One of the most important parts of playing effective volleyball defense is being in the right place at the right time. Some defensive players seem like they’re reading a hitter’s mind, but in fact they’re just really good at predicting an attack.
By effectively divining where a hitter is going to place the ball, you can be prepared and in position to pass. Seeing the early sings of a tip versus a hard-driven attack can be the difference between a spectacular dig and a kill.
It’s nearly impossible to overestimate the importance of learning how to determine what kind of hit is coming based on a hitter’s body and hand position. As I’ve said on more than one occasion, 90% of volleyball is what you do before you contact the ball, and anticipating an attack definitely falls into the 90% category.
Generally speaking there are three kinds of hits that you should be on the watch for: the tip, the roll shot and the hard-driven attack. The first is probably the easiest to read, because in order to tip a hitter has to open his/her hand, at the very least right before s/he tips the ball. Many hitters aren’t practiced in the art of deception and will open their hands long before they need to, making them an easy target to read.
As soon as you see an open hand, that’s your cue to take at least a few steps forward to be prepared for the gentle tip attack.
The roll shot isn’t as easy to read, but that’s not a huge problem because it’s also easier to defend against. Unlike the tip, the roll shot doesn’t fall right behind a blocker and require defenders to move up from their base positions. Generally these attacks fall somewhere between a tip and a hard-driven attack, so as long as you’re on your toes you should be able to take a few steps forward if you’re playing defense deep in the court or to take the ball as an overhand pass/set if you’re playing short.
A traditional hard-driven attack is probably the hardest to defend against because it offers the most opportunities for a hitter to change angles at the last second. But, on the other hand, if you’re able to read the hitter’s arm you can still be in the right place at the right time. Notice that I said the hitter’s arm and not their hand — this is really the key to defending against this type of attack.
As with blocking, the hitter’s arm is a more reliable predictor than his/her hand. The hand can change position if the hitter decides to tip, but their arm rarely changes its trajectory. Watch video, warm-ups, and whatever other kind of volleyball you can to get a feel for what arm motions indicate a hit into different areas of the court.
With some practice you’ll look like a volleyball psychic in no time!