3 Principles to Running an Offense like a Pro! by TJ Sanders

This article was written my noeyzbuckets setter mentor: TJ Sanders

There are many different elements that must be layered together to run an effective offense. Having a reliable and efficient middle presence is foundational to mastering the art of setting. Running the middle is special. The reason? Because as you increase your ability to run the middle Running the middle is also quite difficult. It requires trust between teammates, consistency, and speed. These things can take time to develop. With that being said, sometimes we don’t have time. A prime example is switching professional teams each year. Finding efficiency in the middle must happen quickly.

I have three guiding principles that have allowed me to adjust quickly and ultimately create the most efficient offence possible.

1. Consistent release – This is one of the easiest to implement and most difficult to master. This will increase the potency of the trust that you build with your middles. If they always know how the ball will be delivered, they are less likely to second guess the set or themselves. This is important. It is also important because then when the connection isn’t there, it is easier to evaluate and make adjustments.

Quite early on in my development who had a coach with the philosophy that many setters have a ‘fast’ release when setting outside and a ‘slow’ release when setting middle. I took this to heart and began investigating other setters. The highest level of setter never made this mistake, but I was almost ever present in those yet to master the position. Consider why this is the case. When setting the ball to the outside, there is a considerable distance that the ball must go. So, naturally, there is an impulse put into the ball that forces it out of your hands quickly. Now, when trying to find a connection in the middle, we tend to become hesitant and think our way through it. Once this process starts it is vicious. Because not only are we beginning to second guess ourselves, the time (nanoseconds) the ball is spending in our hands begins to become inconsistent which leads to the middle’s timing to become inconsistent and then the middle begin to second guess themselves. I have seen this drama play out many times within teams and programs. The simplest way to assure you will release consistently is to make the release time (and hold) and quick as possible. This means the ball must be in your hands and releasing from your hands in the shortest amount of time. There are a few tendencies to watch out for that prevent setters from being able to accomplish this. The first, the ball ‘recoils’ in the hands. This can sometimes look like a setter with very ‘soft’ hands or like they are trying to place the ball perfectly. This leads to all sorts of problems. The second, the setter is in their final hand position too early. This causes them to lose all momentum and ultimately creates a weak framework to set from. As a setter we must always be aware of our relationship with the momentum we present on court. Finally, not getting to the ball strong and quickly enough. This one is obvious, but worth mentioning. If you find yourself having a great connection in perfect situations and unable to connect when slightly off perfect, this may be the root of the problem.

2. Speed – If a consistent release is mastered, this makes increasing the speed of your set much easier. Speed is a core element to running an offence to any position but is especially important in the middle because it dictates your fastest route. The middle is known as the first tempo. It is what blockers must first be worried about. If you fail to make your opponent afraid of your middle attack, they are in a good position. We never want to put blockers in good positions. One very simple trick that I added in my game to make the first tempo faster was to set on my way up, just before the peak of my jump. This means that my momentum would be going into the ball and ultimately create a quicker release. It is important to note that in doing this you must adjust your timing of the start of the set, since time will elapse differently. Another thing to consider or look at over video is where the peak of your set is. As a rule of thumb, for anything close to your body (51,61,41 in the Canadian lexicon) should never peak. The ball should be on its way up when contact is made. This is relatively easy to spot on video. When running anything away from the setter (31,shoot,7,step) speed will be indicated by how close to peak is to the attacker (or on the way up as well). This is a way to use some simple physics to understand how fast the connection is between you and your attacker.

3. Range – Being able to adapt to the approach of your middle and run them from anywhere is undeniably a useful skill. Keeping a consistent release and speed in your set while being creative will allow you to begin adding layers into your offence. Make it look like your opponents shoes are untied. Being able to force the middle will instantly increase efficiency on all areas of the court, yielding the kind of returns we all want to see. There is another quality that I believe to be worth mentioning. I have no doubt that it will increase your ability to perform and boost your teams efficiency. That is Trust. It stems from being an open, growth mindset athlete and understanding that almost all of volleyball is relational. Once again, this skillset is universal when setting anyone, but its role is heightened when setting the middle because of how quickly decisions must be made. It is crucial as you increase the speed and range of your set. It comes from understanding how your teammates tick. Who they are and what they value. It is worth putting in the time. These are a few ideas and tips to help you develop your own ability to run the middle and increase the efficiency of your offence. Stay disciplined, get creative, and get after it.


Do you or your favorite setter want to learn more about working 1v1 with TJ? Fill out this small questionnaire, so we can learn more about where you are, your goals and if TJ can empower and enrich the clarity and mindfulness that you set with.

1 comment

  • As a coach just want to help my setter 18U club, to set tie to the net on the GO set to the OH.

    Juan Dorta

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