Karch Kiraly's Volleyblog

Originally published in VolleyballUSA, Fall 2010 issue. 
To subscribe, visit this page for more information.

I’ve often said that forearm passing is the cornerstone of volleyball, and I believe it more than ever now that I’m a coach. If you want to elevate the play of those around you, indoors or beach, you have to be able to make the ball go where you want by using your forearm platform.

When you think about it, every player on the court is required to pass. In the indoor game, even middle blockers have to set a hittable ball when a dig sprays their way – either overhead or with their platform. They also have to pass free balls, down balls, short serves or those that dribble over the net, and they have to cover their outside hitters when they get blocked.

The U.S. Women’s National Team faces these situations in every practice and every match. With such a fineNicole Davis margin between winning and losing, any one of these plays can determine the outcome. And, of course, beach players face the same thin margins and the same demands to make the ball go where they want.

During a game, players almost always have to receive a ball from one direction and make it go another – that is, they have to make an angle with their platform. There are very few game opportunities where you play a ball right back to where it came from, though that’s exactly what we do in partner activities like traditional pepper. If you can’t find a partner, a better way to practice making angles is to stand in the corner of two walls and repeatedly hit a spot on one wall, then the other. But even that drill has its flaws because the objective of a passer is to make the ball go to a teammate, not the next spot on the wall.

I prefer it when a player practices with two other people – friends, parents, siblings, anybody who’s willing. One person tosses or serves a ball over a net-high rope, and another is a catching target a few feet away from the “net.” (This is a drill you can do in the backyard or any place you can tie a rope.) This drill makes the passer take serves from various places around the court and pass them to a target.

Of course, the best way to practice – spoiler alert here – is to play this game called volleyball: doubles or with three players, indoors, on grass, on sand, wherever you can find a net.

As passing goes, so goes the offense. In the Los Angeles Olympics in 1984, when we won the U.S.’s first volleyball gold medal, we passed around 87 percent perfect, according to assistant coach Bill Neville. That was much higher than average in the men’s game in that era, and it allowed us to side out time after time and put tremendous pressure on our opponents. That translated into a lot of winning. In my final seasons on the pro beach tour, I’d sometimes get more than 300 serves in two days. But if my partner was able to run to the same spot almost every time to make the set, it was easier for him to put the ball right where I needed it, and that allowed me to put it away more.

Before Hugh McCutcheon became coach of the U.S. Women’s National Team, he coached the U.S. Men’s team to a gold medal in Beijing in 2008. In his tenure as men’s coach, he guided the team from serve-receive mediocrity to the best passing team at the Olympics. I don’t think they would have won the gold without that improvement.

On the beach, Todd Rogers is a superb passer, which makes his partner, Phil Dalhausser, a much better setter. And they won a gold in Beijing, too.

It won’t surprise you to know that I don’t view that as a coincidence.

Originally published in VolleyballUSA, Fall 2010 issue. 
To subscribe, visit this page for more information.