Volleyball: How to recognize a great outside hitter

Posted 9/9/11

They fly as high as anyone on the court. They can be a decoy, and they can be a game-ending nightmare for opposing blockers. One thing is for sure, …

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Volleyball: How to recognize a great outside hitter


They fly as high as anyone on the court. They can be a decoy, and they can be a game-ending nightmare for opposing blockers.

One thing is for sure, the high-profile position of the outside hitter in volleyball is a must-have for any high school team to make a run at a conference, district, regional or state title.

Being an outside hitter isn’t just about killing the ball as hard as a player can. The role requires not only power, when called upon, but also a certain amount of finesse and a key amount of control.

Chaparral coach T.R. Ellis, who led the Wolverines to their first Class 5A state championship last season, said an outside hitter must be able to put the ball away with several different shots. They also need to know when to swing away for a kill or when to just keep the ball in the court.

“That decision depends on the set and the position of the ball on the net,” Ellis said. “Outside hitters need to be very smart, so that they can process the previous information at the speed of light.”

In fact, that’s what several positions in volleyball have to come to the court possessing, speed-of-light reflexes, whether up front for an attack or block or in back to defend a fiery attack with a jaw-dropping dig.

ThunderRidge coach Kiersta Paul said by the time a player reaches varsity action, it’s pretty evident where her best fit will be on the court. Also, a coach needs to keep in mind that although his or her team may need a middle blocker, that taller, stronger player may be more successful and help the team more by getting swings on the outside.

“Outsides need to be able to move well, playing strong defense and transitioning to get themselves in position to hit all the time since that is the primary set on broken play,” Paul said. “You need to have someone there that will help you more than hurt you, terminate kills and keep the ball in play instead of just always swinging as hard as they can and making too many errors.”

After helping the Ponderosa Mustangs to the 5A championship two years ago, Rob Graham said he looks for two qualities in an outside hitter — passing and hitting.

“There are many other qualities, but if they are a great hitter and can pass reasonably well, we most likely put them on the outside as they will receive 75 percent of the sets,” Graham said.

The Mustangs coach also said he likes his outside hitters tenacious in both their mindset and play. He wants competitors on the court who want the ball set to them in every opportunity.

“Winners. We look for players that despise losing to play on the outside,” Graham said. “The best ones are also great passers and great defenders, but the first thing you look for is a big terminator.”

At Highlands Ranch, Lou Krauss said he finds the best hitters hit the ball consistently hard and can hit both line and angle equally well. They are not terminal players, meaning kill or error, he said.

“They keep the ball in play through tips and roll shots if they cannot get a good swing,” the Falcons coach said. “They understand where the kill zones are in the particular defense they are playing against. They are not phased or intimidated by being blocked.”

Although she also looks for all-around players for her outside hitter positions, Katie Winsor, coach at Legend, said consistency is her No. 1 quality. If they can finish balls and are good point scorers, that’s a benefit, but above all, they need to be consistent, the Titans coach said.

“Meaning, they limit the attacking errors they make, pass well in serve-receive and make positive touches on the ball,” Winsor said.

Of course, these qualities don’t always come naturally. And at the high school level, there is always a struggle as a teenage student volleyball athlete develops her game.

Ellis said having outside hitters continue to swing high and hard and shake off mistakes is a struggle sometimes. She also makes sure her players keep that needed competitive confidence to have the game on their shoulders.

Paul said she tends to have problems getting an outside hitter to consistently commit to a full approach on a set or committing too early to a set and not being able to adjust to where that set is truly going. Finding a balance between power and accuracy with minimizing errors is also something to work on.

Krauss agreed timing issues, being too early or too late, are a big struggle. That and having the patience to work for a point and not trying to get a kill on a bad set, he said.

Consistency is what Graham struggles with at that position. He said eventually the outside hitter needs to learn when it is OK to swing hard and when it is smarter to place the ball and live another day.

“We like to teach them that, ‘When a kill is improbable, an error is unacceptable,’” Graham said.

Reaching the varsity roster

Several kids work their hind-sides off to make it onto the varsity roster before their high school careers are over. For the outside hitter’s position, a varsity hopeful needs to begin working on a few key qualities. Ball control seems to be the most common aspect coaches seem to look for.

Ellis said junior varsity outside hitters will want to work on their jumping ability, quick arm swing, fast feet and competitive edge.

“Most young players have a contact point that is higher above their head than the ideal contact point for an outside hitter,” Paul said. “They also usually just swing as hard as they can and hope it goes where they want it to go. As they progress, they need to work on getting a consistent contact point more out in front of them where they are able to see the block and defense that is being put up in front of them, so they can decide where they need to hit and if they can swing away or place a corner, etc.”

Transitioning and movement are also huge for making the step up to varsity, Paul said, as is always having yourself in position to get a full approach. For Graham, he wants to see power before he sees technique.

“I would love the big arm swing to be developed first,” the Ponderosa coach said. “We eventually want them to have great range and control as well, but initially I love to see girls that just go up there and bang the ball. The relentless aggression is not always easy to teach. The technique can be trained.”

While some coaches look for what a kid can do in the air, Krauss looks lower first.

“We always start with the correct footwork,” Krauss said. “If the feet are not correct, it causes problems with arm mechanics.”

Winsor said a good ‘ol vertical could get a junior varsity player bumped up. She said vertical jump and body strength are the best things to work on. Often the physical abilities are what separate junior varsity and varsity players.

“Girls sometimes have great physical ability but are fairly new to the game and need better court awareness to play at a faster pace,” Winsor said. “Much of the game at the varsity level is played above the height of the net.”


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