Beach volleyball techniques in passing, setting, hitting, defending, blocking & serving
All beginners need to quickly learn the basic techniques that are similar to indoor volleyball. Like with rules, there are also some differences in terms of techniques.
The technique for passing (“the dig”) is needed for receiving the ball as well as for setting the ball close to the net. When passing, hands are put together in a way that lower arms are in parallel and at the same height and form the so-called “platform”.
The body position can be described as following:
Shoulders: either relaxed position or shrug toward your ears (as convenient)
Arms: straight with elbows close together and away from torso facing direction where the ball should go. Arms close to the body prevent proper passing
Hands: position is not important as long as the arms form a solid platform and the configuration can be changed easily
Hips: low. If hips are high, lifting the ball is harder and gives less time to receive a serve.
Feet: need to provide a good balance, meaning a passing position can be hold also after passing a ball
There are two types of setting. The dig (or bump setting: same technique as just described above) and hand–setting. Hand-setting is done by receiving the ball overhead with hands forming a bowl in front of the forehead. The player lets the ball land and immediately pushes the ball out and upwards high into the air aiming the ball close to the net for their partner. Hand wrists are quite flexible and only the front part of the fingers touch the ball. Fingers almost act like a trampoline. Holding or catching the ball is not permitted.
Both techniques share some characteristics:
- Setters should face in the direction where the ball needs to go (presumably the net)
- Setters need to keep balance
- Setters should follow through with their movement, i.e. consistently moving their body in the direction where the ball needs to go
Hand-setting needs to be practiced frequently. It is very easy to do so with a partner playing one-on-one or even by yourself. Just throwing a ball in the air and then virtually setting it, already helps a long way.
3. Hitting (incl. Cut, Poke)
Hitting is done by jumping high in the air and hitting the ball hard with the flat hand.
The hit is introduced with a three-step combination followed by the hit. For right-handers this three-step combination looks like in the drawing. For left-handers the other way round.
- (long) step
- (short) step
Hitting – Three-step combination
By doing so it is ensured that players rather jump high instead of long.
When hitting, the player aims to jump and hit the ball above their hitting shoulder with a straight arm, letting the wrist snap, adding top spin and speed to the ball.
With step 2 both arms move backward (picture 1 below) and with step 3 both move forward while jumping high in the air (picture 2 below). This double-arm swing continues into the arm swing of the hitting arm (picture B and C below). The body basically forms an arc (picture C), the hitting arm swings and the ball is hit at the highest point with open hand (picture D). The ball should be contacted as high as possible while keeping it slightly in front in order to still be able to see the other side of the court and the opponent. The movement follows through in the target direction (picture E). The non-hitting arm can be used as visual orientation when to start the arm swing with hitting arm.
Hitting – Arm swing
A special hitting technique is the „Cut“. It is being played either from the left or right hand side of the net in an extreme angle diagonally along the net. For this technique shoulder and wrist need to be rotated strongly.
Another alternative is the “Poke”. Initiation, jump and arm swing is the same as when hitting. The hitting itself does not occur with open hand but using the first two fingers, bent at the knuckles using the flat face. It is used to play a long ball over the defending block and it replaces the indoor tip, which isn’t allowed in beach volleyball.
4. Blocking & Defense (incl. Tomahawk, Beachdig, Gatordig, Chickenwing)
In professional beach volleyball 2/3 of defense tactics include a block. A block covers a defined area of the court in order to optimize cooperative playing between block and defense. Block and defense are tightly linked to each other and alignment between block and defense player is essential for team tactics. In 1/3 of actions a block is either faked or does not occur at all. In these cases, the attacker is faced with two defending opponents. The “Fake block” aims to confuse the attacker and to counter Poke and Cut shots.
Blocking means jumping up with two hands to get the hands over the net to rebound it back quickly into the opponent’s court. Successful blocking can change the dynamics of a match significantly. It can lead to easy and quick scoring and can have major psychological impact on the attacking team. Blocking is a very technical skill with several important aspects:
- The combination of body height and jumping skills define the prerequisites of a blocker.
- Positioning and footwork are vital. A blocker needs to follow “ball, setter, ball, hitter”. The pass and the set need to be watched to make sure that the ball doesn’t go over the net. As soon as the set is in the air, the blocker needs to shift his position accordingly. If the set is far away from the net, a blocker can decide to move backward and play defense. After knowing the rough position of the set, focus should be on the hitter.
- Before jumping it is essential to get low in a squat-like position. Getting low helps to jump higher and at the same time gets the blocker out of attacker’s sight.
- Up in the air, hands and arms should be on the other side of the net as far as possible. It takes away options for the attack and helps the defender to focus on smaller areas of the court.
- When blocking, hands should face toward the middle of the court in order to not have a ball land outside of the court after the block.
- The blocker should jump after the hitter does. By doing so, the blocker is not on his way down when the attacker hits the ball.
Good positioning is also key for defending. Best position is in the middle of the area that has not been taken away by the blocker. So if the blocker blocks “line”, the defender should position himself in the middle of the “cross” area that is not “shaded” by the blocker. By doing so the hitter’s options are reduced and there is good chance to reach hits played diagonally and even some cut shots.
The attention focus should be on the hitter’s arm which is more consistent with the ball’s speed after the hit than only focusing on the ball. After a hit the defender moves quickly and receives the ball in a well-balanced position with arms in front. For receiving techniques go back to the chapter on passing.
Additionally, several techniques beyond the ones for passing are widespread.
The “Tomahawk” defense technique which involves both hands above the head to defend shots and serves that arrive close to the body. Hands form a shell with thumbs crossed and facing back. The ball is received with the edge of the hand and pinky. After hard shots similar to a block.
The “Beachdig” occurs with both hands as done for hand-setting. Hands are open and form a trampoline. Only allowed as defense after hard shots.
The „Gatordig“ is to defend hard shots above hip with short reaction time. These are received close to the body with both hands open forming a basket or a crocodile mouth.
To defend hard shots arriving close to the body on breast height the „Chickenwing” is used. This involves bending upper and lower arms or elbows. Lifting arms and shoulders provide the impulse for the ball.
Gatordig and Chickenwing
In beach volleyball 4 types of serves can be distinguished.
The underhand serve is executed by holding the ball in one hand and then swinging the other (hitting) hand at the ball in an underhand motion. It is very easy to do but also very easy for the opponent to receive.
The float serve is very widespread and is done by throwing the ball up with one hand, the arm draws back and then the elbow comes forward and then catapults the wrist towards the ball, contacting the back of the ball with a flat hand. The float serve travels without spin, therefore it has to be hit directly without any wrist snapping. It can also be done while jumping which improves the angle to the opponent’s side of the court.
A float serve can be quite hard to receive, especially in windy conditions. On the other hand, it is usually slow enough for the defenders to get into the right position. Moreover, serving hard and precise is not easy to be done.
The jump serve is the most advanced type. It is similar to hitting, only executed from the back line. The ball is hit at its highest point and by wrist snapping top-spin is added. This is the fastest and most precise serve which is usually very challenging for the receiver. Nevertheless, variations in speed are not as easy as with the float serve. The jump serve is based on a rather complex body movement and therefore technically challenging to execute.
The skyball is rare and can rather be thought of as a trick serve. It is similar to the underhand serve but the ball is directed high into the air. Additionally, the server can add side spin by turning at an angle while serving. Since it is a rare serve, receivers usually don’t have lots of practice controlling and passing it. On the other hand, the skyball is hard to consistently keep in the court. Since it has a long travel time, both opponents will be able to receive it.
It I very easy to practice serving since it can be done completely by oneself.
Next: Getting started