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Volleyball Skills

At international level, competitive teams are supposed to master six basic skills: serve, pass, set, spike, block and dig. Each of these skills comprise a number of specific techniques that have been introduced along the years and are now considered standard practice in high-level volleyball.

Serve
The serve marks the beginning of a rally in volleyball. A player stands behind the baseline and hits the ball, in an attempt to drive it into the opponent's court. His main objective is to make it land inside the court; it is also desirable to set the ball's direction, speed and acceleration so that it becomes difficult for the receiver to handle it properly. A serve is called an "ace" when the ball lands directly onto the court or travels outside after being touched by an opponent.

In contemporary volleyball, many types of serve are employed:

Underhand and Overhand Serve: refers to whether the player strikes the ball from below, at waist level, or first tosses the ball in the air and then hits it above shoulder level. Underhand serve is considered very easy to receive and is not generally employed in international competitions.

Sky Ball Serve: a specific type of underhand serve, where the ball is hit so high it comes down almost in a straight line. This serve was invented and employed almost exclusively by the Brazilian team in the early 80's. It is now considered outdated.

Line and Cross-Court Serve: refers to whether the balls flies in a straight trajectory parallel to the side lines, or crosses through the court in an angle.

Spin Serve: an overhand serve where the ball gains topspin through wrist snapping.

Floater: an overhand serve where the ball is hit with no spin so that its path becomes unpredictable. Can be administered while jumping or while grounded.

Jump Serve: an overhand serve where the ball is first tossed high in the air, then hit with a strong downward movement of the arm, as in a spike; there is usually much topspin imparted on the ball. This is the most popular serve amongst college and professional teams.

Round-House Serve: the player stands with one shoulder facing the net, tosses the ball high and hits it with a fast circular movement of the arm. Usage of this serve in indoor volleyball is today restricted to a few Asian women's teams.

Pass
Also called reception, the pass is the attempt by a team to properly handle the opponent's serve or "free ball". Proper handling includes not only preventing the ball from touching the court, but also making it reach the position where the setter is standing quickly and precisely.

The skill of passing involves fundamentally two specific techniques: underarm pass, or bump, where the ball touches the inside part of the joined forearms, at waist line; and overhand pass, where it is handled with the fingertips above the head.

Set
The set is usually the second contact a team makes with the ball. The main goal of setting is to put the ball in the air in such a way that it can be driven by a spike into the opponent's court. The setter coordinates the offensive movements of a team. He is the one who ultimately decides which player will actually attack the ball.

As with passing, one may distinguish between an overhand and a bump set. Since the former allows for more control over the speed and direction of the ball, the bump is used only when the ball is so low it cannot be properly handled with fingertips, or in beach volleyball where rules regulating overhand setting are more stringent. In the case of a set, one also speaks of a front or back set, meaning whether the ball is thrown in the direction the setter is facing or not.

Sometimes a setter refrains from raising the ball for a teammate to perform a spike and tries to throw it directly onto the opponent's court. This movement is called a "dump".

Spike
The spike (or attack) is usually the third contact a team makes with the ball. The object of spiking is to handle the ball so that it lands on the opponent's court and cannot be defended. A player makes a series of steps (the "approach"), jumps and then projects his body forward, thus transferring its weight to the ball when contact is made.

Contemporary volleyball comprises a number of attacking techniques:

Backcourt attack: an attack performed by a player not standing at the net. The player cannot take off on or beyond the 3-meter line before making contact with the ball, but may land in front of the 3-meter line.

Line and Cross-court Shot: refers to whether the ball flies in a straight trajectory parallel to the side lines, or crosses through the court in an angle. A cross-court shot with a very pronounced angle, resulting in the ball landing near the 3-meter line, is called a cut shot.

Kill: a hard driven ball that successfully lands on the opponent's court.

Dink/Tip/Cheat: the player does not try to make a kill, but touches the ball lightly, so that it lands on an area of the opponent's court that is not being covered by the defense.

Tool/Wipe: the player does not try to make a kill, but hits the ball so that it touches the opponent's block and then bounces off-court.

Off-speed hit: the player does not hit the ball hard, reducing its acceleration and thus confusing the opponent's defense.

Quick hit/"One": an attack (usually by the middle hitter) where the approach and swing begin before the setter contacts the ball. The set (called a "quick set") is placed only slightly above the net and the ball is struck by the hitter almost immediately after leaving the setter's hands.

Slide: a variation of the quick hit that uses a low back set. The middle hitter steps around the setter and hits from behind him.

Block
Blocking refers to the actions taken by players standing at the net to stop or hinder an opponent's spike. A block is performed by jumping and raising one's arm over the net shortly before the ball is hit in an attempt to intercept its trajectory.

A block that is aimed at completely stopping an attack, thus making the ball remain in the opponent's court, is called offensive. By contrast, it is called defensive if the goal is merely to make contact with the ball so that it slows down and becomes more easy to be defended. A "roof" is a successful offensive block.

Blocking is also classified according to the number of players involved. Thus, one may speak of single (or solo), double, or triple block.

Dig
Digging is the ability to prevent the ball from touching one's court after a spike. In many aspects, this skill is similar to passing: overhand dig and bump are also used to distinguish between defensive actions taken with fingertips or with joined arms.

Some specific techniques are more common in digging than in passing. A player may sometimes perform a "dive", i.e., he throws his body in the air with a forward movement in an attempt to save the ball, and lands on his chest. When he also slides his hand under a ball that is almost touching the court, this is called a "pancake".

Sometimes a player may also be forced to drop his body quickly to the floor in order to save the ball. In this situation, he makes use of a specific rolling technique to minimize the chances of injuries.

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