Sand/Outdoor doubles volleyball strategy for the Indoor player

You are the: visitor since April 29, 2000. Created May 7, 1998.

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Below you will find the text of handout I've written for the basic doubles clinics I run in Boston. While I'm primarily an indoor player, I've had the luxury of playing with and learning from some very good and very knowledgeable doubles players. The more serious doubles players in this newsgroup might want to add the fine points. Anyway, I hope this helps.
Tom Wilson


Same-sex and reverse co-ed doubles are far more defensive games than indoor six-person volleyball. An indoor team that doesn't play much defense can still win a lot of games simply by siding out well and blocking a ball every now and then. A doubles team that doesn't play much defense will rarely score points, and hence, they will only win on rare occasions.
Because of this, and because of the limited offensive options available in doubles, the play-calling and deception that belongs to the offense indoors belongs to the defense outdoors. That is, when playing indoor six-person volleyball, you call offensive plays and try to disguise them; when playing doubles, you call defensive plays and try to disguise them.

Selecting a partner

Generally speaking, whether you're playing same-sex or reverse co-ed doubles, you want to play with a partner who complements your defensive strong points. If you are a good back-row defender, you should look for a strong blocker who can set, and vice versa. You should also try to find someone who is about the same skill level as yourself. If you pick someone who is a lot better than you, then your opponents will serve every ball to you, you'll become fatigued from hitting every single time, and your partner will become extremely frustrated. And if you play with someone who is not as good as you, you'll never see a serve. Ideally, then, you should find someone who complements your defensive skills and whose offensive skills are equal to yours (so that both of you can carry the offensive load during a tournament).

Serving and Defense

If the point of the game is to win (as opposed to having fun in a friendly pick-up game), you and your partner should decide in advance who you will serve. Often this means serving to the weakest hitter. But you should also consider your opponents' passing and setting abilities. You might want to serve the strongest hitter, if he/she happens to be a shaky passer or if his/her partner is a weak setter.
Before your team serves, you must call your defensive coverage--that is, you must decide how you will defend each hitter. Most teams do this with simple hand signals: a straight index finger indicates that you will block line and dig cross-court; two fingers (like a peace sign) indicate that you will block cross-court and dig line; and a closed fist indicates "no block" (you and your partner will both dig). **These signals vary from team to team.
To communicate these signals, the person not serving usually faces the net with both hands behind his/her back. The signal on the right refers to the player on your right (your opponent's left); the signal on the left refers to the player on the left.
As your team serves, your blocker should position him/herself in the center of the court, about 8' to 10' from the net, in case your opponent overpasses the ball. Your digger should be 8' to 10' directly behind your blocker. This "stacked" position allows you to cover the court in the event of an overpass or a second ball attack. At the upper levels, this also disguises your defense; your opponents don't know where your digger will be.
After your opponent sets the ball, move to your assigned defensive positions, blocking line, digging cross, etc. If it is a poor set and your opponent cannot get a good swing at the ball, your blocker must drop off the net and prepare to dig the area he/she was assigned to block. This drop is extremely important and must be done quickly, otherwise you will have only one digger covering the whole court.
These same strategies apply to reverse co-ed doubles at the open or AA level, with the woman always acting as the blocker (men can never block and can only attack from behind the 3 meter line). But at lower-level reverse co-ed play, it is generally wiser to never block; you should just use two diggers.
Blocking Tips: Make good decisions
  1. Always know your blocking assignment and seal off that portion of the court with a strong, penetrating block.
  2. If the set is tight, ignore your assignment and go after the stuff block.
  3. If the set is off the net, drop early and quickly to the area you were assigned to block. If you're late making your drop, keep your hands at shoulder level and prepare to dig overhand.
  4. After you've blocked, sprint after every dig and put up hittable sets.
Digging Tips: Scramble after every ball
  1. Hide your digging assignment as long as possible, then sprint to your position and prepare to dig.
  2. Play shallow. When playing indoors, cross-court and line diggers usually play fairly deep, about 18' to 25' from the hitter; outdoors the digger should be no more than 15' from the net.
  3. Learn to dig overhand. Overhand (or "beach") digging is essentially the same motion as hand-setting, except that your wrists and fingers are more rigid.
  4. Dig high. There are no ceilings outdoors and you need to give your blocker time to set the ball.
  5. Run down all the cut shots. Most people have more range than they think. If you want to dig the ball bad enough, you will.

Serve-Receive and Offense

In the indoor six-person game, you generally want to pass to a point slightly to the right of middle front and very close to the net. In doubles, however, you generally want to pass the ball almost straight in front of you and four or five feet off the net. This allows a more "up and down" set, like a high two, as opposed to a set that travels 10' or 15' along the net, which, in the wind and sun, can be rather risky.
The setter, in the outdoor game, has three key jobs. First, for the reason mentioned above, the setter should set high twos. These are easy to set, easy to hit, and tend not to get blown around as much in the wind as higher sets. Second, after setting the ball, the setter must tell the hitter where the open spot is. As soon as you set the ball, look directly at the digger, and tell your hitter where he/she isn't. If the digger is cross-court, say "line." If the digger is on the line, say "cross" or "angle." If the blocker has dropped, say "no one," and tell the hitter the most open shot (sharp cross, seam, deep line, etc.). Third, cover the hitter in case the hit is blocked.
When hitting, you should shorten your approach slightly from the indoor game. After you pass, take a step forward and approach a bit more deliberately than you would on hardwood (particularly if you're playing in sand). As you leave the ground, listen for your setter's call and hit the ball according to his direction. In doubles, you don't have to drill the ball; "just hit it where they ain't."
Keep in mind that the call you hear is generally the area of the court covered by the block. Don't just swing blindly into that area; you will get blocked. Hit high and deep, with lots of top spin. If you're facing a team with a good blocker and an average defender, it might be wise to "challenge the digger." Have your setter call the "unblocked" portion of the court and swing away at the backcourt defender.
As soon as your team has completed its attack, transition to defense as quickly as possible. Your strongest blocker steps to the net and gives the defensive signal with one hand behind his back. The digger must look for the blocker's signal and move to the appropriate area of the court and dig.