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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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
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
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
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
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,
“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
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
“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
“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
“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
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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