By: Mas Shibata
2-Step Attack Foot plant
Article 1 and 2 of the Critical Analysis of Attacking Series are focused on Arm Swing Components and Technique. Much has been written regarding the fairly typical three or four step approach used by players today. This article will delve into the approach with a focus on the last two steps before the jump to attack. I have referred to it as a 2-Step Attack Foot plant as the more successful and consistent hitters appear to utilize a dynamic and aggressive foot plant regardless of the type of shot or attack to be executed.
I pose the following question: what is the primary purpose of the approach? The answer seems to be fairly obvious but the footwork many players use to achieve it makes it difficult to consistently accomplish. It is my observation over the years, that the majority of players were taught the basic three step approach from about 10 to 12 feet off the net and about 0 to 2 feet outside the sideline with the mantra – “Left-Right-Left” and “Slow to Fast” for footwork tempo. There appears to be a growing preference toward the four step approach in the past decade or so up to today.
Establishing Location of the Set and Contact Point
Whatever your footwork of choice may be, I would opine the general training protocol has been a fairly robotic, repetitious approach to the same general location near the net for attack training. Many players are approaching to the same place and reaching around their bodies in a 360-degree circle to make adjustments to the ball. They are contacting balls way out in front of them, reaching far outside of their shoulders on inside sets, across their faces on outside sets, and behind their heads on balls off the net.
In order to establish where a player should approach to in relation to the set, I have observed that at least two factors need to be established and defined to create opportunities for a consistent attack. What is the ideal or recommended distance off the net of the set for your team and where do you feel is the ideal contact point on the ball in relation to the hitting shoulder?
Establishing the ideal distance off the net for players is a discussion I will leave for another day. My general impression observing volleyball for over twenty-five years is that the standard set is far too close or tight to the net. The second component would be to establish and define where you believe the ball should be contacted in relation to the hitting shoulder. The most common mantra that I have heard by many coaches is to “Keep the Ball In Front of You”. This could be interpreted as somewhere between one inch to two feet. I have composed a collage of twenty-four international players selected randomly showing their contact location and posture in relation to their hitting shoulder.
Do the results of your observation comport with your anticipated or preconceived vision of what typically occurs on the hitters’ contact with the ball? Is this consistent with where you are encouraging your players to contact the ball?
The factors of set distance off the net and contact location in relation to the attack shoulder will provide an approximation as to a general area on the court where each individual player would need to approach from on the last two steps of their approach. Players would need to take into consideration their individual stride length when approaching, and the distance that they generally broad jump in the air before reaching the top of their jump to contact the ball.
Shoulder to the Ball Approaches
It is my observation that the best and most consistent hitters are able to adjust their footwork patterns based upon the situation. My philosophy has evolved to the belief that the most important phase of the approach is the last two Steps. Ultimately, the number of steps that it takes to get your shoulder to the ball is not as important as getting it there. If you are efficient at using a powerful 2-Step Attack Foot plant, you should be able to effectively adapt to most in-system and out-of-system situations. Realistically, no two approaches should ever be exactly the same. The combination of variables such as your location on the court, the height, location and tempo of a set will always be different. Learning how to adjust for these variables will provide for the greatest possibility and opportunity for success. That being said, there should be an understanding that it will be impossible for even the greatest hitter in the world to get their shoulder to every bad set. At some point, the set will be either too fast or too far away from a time and distance perspective to get the hitting shoulder to the ball to permit an ideal contact point attack.
2-Step Attack Foot Plant
The StroMotion photo shows Russian Tatiana Kosheleva’s final 2-Step Attack Foot plant technique. The photo shows a lead left step to load the left foot for an aggressive push off in the direction of the set ball. Note the very aggressive use of the arms to generate momentum for the attack jump. The arms are hanging loosely in front of the body and are thrown aggressively in a “backward reach” position as the right heel hits the ground. This is a motion that many young or beginning players often struggle with coordinating due to timing issues. I see players start to bring their arms back after the right foot hits the ground or they throw their arms back before they start the push off of the left foot.
The arms act as a pendulum swinging in a forward and upward driving motion to assist in the attack jump. After the final left foot plant, the legs and lower body begin to release vertically with the arms leading the jump. Most experienced attackers bring their arms and hands up near or above shoulder level before the feet leave the ground for the attack jump. There is some degree of broad jumping forward to get the ball into the preferred contact position above the hitting shoulder. The contact position of Kosheleva in the photo above is consistent with the photo collage in the Ball Contact Comparison Analysis.
You are able to see Kosheleva’s arm and hand position as she is coming off the ground in the Row 2 – Frame 4 photo. This leading with the arms in the approach jump allows her to reach her “arm swing load position” while she is still rising. This permits Kosheleva to contact the ball at the top of her jump for a maximum reach. If you have players that contact the ball on the way down from the top of their jump, it could possibly be because they start their approaches too early or their arms are closer to their waist or far below their shoulder level when their feet leave the ground to attack.
I have mentioned a few technical aspects related more to the arm swing component of the attack than the approach and foot plant that I have found to be common traits of accomplished attackers. I will revert back to the discussion of how players can make adjustments to getting their shoulders to the ball to incorporate these arm swing mechanics.
Tatiana Kosheleva of Russia – 2-Step Attack Foot Plant Analysis
How many hitters have you seen start their three step approaches from the ten-foot line standing on the sideline? Focusing on the last two steps from the left foot load positon indicated by the blue and red arrow under Kosheleva’s foot, I have calculated that Tatiana Kosheleva is 13.74 feet off the net and 3.15 feet from the sideline. The right foot is planted 8.76 feet off the net and 1.84 feet from the sideline. The ball was contacted approximately 3.71 feet off the net and her left foot landed 1.45 feet off the net on the sideline after the attack.
The next StroMotion photo shows Tatiana Kosheleva’s footwork for a set dropping inside into the court.
For the set dropping inside into the court, you can see that Kosheleva has jumped her right foot directionally into the court and she is broad jumping diagonally into the court on the follow through. I am unable to precisely calculate the diagonal measurements as a basis for comparison with the set toward the antenna. You are able to compare the 2-Step Attack Foot plants as indicated by the blue and red arrow markers.
The third StroMotion of Kosheleva shows her footwork for a set outside of the antenna.
For the set dropping outside the antenna, you can see from the markers that Tatiana Kosheleva has adjusted to the set with her footwork and not by reaching across her face outside of her body to contact the ball. Comparing the jump load postures, which are the positions of the middle markers in the three StroMotion photographs, you can see that Kosheleva is able to achieve a fairly consistent and balanced position before the feet leave the ground for the approach jump.
Seyma Ercan of Turkey – 2-Step Attack Foot Plant Analysis
The StroMotion photo in Row 1 – Frame 1 shows Seyma Ercan of Turkey approaching for a set that can be contacted anywhere from line to sharp cross court. Ercan’s left foot for the 2-Step Attack Foot plant is just behind the 10’ extension line. She jumps her right foot to the sideline to locate the ball above her hitting shoulder.
The StroMotion photo in Row 2 – Frame 1 is Ercan’s approach for an inside set. Her left foot starting position is a little deeper and a little closer to the sideline when compared to the first photo but is in the same general loading area for the left foot load. You can see that Ercan has a longer, more diagonal jump into the court with the right heel contacting the court inside the sideline just behind the ten-foot line. The final left step close takes Ercan even further into the court to get the hitting shoulder to the ball after the attack jump.
The Row 1 – Frame 2 is an overlay of the two above described approaches. You are able to see the two different directional approach lines to get the hitting shoulder to the ball for each set. If you focus on and compare the two separate postures at the contact point, they appear to be almost identical.
The deep and inside set in the Row 2 – Frame 2 StroMotion photo reveals a somewhat more parallel to the net approach line to jump the hitting shoulder to the ball.
Anna Baranska Werblinska of Poland - 2-Step Attack Footwork Analysis
In the observation and analysis of the attacking collage for Anna Baranska Werblinska of Poland, you are able to detect that Werblinska has a consistently deeper approach load position in the three left column photographs. The left foot load for the 2-Step Attack Foot plant is well behind the ten-foot line. There could be a variety of reasons why a player would elect to have a deeper approach position, such as their individual stride length or a team’s philosophy of setting the ball deeper off of the net when they are in system. Regardless of a players starting location, notice the subtle and not so subtle adjustments in footwork mechanics to create a consistent contact point above the hitting shoulder. You are able to see stride length adjustments for the deeper sets in Column 2 – Frame 1 and Column 1 – Frame 3. Once again, you are able to see the consistency in the contact point with the ball above Werblinska’s hitting shoulder in all five photographs.
Thaisa Menses 2-Step Attack Foot Plant Analysis
The final player to be observed for analysis in this article is Middle Blocker Thaisa Menses of Brazil. The same 2-Step Attack Foot plant mechanics can be effectively employed by middle blockers to make approach adjustments when the setter moves along the net. The Column 1 – Frame 1 StroMotion photo shows Menses using the 2-Step Attack Foot plant on a fairly typical 1 Set moving diagonally to her right. Column 1 – Frame 2 shows Thaisa using the same footwork moving diagonally to her left. From the same beginning loading area on the court, and using the 2-Step Attack Foot plant, Menses is able to attack a distance of over ten feet along the net. The overlay view of the two attacks is shown in the Column 1 – Frame 3 StroMotion photo. The Column 2 StroMotion photos show how Thaisa Menses is able to deploy the same aggressive 2-Step Attack Foot plant transitioning from the right side of the court to the left.
The comparative differences between some of the players observed in establishing their personal distance off the net to initiate their 2-Step Attack Foot plant illustrates why a robotic approach to attack training may ultimately inhibit a player’s ability to consistently adjust to out-of-system situations and stifle their long term development in attacking skills. Developing the ability to jump your shoulder to the ball short and long distances in any direction will enhance the opportunities for a more consistent and successful attack.
A photo summary of the Anna Baranska Werblinska’s 2-Step Attack Foot Plant shows a fairly consistent left foot load location on the court for three of the four attacks. You are then able to see a short, medium, and long right foot plant adjusting to the different set locations.
Tatiana Kosheleva has a different left foot load position on the court for each of the above three sets. The direction and distance of the following right foot plant location is distinctly different as Kosheleva adjusts to the set ball.
I have been referring to the final two steps as an Attack Foot plant to emphasize that it should be a dynamic movement to jump the shoulder to the ball for a smart and aggressive attack if possible, and not a passive and defensive shot just to keep the ball in play. If the majority of your team’s attack opportunities are out-of-system sets with random locations on the court, repetitions emphasizing having to make adjustments on the last 2-Step Attacking Foot plant may help to enhance the probabilities for a successful attack.
Although this article focused primarily on the last two steps of the approach, this in not to minimize the importance of the transition and full approach footwork and mechanics in the attacking process. This component will be the subject of Article 4 in the Critical Analysis of Attacking Series.