USA Volleyball Features If It's Hinky, Be Re...

If It's Hinky, Be Ready to Make a Play

By Karch Kiraly | May 24, 2018, 12 p.m. (ET)

Karch Kiraly

Originally published in the Summer 2015 edition of VolleyballUSA

"Hinky" is a word I use in the USA gym. It has several definitions, but the one that applies best to volleyball is: something that appears “out of place” or “not quite right” for reasons that may not be immediately definable.

The word hinky first made an impression on me when I read a newspaper article many years ago about how border patrol agents determine if a car warrants further inspection as it passes through a checkpoint.

The story emphasized that agents who are good at detecting if something is hinky have seen more than 5,000 cars drive through checkpoints, sometimes many more. They may not necessarily be able to tell exactly what’s wrong, but they have a sense that something isn’t normal – and that comes from hours and hours of repetitive impressions.

It’s similar with volleyball. Players who spend a lot of time playing the game and who make the extra effort to watch the game with the intention of learning are more likely to read subtle differences in body and ball positions in a way that allows them to predict what’s about to happen. That gives them a better chance to move to a spot on the court where they can make a play.

Noticing Those Hinky Moments

A good example of what I’m talking about can be seen frequently at the high school and club level when a setter is falling toward the net and has no choice but to shoot the ball over on two. Alert players will notice this early by seeing that the setter hasn’t gotten his or her feet to the ball. From that, they’ll understand that a hinky play is in progress, something outside the normal range of a standard pass-set-hit.

Here are a couple of other examples:

  • If your own teammate serves short and you see the passer scrambling forward, you should be on high alert that the ball may very well come right back over the net.

  • The same is true for a hard-driven ball. Whether the defender is in a good position to make the dig or not, chances are greater that the dig will pop back over the net because of the attack speed.

  • At the Olympic level, the examples are subtler. For instance, visual cues that tell you if a hitter is going to swing away or tip may only amount to a slight difference in arm position. But the clues are there, and we’re always looking for them when we scout opponents.

I had the privilege of hearing a roundtable discussion featuring Dr. Richard Schmidt, a professor emeritus of psychology at UCLA who is often referred to as the godfather of motor learning. A message that he conveyed that relates to our hinky topic was this: “Are you training to look good, or are you training to learn and compete?” The point here is, when teaching yourself to distinguish between typical and abnormal on the volleyball court, you have to put yourself in a lot of game-like situations, not rely on static training.

Volleyball is not neat and orderly. It doesn’t always “look good.” It’s a game full of deflections and split-second direction changes that often create a chaotic environment. To deal with that, you have to have seen and participated in thousands and thousands of volleyball plays and built muscle memory that allows you to adjust.

So keep your eyes open, observe with intent and play every chance you get. If you’ve done your volleyball homework, hinky will be a huge help.