Carli Lloyd - The Foundation for Setting: Ball Shaped Hands

This article was written by Carli Lloyd

2016 Team USA Olympian

CEV Champions League Winner & MVP I NCAA Player of the year


On the volleyball court the setting position is arguably the most complex of them all. The reason is most likely because this position has a lot of variables within it. We need a clear mind, efficient feet, strong core, squared shoulders, fast wrists, shaped hands, know our attackers, be aware of the opponents block, sideout, transition etc. This can make the growth within the position complex and at times incredibly challenging. One of the greatest things though is the reward a setter feels when forging great connections with his/her attackers as well as finding that flow and fun and creativity that comes with running an offense. 


Seeking Answers or Trusting our self?

I want to start by saying I think there is a very healthy balance between seeking answers outside of ourselves, while at the same time trusting our own self and believing in what feels right to you. That being said, watching video and studying other setters and having a role model and striving to do things like that one setter we love to watch is A-OKAY! But it’s also A-OKAY to strive to be yourself more and more each day. To trust yourself and your own uniqueness. Saeed Marouf (Iran Men’s National Team Setter) says it beautifully: “As an athlete I think every player in each sport has his own character. I don’t like to be like another person and I also give this advice to other young players. I think everybody has their own character, their own style, so it’s better to play like yourself. So I try to play like myself.”

Saeed is arguably one of the best male setters in the world right now and he encourages other players not to be like him but instead to shine in their own way. I love this message because within it there is a hint of openness. It allows for the differences between setters to be a good thing and not a thing to “fix” or to morph everyone into the same box. I’ve played this position for over twenty years. I have had somewhere around fifty different head coaches and played for and represented teams in five different countries. I have been asked to change and modify parts of my setting so many times that it is absolutely impossible to keep track. Throughout my years of playing and competing, and over the last week of talking to some of the best setters in the game right now, I truly believe there are a myriad of ways to be great within this position. Hopefully within these pages there are tips and tools you can walk away with that will help you be better in some way. 


The first piece of setting I want to talk about, and argued by many as the most important single piece to setting, is our hands. The reason this is argued is because where your hands actually finish, the line they finish on, is where the ball will physically end up going. Since our main objective as a setter is to set repeatable and consistent hittable balls for our attackers, it makes sense that we spend A LOT of time working on our hands.

At a young age, the ripe age of 8, I started lifting weights. I bring this up because I’m a firm believer in building strength, in working out, and in focusing some of our attention on the foundational work that strength building can provide us. The stronger we are the more we can do. I remember doing hand specific strength work and forearm strength work, shoulder work, all the way down through my body. I was told early on that this kind of work would transfer to the court and help me be better. 100% truth. At the base of setting we want to start with ball-shaped hands. We want to create a place for the ball to enter and exit so that the ball isn’t sitting too long but also long enough to feel some control over where it will end up. Ball-shaped hands is probably the most common way we hear this. 

Here is a cue for our hands that can be very useful: Let the ball come to you. Use that time when the ball is coming down to take in as much information as you can so that you can make a great decision on where to set the ball. What this helps me with is not being too anxious and early to reach for the ball. I want to have a high starting point, slightly above my forehead, arms bent at the elbows, prepped and waiting for the ball…but I do not want to reach and go to get the ball before the ball gets to me. We want to feel in control, we want to feel powerful, we want to feel capable of setting either direction as often as possible. This idea for me to prep my hands and allow the ball to come to me helps me stay neutral and more in control.

Where our hands finish the ball goes. 

When I am struggling with locating the ball it usually has to do with where my hands are finishing. That said, I spend time every day reminding myself to make sure my hands are holding a split second before dropping them down and moving onto the next movement of play. This split second finish guides the ball to the spot I’m aiming for. Our hands do this work the most. There are times that our feet may be array or our shoulders may not be completely square and facing where we would ideally like to be…but with a strong purposeful finish - we can still get the ball set to the place we need it to be. Every setter has different sized hands, different strength abilities and different physical statures. I will not say that there is one single best way to use your hands. I for example have incredibly flexible fingers so the ball sits in my hands a little bit longer than other setters. Some setters have very rigid fingers and the ball sort of flings out of theirs. These differences make our setting movements differ and that is ok!

What I will claim though, is that the line your hands finish on is where the ball will go. So having a mindful approach to your finish will do you great good. Watch the greatest in the world. Ask the greatest in the world. The finish is one of the most common topics. Where are your hands finishing? When I was young we called it the Superman finish. Big strong hands set the ball and then my arms and hands were to stay up like Superman until the ball reached it’s peak height on the way to it’s destination. This was an exaggeration at the time but it created a firm memory in my brain that my finish was a really important piece to each and every one of my sets. 

Don’t be afraid to build muscle. Work out. Lift weights. May your hands be STRONG. Let the ball come to you and work on having prepped hands that are ready to receive the ball. Finish your set. Hold your hands on the line you wish the ball to travel on and guide it to it’s destination. You are in control. 


1 comment

  • I think the word is “awry” and not “array.” Thanks for the article!

    Danny Krive

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