The fast-tempo strategy incorporates fast, low-arching quicker sets to various zones along the net. This style of play can be a variation of the spread offense, but the fast-tempo can be employed no matter what offense a team is using. Although big, athletic teams can benefit from using fast-tempo sets, teams that are undersized will likely benefit more in running this offense, which is predicated on faster sets to beat the blockers. This strategy helps to neutralize blockers who are bigger and teams that are overall stronger in blocking. The fast-tempo strategy can be used in all three front-row hitting positions but requires precision from passers, diggers, and setters.
As we saw last chapter, the net can be divided into nine zones (see figure 19.1, p.1 7 2), with left front being zone 1 and right front being zone 9. In this numbering system for play sets, the first number is the zone the fast-tempo set is set to and hit from. The second number refers to the height of the set relative to the top of the net. For example, the traditional regular high sets for each position would be a 15 for the left side, a 52 (or 53 for younger teams) for the middle attacker, and a 95 for the right side. This indicates that the 15 is a set hit from left front (zone 1) and at its peak will reach 5 feet (1.5 meters) above the top of the net. The 52, otherwise known as a front two, will be hit from the middle front (zone 5) and rise 2 feet (.6 meter) above the net at its peak. The traditional right-side set, the 95, is in zone 9 (right inside the right antenna) and rises 5 feet (.6 meter) above the top of the net at its peak. In shorthand, this set is often called the five or back five, whereas the 52 set is shortened to just 2. Slow- and fast-tempo sets mean different things to different people, but for our purposes here we'll define a fast-tempo set as one in which the second number is four or lower for the outside attackers. Because a two set for the middle (or a three for younger teams) has been defined as a regular high set, middle-hitter fast-tempo sets will have the number one for the second number in this system. Below are some examples of fast-tempo sets, along with suggestions on which hitter is most likely to hit them. The first three are the quickest tempo sets, one for each of the three front-row attack positions. The next three are sets for the left-side attacker at varying tempos, and the final two are different tempo right-side sets for the right-side or middle attacker to hit.
• 51. Otherwise known as the front one or the quick, in this set the hitter is ideally up in the air, presenting a target for the setter before the setter touches the ball. This set is usually hit by the middle attacker but can also be hit by the right-side attacker if he or she has the quickness and timing to do so. If the right-side attacker is left handed, the 51 can be a very effective fast-tempo set run in front of the setter.
• 31. The tempo of the 31 is the same as for 51; again, the hitter is up in the air presenting a target for the setter before the setter makes contact. The 31 requires more precision than the 51 because the hitter is farther away from the setter. In most cases the middle attacker will hit this set, but it can also be run with the left-side attacker, especially if this hitter presents a big target for the setter while in the air. You'll see very few teams, if any, attempt to run this set with their right-side attacker swinging around in front of the setter. This is only done when the right-side hitter is left-handed and extremely quick.
• 71. Also known as the back one or back quick, this fast-tempo set is run right behind the setter, who's setting (assuming a perfect pass or dig) from zone 6. If the right-side hitter is left-handed, this is the hitter who usually hits this set. A right-handed middle attacker might also hit this set, if he or she has the timing and speed to go around behind the setter and get up in the air early, presenting a good and early target, often hitting off of a one-foot slide approach. If in the rare case you have a left-handed middle attacker, you would not want to run the 71 with the hitter making the approach from the middle, because he or she will be moving in the wrong direction.
• 14. Some consider the 14 (sometimes abbreviated to 4) to be a high set, but once again you should decide what differentiates a fast-tempo set from a regular-tempo set so that it best meets the needs of your team. The 14 is almost exclusively hit by the left-side attacker. Although not quite as crucial in this set, good timing between the setter and hitter remains important. Though the hitter won't be in the air before the setter sets the ball (as in the 51 for the middle attacker), a left-side attacker will often need to start the approach before the ball gets too far away from the setter after they have released the set. Knowing what kind of tempo to expect for this set allows the hitter to generate speed on the approach, and to jump and swing with a fluid motion. Most hitters begin the approach just after the setter has set the ball. However, quicker athletes might begin a little bit later, and slower athletes a little earlier.
• 13. This is a faster-tempo set hit by the left-side attacker that's often used to stress the outside blocker by getting the hitter to the point of attack faster than the blocker can handle. This set also prevents most middle blockers from getting outside to help defend the attack because it is low, quick, and to the antenna. Because this ball gets to its intended target quickly, the hitter usually starts the approach before the setter has set the ball.
• 12. This is probably the fastest tempo set your team will run with your left-side attacker. This is a difficult set because the hitter is about halfway through the approach before the ball is set (think alley-oop play in basket-ball). Because the ball must travel from zone 6 to zone 1 very quickly, the timing challenges for the setter and hitter are significant. This set should be attempted only by high-level teams with setters and outside hitters with a lot of experience and from an on-target pass.
• 94. This set is the right-side equivalent of the 14. A key difference is the timing the hitter will have as compared to the 14. Because the 94 travels across three zones (from zone 6 to zone 9), and the 14 travels five zones (from zone 6 to zone 1), the right-side attacker (assuming he or she is right-handed) will need to leave a bit sooner than described in the 14 because the ball is not spending as much time in the air. Right-side attackers who also hit occasionally from the left side will find themselves struggling with timing issues because they're hitting in front of and behind the setter. The 94 can also be hit by the right-handed middle hitter, and is a good play to run when there's a front- row setter and no right-side attacker. This set is often used by the middle to hit a "slide" attack, in which the middle hitter slides by and behind the setter in an approach pattern somewhat parallel to the net and takes off from one foot (like for a lay up in basketball). The one-footed slide takeoff has grown in popularity over the last several years and is a difficult hit to defend because the hitter is often facing outside the court (toward the right sideline), making it tough for the blocker to read the hitter's shoulders, hips, and eyes to get in front of the attacked ball.
• 93. Experienced teams with outstanding ball control might use this set with the middle attacker approaching parallel to the net and behind the setter, providing another opportunity for the attacker to jump from one leg. Success with this set requires precision passing and outstanding ball control. The right-side hitter can also hit this from a one-foot approach if they begin their approach from inside the court out toward the antenna, or if they take a straight-in approach inside the sideline toward the net near the right antenna.
These are eight examples of relatively high-risk fast-tempo sets that can be incorporated into a fast-tempo offensive strategy. Of course the more of these options your team chooses to use, the greater the pressure placed on your passers and diggers. When considering incorporating these sets into your offense, keep in mind that you should use them only if needed. If your team is already having success with high-tempo sets, there might be no reason to add these higher-risk fast sets to your offensive arsenal.
As mentioned earlier, precise ball control is critical to running these sets successfully. Imagine your left side trying to hit a 13 out of serve-receive, but the pass is low and off to the right side of the court out of bounds. There's no way the set could be run. Again, recall the axiom to never attempt tactically what you can't execute technically.
Much is required of the setter in running these types of sets. Assuming ball control is at a level at which fast-tempo sets are possible, consider waiting until your setter can consistently set a 15, 52, and 95 before adding anything faster. Requiring your setters to set these higher balls consistently well before advancing to faster sets might serve as motivation for them to work hard in the technical aspects of footwork, hand position, and ball release. If setters can't set a consistent high set to each position, they probably won't be able to set fast-tempo sets consistently either.
The same goes for your hitters. Once they are consistently effective at hitting a 15 (left side), a 52 (middle attacker), and a 95 (right side) and can hit a variety of shots (deep angle, deep line, off-speed, etc.) off the traditional high set, they can progress to the faster sets. Of course hitters in all positions must be able to handle the demands of getting off the net quickly to get in position to approach and hit the fast-tempo set. Players with minimal movement skills (slow-twitched athletes) will have a hard time transitioning off the net and getting into position to hit a fast-tempo set.
Fast-tempo sets are difficult to defend for both front-row and back-row defenders. Teams that develop the ball control needed to run fast-tempo sets will find themselves hitting quite often against zero- and one-person blocks, giving the offense a clear advantage. Even if there are two blockers, to get a well-formed block up, the blockers must correctly guess where the set is going to go.
A fast-tempo offense is exciting and entertaining, both for players and spectators. If a team has the technical skills they need to run this offense effectively, they can have a lot of fun doing it. Enjoyment is a good motivator, so if teams are having fun in an offensive scheme, they'll likely be more motivated to endure the kind of training fast-tempo plays require. Another advantage is that these plays may give your team the feeling of confidence that comes with having a secret weapon. Often getting to try these plays may be held up to the team as a reward of sorts for achieving goals or for performing well in other areas.
One of the disadvantages of a fast-tempo strategy is that mistakes in timing are crippling. For instance, a left-side hitter who's hitting a 13 set has a much smaller window in which to attack the ball when compared to a traditional high set. The same can be said for the middle hitter hitting the 51 and 31 and the right-side attacker hitting the 71. Even if everything (pass, hitter's transition, setter's transition) is perfect leading up to the setter setting the ball, there's still a chance that the timing of the set and of the hitter's approach won't be in sync, leaving a team scrambling just to get the ball over the net. Also, the faster you run your offense, the more stress you put on your own hitters to transition quicker and possibly father along the net, which could cause some hitter fatigue.
The game of volleyball should proceed from simple to complex techniques, tactics, and strategies. Diggers must learn the basic dig before working on the diving dig, the sprawling dig, and so on. The principle of simple to complex progression definitely applies to teams wishing to employ a fast-tempo offense. Setters and hitters must become adept at running traditional higher plays and developing excellent ball-control skills before trying to perfect the skills necessary to play the fast-tempo offense.
Many teams attempt a gradual incorporation of fast-tempo sets into their offensive plan. To run even one type of fast-tempo set requires very good passing and digging for the players involved, but there's no requirement that all front-row hitters must be involved in fast-tempo strategies. Consider a team that hits traditional high sets with the left- and right-side hitters (15s and higher for the left sides and 95s and higher for the right sides) and uses their middle hitter for the fast-tempo sets. This type of offense can be very effective because the opponent's middle blocker must defend the quick attack and will thus have trouble getting out to block either outside hitter, even though they're hitting a higher set.
Think also about using two of your three front-row hitters in a faster- tempo offense. A team who uses the left-side hitter as its outlet hitter (the hitter who will probably get a traditional high set when the pass or dig doesn't allow other sets) can use its middle-front and right-front attackers for faster-tempo sets. A play within this strategy might be a 15 for the left side, 31 for the middle, and a 71 for the right side. This allows the setter an outlet set if the pass isn't perfect, but also many offensive options when the pass is perfect.
Finally, there will be times when an opponent manages to defend the quick-tempo sets. If this occurs, mix some slower sets into your offense. Good blocking is a matter of reading and timing, so mixing up the timing of your sets might be enough to throw the defense off.
Because the margin of error is quite small when running fast-tempo sets, many gamelike repetitions during practice are necessary. Here are a few elements to consider for front-row hitters hitting fast-tempo sets.
• Left-side attackers. Very rarely should left-side attackers begin in the zone from which they want their approach to start. Invariably, a left-side attacker is a primary passer who passes when in the front row. If left-side hitters are running a fast-tempo set out of the serve-receive pattern, they need to work on drills that require them to pass, transition, and then hit, just as they would in a game. Further, if the left side is hitting fast-tempo sets out of their defensive position, he or she should start at the net, block an opposing attacker, then transition off the net to approach for the fast-tempo set, or drop off and dig, then transition to hit.
• Middle attackers. These attackers have a wide variety of movement demands to execute before they hit the fast-tempo set. Assuming they're involved in every block (two-blocker system), they will need efficient transition movements from the net after blocking in order to get available to hit. That this transition will have to be worked out as they're moving from the left side, right side, and middle means that progress toward becoming efficient fast-tempo hitters might come slower. Also critical are the move-met demands placed on the setter before setting the fast-tempo sets. If the setter is front row and involved with the block, he or she must be required to perform this gamelike movement before she sets the ball. Because it's probable that the middle blocker is involved as well in this blocking situation, forcing both the middle blocker and the setter to block and then transition is a gamelike drill, allowing for more transfer to the game. One of the more advanced elements is the running of a middle quick attack when the pass or dig isn't perfect. Because teams hope that a fast-tempo set can still be used when the ball isn't exactly to target, executing gamelike repetitions under this circumstance is helpful. Although we're not suggesting that you should run a fast-tempo set if the setter is 10 feet (3 meters) off the net, it's possible for a setter who's 2 to 3 feet (.6-.9 meter) off the net to still set the middle hitter a faster-tempo ball–but only if trained and practiced under gamelike conditions.
• Right-side attackers. As is true for left-side attackers, right-side attackers might be involved in receiving serve and being required to pass and transition before hitting the fast-tempo sets. Again, the attacker should not start in the same zone that he or she will hit from. Like left-side attackers, the right-side hitter will be involved as a blocker (but probably more often than left-side hitters will because opponents traditionally set more often to their left-side hitters than to their right-side hitters). The right-side blocker, then, should be involved in drills that require them to start at the net, make a block attempt, and then transition off the net to hit the fast-tempo set. There will be times when the right-side blocker will be the off-blocker (when the opponent sets their right-side attacker), so the right-side hitter should begin that movement in a hitting drill from the net, dropping off to dig and then transitioning to hit, so that training is similar to what occurs in real games.
Another coaching consideration relevant to this strategy is the type of defense a team uses, and where that defense places front-row diggers. Say a defense is using a two-blocker system, and the off-blocker pulls into the court close to the net to defend tips. If it's the left-side hitter who's the off-blocker, it will be very difficult for her to move halfway into the court (roughly 5 feet [1.5 meters] from the net) and then try to transition to hit a 13 set. Though it's fun and sometimes quite effective to run these fast-tempo sets, serious consideration must be given to how many of them should be used based on the defensive system your team employs.
Finally, we want to mention the potential offensive benefit to fusing the fast-tempo strategy with the spread strategy. As discussed in chapter 19, the spread strategy uses sets in a minimum of three zones–usually zones 1, 5, and 9–to force blockers to defend the entire net. It's possible for a team with excellent ball-control skills to apply fast-tempo plays within the spread strategy Fusing the spread and high-tempo strategies can cause major stress for an opposing team's blockers and back-row defenders because they will have to get two blockers up at any point of attack or else resort to commit blocking on one attacker. Training your hitters to each hit and get good at one higher-tempo and one quicker-tempo set in the same zone can cause havoc with the opposing blockers.