Lindsey Berg | 3-time USA Olympic setter, captain of the 2012 London Olympic team
Many coaches seem to continually be searching for a setter with the “so called” prototypical volleyball body and height. Here’s my question for them: Wasn’t having a 5-7 or 5-8 setter for 4 of the last 5 Olympics enough to prove that it isn’t necessary?
I’m 5-8, and I was one of those setters in three Olympics, two of them on silver-medal winning teams (2008 and 2012). Robyn Ah Mow-Santos, who is 5-7, was the other.
I first heard the body type, height conversation when I was about 15 or 16. I went to a USA Volleyball junior try out with one of my high school teammates, Tehani Miyashiro. We were both extremely undersized – I was barely 5-7 at the time – and not the “typical” volleyball body type. But we were undoubtedly the best volleyball players in the gym. (Yes, I might be partial.)
Tehani was a hitter and a setter, and, at that point in time, even though I was hitting in high school, I tried out as a setter. Neither of us were chosen for the team or even for the top 18 that were given a chance to make the team. When I found out who did make it (both setters were over 6 feet), it was a huge disappointment. I was devastated. I didn’t understand at the time how that could have even happened.
From that point on, I was on a mission to prove the volleyball world wrong – to prove that it’s not necessary to be tall, slim and jump high to be the best in the world.
I understand why coaches and much of the volleyball community think it’s potentially better for the team to have a tall, angular setter with a big vertical. But really, the only tangible advantage of having a taller setter is having a bigger block, and I should point out that a bigger block doesn’t necessarily mean a better block.
What attributes did Robyn Ah Mow-Santos and I have that made either one of us the starter for 4 straight Olympics? Here are the questions you should ask yourself about any setter you’re evaluating:
- Who sets a hittable, consistent ball the majority of the time?
- Who adjusts to different hitters by giving them specific balls to help them play to their potential?
- Who makes their teammates around them better?
- Who betters the ball?
- Who communicates effectively and leads the team?
- Who grinds and plays good defense?
- Who is unselfish? (This is very important. It’s never about the setter.)
- Who takes feedback from their coach and teammates, good and bad?
- Who can you rely on to make the right set at 25-25?
- Who can see the block and choose the right play?
Those are the things that I look for in a great setter. I would surely take all of those or even half of those and give up a couple hits over the setter. Guess what? The rest of the team can play defense.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that coaches shouldn’t look at tall setters or that no tall setters will be good because they won’t have the qualities I listed. What I am saying is: Don’t overlook small setters just because they won’t block as many balls or don’t look athletic or can’t jump as high or don’t fit the “so called” volleyball body type.
There are many things that can make a setter good. There is not one cookie cutter mold.
Lindsey Berg played at Punahou High in Hawaii and the University of Minnesota before representing the U.S. in three Olympics: 2004, 2008, 2012. She was co-captain of the 2008 team, which won a silver medal in Beijing, and captain of the 2012 team, which won a silver medal in London.