Jim Iams | Former USA Assistant Coach and Former Head Coach at University of Georgia
If you have been around volleyball for any length of time, you’ve probably heard this statement, “The setter is the quarterback of the team.”
Worse yet, you may have used that line when explaining the position to your own setter.
Let me take a few minutes to dissuade you of that notion and provide a better and more accurate analogy.
First, let’s take a closer look at the quarterback position because, on the surface, the QB-setter comparison seems to make sense. Both are generally the second player to handle the ball and, yes, they do decide which teammate will get it next.
However, that’s where the similarity ends.
Ask yourself this: Who is the star on a football team? Right. It’s nearly always the quarterback. It’s the position that gets the glory, the headlines and most of the credit for a team’s success. And, at the professional level, it’s the position that earns the biggest paycheck.
Athletes who play quarterback may not admit it, but successful QBs usually like the attention that comes with their position. A lot of young setters these days have that mindset too, but the great ones don't. In that respect, great setters are quite different than many great quarterbacks.
Remember, unlike the quarterback, the setter does not sell tickets. The setter is not the player most people come to watch. Simply stated, the setter is not the star.
And you don’t want a setter who desires top billing. Those are the ones who attack too often or try for the spectacular set rather than the smart one.
Don’t get me wrong. The setting position is absolutely critical to a team’s success. But setters who ache for the limelight are more likely to hurt their team than to make it better.
Great setters get their satisfaction by helping their hitters be successful. They know whom to set, when to set them and what type of set each attacker needs. They understand the physique of hitters. They know from experience which ones they should go back to right after they have been blocked and which ones need an easy kill opportunity to get their confidence back.
When the cheer goes up after a spectacular kill, the great setter doesn’t begrudge his or her teammate’s time in the spotlight but, rather, celebrates along with the crowd.
So don’t give me a quarterback. What I want – and what every volleyball coach should want – is a point guard.
Jim Iams was an assistant coach to Terry Liskevych from 1985-88 for the U.S. women’s Olympic team and an advisor for the ’92 and ’96 teams. He was a head coach collegiately from 1989-99 at the University of Georgia, where he compiled a 242-118 record and led the Bulldogs to seven NCAA tournament appearances.