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Competitive teams master six basic skills: serve, pass, set, attack, block and dig. Each of these skills comprises a number of specific techniques that have been introduced over the years and are now considered standard practice in high-level volleyball.
A player stands behind the endline and serves the ball, in an attempt to drive it into the opponent's court. His or her main objective is to make it land inside the court; it is also desirable to set the ball's direction, speed and acceleration so that it becomes difficult for the receiver to handle it properly. A serve is called an "ace" when the ball lands directly onto the court or travels outside the court after being touched by an opponent.
Also called reception, the pass is the attempt by a team to properly handle the opponent's serve, or any form of attack. Proper handling includes not only preventing the ball from touching the court, but also making it reach the position where the setter is standing quickly and precisely.
The skill of passing involves fundamentally two specific techniques: underarm pass, or bump, where the ball touches the inside part of the joined forearms or platform, at waist line; and overhand pass, where it is handled with the fingertips, like a set, above the head.
The set is usually the second contact that a team makes with the ball. The main goal of setting is to put the ball in the air in such a way that it can be driven by an attack into the opponent's court.
The setter coordinates the offensive movements of a team, and is the player who ultimately decides which player will actually attack the ball.
As with passing, one may distinguish between an overhand and a bump set. Since the former allows for more control over the speed and direction of the ball, the bump is used only when the ball is so low it cannot be properly handled with fingertips, or in beach volleyball where rules regulating overhand setting are more stringent.
In the case of a set, one also speaks of a front or back set, meaning whether the ball is passed in the direction the setter is facing or behind the setter. There is also a jump set that is used when the ball is too close to the net. In this case the setter usually jumps off his or her right foot straight up to avoid going into the net.
The setter usually stands about ⅔ of the way from the left to the right of the net and faces the left (the larger portion of net that he or she can see).
Sometimes a setter refrains from raising the ball for a teammate to perform an attack and tries to play it directly onto the opponent's court. This movement is called a "dump".The most common dumps are to 'throw' the ball behind the setter or in front of the setter to zones 2 and 4.
More experienced setters toss the ball into the deep corners or spike the ball on the second hit.
The attack (or spike, the slang term) is usually the third contact a team makes with the ball. The object of attacking is to handle the ball so that it lands on the opponent's court and cannot be defended. A player makes a series of steps (the "approach"), jumps, and swings at the ball.
Ideally the contact with the ball is made at the apex of the hitter's jump. At the moment of contact, the hitter's arm is fully extended above his or her head and slightly forward, making the highest possible contact while maintaining the ability to deliver a powerful hit. The hitter uses arm swing, wrist snap, and a rapid forward contraction of the entire body to drive the ball.
A 'bounce' is a slang term for a very hard/loud spike that follows an almost straight trajectory steeply downward into the opponent's court and bounces very high into the air.
*Backcourt (or backrow)/pipe attack: an attack performed by a back row player. The player must jump from behind the 3-meter line before making contact with the ball, but may land in front of the 3-meter line.
*Line and Cross-court Shot: refers to whether the ball flies in a straight trajectory parallel to the side lines, or crosses through the court in an angle. A cross-court shot with a very pronounced angle, resulting in the ball landing near the 3-meter line, is called a cut shot.
*Dip/Dink/Tip/Cheat: the player does not try to make a hit, but touches the ball lightly, so that it lands on an area of the opponent's court that is not being covered by the defense.
*Tool/Wipe/Block-abuse: the player does not try to make a hard spike, but hits the ball so that it touches the opponent's block and then bounces off-court.
*Off-speed hit: the player does not hit the ball hard, reducing its acceleration and thus confusing the opponent's defense.
*Quick hit "One": an attack (usually by the middle blocker) where the approach and jump begin before the setter contacts the ball. The set (called a "quick set") is placed only slightly above the net and the ball is struck by the hitter almost immediately after leaving the setter's hands. Quick attacks are often effective because they isolate the middle blocker to be the only blocker on the hit.
*Slide: a variation of the quick hit that uses a low back set. The middle hitter steps around the setter and hits from behind him or her.
*Double quick hit/"Stack "Tandem": a variation of quick hit where two hitters, one in front and one behind the setter or both in front of the setter, jump to perform a quick hit at the same time. It can be used to deceive opposite blockers and free a fourth hitter attacking from backcourt, maybe without block at all.
Blocking refers to the actions taken by players standing at the net to stop or alter an opponent's attack.
A block that is aimed at completely stopping an attack, thus making the ball remain in the opponent's court, is called offensive. A well-executed offensive block is performed by jumping and reaching to penetrate with one's arms and hands over the net and into the opponent's area.
The jump should be timed so as to intercept the ball's trajectory prior to it crossing over the net. Palms are held deflected downward about 45-60 degrees toward the interior of the opponents court.
A "roof" is a spectacular offensive block that redirects the power and speed of the attack straight down to the attacker's floor, as if the attacker hit the ball into the underside of a peaked house roof.
By contrast, it is called a defensive, or "soft" block if the goal is to control and deflect the hard-driven ball up so that it slows down and becomes more easy to be defended.
A well-executed soft-block is performed by jumping and placing one's hands above the net with no penetration into the opponent's court and with the palms up and fingers pointing backward.
Blocking is also classified according to the number of players involved. Thus, one may speak of single (or solo), double, or triple block.
Successful blocking does not always result in a "roof" and many times does not even touch the ball. While it’s obvious that a block was a success when the attacker is roofed, a block that consistently forces the attacker away from his or her 'power' or preferred attack into a more easily controlled shot by the defense is also a highly successful block.
At the same time, the block position influences the positions where other defenders place themselves while opponent hitters are spiking.
Digging is the ability to prevent the ball from touching one's court after a spike, particularly a ball that is nearly touching the ground. In many aspects, this skill is similar to passing, or bumping: overhand dig and bump are also used to distinguish between defensive actions taken with fingertips or with joined arms.
Some specific techniques are more common in digging than in passing. A player may sometimes perform a "dive", throw his or her body in the air with a forward movement in an attempt to save the ball, and land on his or her chest.
When the player also slides his or her hand under a ball that is almost touching the court, this is called a "pancake".
Sometimes a player may also be forced to drop his or her body quickly to the floor in order to save the ball. In this situation, the player makes use of a specific rolling technique to minimize the chances of injuries.