net to approach for the fast-tempo set, or drop off and dig, then transition to hit.
-Middle attackers. These attackers have a wide variety of movement demands to execute before they hit the fast-tempo set. Assuming they're involved in every block (two-blocker system), they will need efficient transition movements from the net after blocking in order to get available to hit. That this transition will have to be worked out as they're moving from the left side, right side, and middle means that progress toward becoming efficient fast-tempo hitters might come slower. Also critical are the movement demands placed on the setter before setting the fast-tempo sets. If the setter is front row and involved with the block, he or she must be required to perform this gamelike movement before she sets the ball. Because it's probable that the middle blocker is involved as well in this blocking situation, forcing both the middle blocker and the setter to block and then transition is a gamelike drill, allowing for more transfer to the game. One of the more advanced elements is the running of a middle quick attack when the pass or dig isn't perfect. Because teams hope that a fast-tempo set can still be used when the ball isn't exactly to target, executing gamelike repetitions under this circumstance is helpful. Although we're not suggesting that you should run a fast-tempo set if the setter is 10 feet (3 meters) off the net, it's possible for a setter who's 2 to 3 feet (.6-.9 meter) off the net to still set the middle hitter a faster-tempo ball-but only if trained and practiced under gamelike conditions.
-Right-side attackers. As is true for left-side attackers, right-side attackers might be involved in receiving serve and being required to pass and transition before hitting the fast-tempo sets. Again, the attacker should not start in the same zone that he or she will hit from. Like left-side attackers, the right-side hitter will be involved as a blocker (but probably more often than left-side hitters will because opponents traditionally set more often to their left-side hitters than to their right-side hitters). The right-side blocker, then, should be involved in drills that require them to start at the net, make a block attempt, and then transition off the net to hit the fast-tempo set. There will be times when the right-side blocker will be the off-blocker (when the opponent sets their right-side attacker), so the right-side hitter should begin that movement in a hitting drill from the net, dropping off to dig and then transitioning to hit, so that training is similar to what occurs in real games.

Another coaching consideration relevant to this strategy is the type of defense a team uses, and where that defense places front-row diggers. Say a defense is using a two-blocker system, and the off-blocker pulls into the court close to the net to defend tips. If it's the left-side hitter who's the off-blocker, it will be very difficult for her to move halfway into the court (roughly 5 feet [1.5 meters] from the net) and then try to transition to hit a 13 set. Though it's fun and sometimes quite effective to run these fast-tempo sets, serious consideration must be given to how many of them should be used based on the defensive system your team employs.

Finally, we want to mention the potential offensive benefit to fusing the fast-tempo strategy with the spread strategy. The spread strategy uses sets in a minimum of three zones-usually zones 1, 5, and 9-to force blockers to defend the entire net. It's possible for a team with excellent ball-control skills to apply fast-tempo plays within the spread strategy. Fusing the spread and high-tempo strategies can cause major stress for an opposing team's blockers and back-row defenders because they will have to get two blockers up at any point of attack or else resort to commit blocking on one attacker. Training your hitters to each hit and get good at one higher-tempo and one quicker-tempo set in the same zone can cause havoc with the opposing blockers.

More Excerpts From Volleyball Systems & Strategies