Hand Setting or Dig Setting?

The Current Situation

Do you prefer hand setting or dig setting? It’s a question of identity for a lot of beach volleyball players. People are often either one or the other. It’s something that I get asked a lot about when I’m coaching-‘how do you hand set?’ ‘Where do I start?’ Often, these questions are form people that play indoors, and have heard all the myths and mystification of the elusive, perfect, no-spin set that is required on the beach.

That is fundamentally no longer the case. When you look at the standard now on show on the world tour, there are plenty of setters who regularly spin the ball when they set, and whose hands really aren’t very clean. You very rarely see sets being called now, and ever more rarely do you see players complaining about the setting. In my opinion, that’s good-allow the game to go on, allow people to see the volleyball they turned up to see.

I don’t want to go too much into how to set, as we have a special guest coming on the blog soon who will talk you through it. However, I do think it’s important to lay out the current guidelines on setting. At the current time, they are generally allowing a lot more of what would once have been called double touches (within reason), but they don’t like any sets that are too slow or too low. Obviously, dig setting is always fine, which is why lots of people choose to do it. So, the question that remains is, what are the pros and cons of each type of set?

The Advantages:

Hand Setting:

Head Coach Sam Dunbavin Hand Setting.
  • Changing tempos. It is a lot easier to set faster tempo balls when you hand set, as they start from a higher point and the trajectory is a lot flatter. This allows you to have a more varied attack. Watch some Losiak/Kantor if you want to see an example!
  • More reliable outcome. In my opinion, there is a little less variation in the results of a hand set than a dig set. Of course, it is a skill thing-the more you practise, the less variation there will be. But a good hand setting action means that you have your hands/arms on the ball for longer, so you have more chance to influence where the ball is going-leading to a more predictable set.
  • Allows the 2 attack. It is a lot easier to fake or run a 2 attack if you are a hand setter, as your natural approach to hand set takes you that much closer to the point of setting the ball.
  • More readily adjustable. A good hand setter will give you a line-up early on of the sort of direction that they want to set in. However, hand setting allows them to make changes to tempo, distance from them, and height a little more easily than with dig setting, as to change these things when digging you often need to move your feet, which can’t be done as easily at the last moment.

Dig Setting:

Sam Dunbavin Dig Setting at Cardiff Beach Volleyball
  • Safer (in general). You can’t get called for a double touch or a lift on a dig set. However, I would like to throw out that maybe the 2-3 points you might lose by hand setting and getting called might be earned back by the fact that you are more accurate, so you don’t overset or set too tight/far off.
  • Helps development. Learning to dig set helps with other parts of your game. Dig setting really well is a very tough skill, and one that if you bypass completely might let you down in those random circumstances in a game when you need it. There is an argument, too, that when you are learning you should be dig setting, because it helps you develop a long, thorough touch on the ball.
  • More time. Dig setting, because the ball is going up and down from a lower point, gives the spiker more time. For that reason, you sometimes see players opt to dig set a ball when they would normally hand set it-perhaps because their partner is on the floor, or off the net. This is to generate more time and a higher peak for the ball.

My Thoughts:

I grew up dig setting. I went through a period where I was proud to say that I would only dig set. Then I went to my first international event and saw most people hand setting, and realised that they are doing it for a reason-it is simply more accurate. It’s taken me a couple of years to build it up, but now I feel very comfortable hand setting, and hand set whenever I can.

That said, though, I think having a really good base on the fundamentals of dig setting has been extremely useful. There are lots of times in transition especially where I find the touch I have developed on the dig set is really useful. Likewise, though, with the styles of play I am now using in my game, I don’t think I could play to the same level with just a dig set in the locker.

My top tip if you want to change setting style is to find an environment where you can just have a go. A place without judgement, without some dude who’s going to make a snide remark about your hands, or gasp at the fact that you are even trying to hand set. Just find a group of friends and ask them if you can just try it and not be called that session. It’s something that I encourage in all my sessions, as the only way to get better at all of these things is to do them-if you have a space where you are constantly worried when you are going to set, you will tighten up and the set will be rubbish anyway.

However you set, keep working at it. Being a good setter makes you lots of friends. I hope you found this interesting!


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