Setting is one of the hardest level skills to master in volleyball, largely due to the high level of dexterity needed for its hand positions.
So, what is the proper hand position for setting? The proper hand position for setting in volleyball is with both hands above your forehead, palms swiveled outward, and the tips of your thumbs and forefingers almost touching, forming a triangle. Allow the rest of your fingers to relax and curve slightly inwards, forming a bowl from where you will set the ball.
Setting can feel unnatural at first, or seem impossible to get right, with balls bouncing off your palms or spinning off-target every time. Dexterity plays a huge part in mastering the set, and adaptable fingers that can sense subtle changes in direction. These things can be developed and learned over time.
In this article, I’ll be discussing:
- What a good set should look and feel like
- Common setting mistakes and how to avoid them
- The “unreadable” advanced set
What Is The Proper Hand Position For Setting?
If you’re new to volleyball, odds are you’re probably frustrated by the set. It’s the only thing in this sport about bouncing volleyballs that doesn’t require a firm platform or hand, and you can’t understand how your setter moves his hands so fluidly, or releases the ball so softly.
Maybe every time you try, your fingers slap the ball or it just ricochets off your palms. Maybe you’re even just catching the ball and re-tossing it, hoping that no one will notice. It’s even possible that you dread the setting drills, swinging your passing platform as high as possible to avoid setting. You might even hate it.
I get it.
All of these things are normal while learning how to set – as I said previously, setting is one of (if not the) hardest skill to master in volleyball. However, like millions of other players before you who have gone through the same struggle, you’re going to succeed.
Ready? Let’s begin.
What Should Setting Feel Like?
Unlike the rest of volleyball, where noise seems to denote power and excellence, the perfect set should be almost silent.
Instead of hitting the ball, think instead that you are catching and releasing it incredibly quickly, using only your fingertips in one fluid motion. This “one fluid motion” is the heart of setting, because if broken the set will be called as illegal and the point given to the other team.
Setting should feel soft, and finish strong.
Setting Should Feel Soft
Firstly, imagine that you drop a ball onto the fluffiest, most comfortable duvet in the world: it conforms to the ball as it sinks in, moving around it and stifling the noise. This is what you want your fingers to do.
Raise your hands above your head and turn your palms outward, allowing the tips of your thumbs and forefingers to almost touch. This should form a triangle through which you can look through and position to the ball.
The power in setting comes from the legs, but the “catch and release” action comes from those four: the thumbs and the forefingers. No other fingers are necessary for setting – try it!
Allow the rest of your fingers to relax and curve slightly inwards, forming a bowl (or basket). The purpose of the basket is to help cushion the ball even more and control its trajectory – not to give it any additional power. Allow your hands to conform to the ball as it falls, catching it as softly as possible within the basket shape you have made. The less noise, the better!
Remember, your hands are not static while setting – they move!!
Setting Should Finish Strong
Second – for the release – drive upwards with your legs and arms to give the ball power, flicking your thumbs and forefingers outward together to smoothly release the ball. At this point, when releasing, your fingers can be very stiff, and some setters actually prefer to teach this segment in that way.
You should aim to maintain the triangle for as long as possible, enlarging it as your hands move outwards away from one another, but not breaking the lines. If you’re not sure what I’m talking about, this is a great time to take a break and visualize it with your own hands.
Finish by flicking your wrists with your fingers pointed outward, like superman or “wings”, and return to the ready position.
Watch your set to see its spin and trajectory: is it on target? How did it feel?
Your job as setter is to learn from your sets and memorize their feeling to continuously improve your skills. The more mindful you are when setting, the faster you will improve.
Setting Hand Position (Step By Step)
Raise hands above head. They should be positioned right above your forehead if you are looking up, towards the ball.
Face palms up if you haven’t already, and turn them outwards by 45 degrees. This should point your fingers towards each other.
Position the tips of your thumbs and forefingers together so that they’re almost touching. This should form a triangle above your forehead.
Allow the rest of your fingers to relax into a bowl shape (or “basket”), as though cradling an invisible ball. This will help cushion the ball through the set.
Catch the ball in your basket, conforming your fingers and hands to the ball and moving them downward towards your forehead. This should feel soft and natural.
In the same motion as the last step, flick your wrists and drive upwards with your legs and arms to give power, releasing the ball. The thumbs and forefingers are the stars of this show, and are the parts of your hand from which the ball releases.
Finish your set by flicking your wrist through and outwards, like superman or “wings”. Then return to ready position and do it all over again.
Related Article: How To Set A Volleyball Without Hurting Your Fingers (5 Tips)
4 Common Hand Position Mistakes For Setting & How To Correct
1. Not Swiveling Palms Outwards
Not swiveling the palms outwards – forming a triangle with your thumbs and forefingers – is the most common mistake made by beginner setters.
This means that they try to set with parallel hands, pushing the ball rather than setting and losing almost all control over it in doing so. Most commonly, this gives the ball backspin, veering it wildly off-course.
To fix this, simply swivel your hands outwards and make that nice triangle with your fingers. You want the ball to drop in the middle of them – the open space in the center of the triangle – as this will let you catch and control the ball as much as possible.
2. Catching With the Palms, Not Fingers
Even if you swivel your palms outwards, some beginners struggle to find where to contact the ball. This usually results in catching with the palms, not fingers.
When you try to set with your palms, you’ll find that the ball bounces off before you have a moment to try to control it. This looks and sounds more like a slap than a set, and can be embarrassing for new players at first.
This is a common problem though and easily fixed.
Instead of catching on your palms, where you would serve, spike, and block, catch the ball in the middle of the triangle (and basket) of fingers you’ve made. The palms almost never come into play with setting, and the fingers do all the work. That’s why you’ll see setters practicing finger push-ups before practice sometimes to warm up.
3. Not Moving Hands
Not moving hands is a common problem for setters of all levels, and is one of the reasons the set fails.
By “not moving”, I mean that the player’s hands do not conform to the ball while catching, and do not flick out when releasing. They rely entirely on their legs and arms to do the work instead of developing their finger strength and dexterity by using their hands. This leads to weaker sets, less control, and more stress on the body in the long run, with a higher risk of over-extension injuries.
To fix this, go back to basics. Practice setting with just your hands and slowly add in the other elements of movements which make it up. The hand position is so important for setting, so to ignore it entirely doesn’t make sense!
4. Not Finishing the Set
Lastly, another common mistake found at all levels of setting – not finishing the set.
Some setters like to drop their hands on release without finishing the set and following-through with full wrist-flicks. This maintains the smoothness of the set and increases the amount of time you’re touching the ball, further improving your accuracy.
It’s not uncommon for sets to go off-target and for setters to be confused, feeling good about the set otherwise.
One explanation might be that the follow through was lacking or non-existent, and that something at the last moment threw the ball off-kilter. Maintaining a good follow-through will develop excellence into a habit and avoid any last minute flaws in your technique, helping maintain a great set.
Hand Position Setting Drill
The best hand position drill is to simply set to yourself. You can do this anywhere: against a wall, outside while walking, lying on your bed, or sitting on the couch watching T.V. All that matters is that you have a ball and space to toss it.
This drill is a great staple of setters’ training and is always used and revisited throughout their career. Some great setters do an hour of this every day to maintain their ball-handling skills and further practice their hand positions. After all, the more time you spend with a volleyball, the better your skills will get.
However you choose to do this – whether lying down, standing, or sitting – focus on having great hand positioning the whole time.
There’s no referee or coach watching you, so don’t rush your sets. Catch them if you need to, reposition your hands, and experiment with height and angles. Attempt to make each set perfect and as quiet as possible, with zero spin and a perfect wrist flick every time.
If you can find someone to do this with, you can practice together. I recommend doing this outside if possible, but inside gives you more motivation to be careful and in-control. My little sister and I like to practice in our hallways – stressing our mom out far more than necessary, I’m sure.
Just make sure you’re tall enough to clean volleyball marks off of the ceiling if it goes wrong.
Advanced Hand Position For Setting: “Unreadable”
Setting is about controlling the pace of the game and putting the ball where it needs to be, so it’s natural that high level teams and players have learned to read the opposing setter and predict where they will set the ball. Often, a setter will have the ball slightly more forward when setting forward, or slightly behind them when setting behind. This makes the blockers’ jobs easier and your spikers’ jobs harder.
One of the most useful advanced hand positions for setting is to be “unreadable”. This gives your team the element of surprise and puts control back in your hands (literally).
To do this, simply raise your setting position to be slightly more neutral and in-line with your body. This one fix will change everything, but can be difficult to maintain if you haven’t practiced it.
The idea is to have the same position, no matter where you plan to set. Only at the last moment, when you’re already halfway through catching the ball, does your hand position change to target your chosen area.
While a simple idea, this can be difficult to execute under the stress of a match, and is truly an advanced skill for setter’s hand positioning. With enough practice and mindful usage, this will elevate your setting from good to great.
Related Setting Articles
- Types of Sets In Volleyball: 18 Types Explained + How To Use
- Footwork For Setting A Volleyball: Technique, Drills, Errors
Hand Position For Other Volleyball Skills
- Hand Position For Volleyball Bumps, Passes, and Digs (6 Rules)
- Hand Position for Spiking in Volleyball (Tips and Tricks)
- Hand Positions For Volleyball Serving (3 Types)
About The Author
Ailan Samuel is a writer and athlete who has played volleyball at the university, club, and national level since 2012. He has competed successfully in both beach and indoor competitions, resulting in four silver and two gold medals, and was awarded the Half-Blue while playing in Scotland. He received his MA in English and Medieval History from the University of St Andrews, Scotland, and is currently studying for his MA in Publishing and Creative Writing at Bournemouth University.