How the setter position in volleyball imitates the best leadership on your team

September 19, 2022 3:00 am

Nebraska setter Kelly Hunter, No. 3, during the championship match against Texas in the NCAA Women’s Volleyball Championship in Omaha in 2015. (Scott Bruhn/NU Communications)

An occasional column about leadership.

I do not think I can overstate the importance of the setter position in volleyball. I also do not think we can overstate the importance of the relationship between the setter and the head coach in volleyball.

Some of you may know that for the majority of my career I never substituted for the setter position. This was not a goal, and it would likely be impossible today. Most talented setters do not want to wait two years before they are on the court. I was blessed with outstanding setters, many of whom played other positions until their junior year.

I was intentional in this respect. I never wanted my setter to believe that I didn’t have confidence in her ability. The relationship was built on the time we spent together in training and in the conversations that we had about decision-making and game plans. She had enough on her plate rather than worrying about whether or not she was going to be subbed out.

The setter position is much more complex than other positions. She has to have emotional intelligence. She has to have the ability to set aside her own emotional needs and respond to what is best for the team. She can’t do that unless she is receiving support from the head coach. That doesn’t mean the coach has to provide verbal compliments in practice, but it likely means he/she has to build confidence in the interactions outside practice when discussing her role.

Early in my career, a player complained about the location of the set she received. I stopped the drill and had the outside hitter assume the setter position. Of course, everyone knew what I was doing. Chaos happened that eventually led to laughter. I was making two points. The first was that setting a hittable ball is much harder than you know. The second was that regardless of where the ball is set it is your job to find a way to attack it over the net.

How does this apply to other teams? I don’t think you can build trust in a team until you intentionally build trust and confidence in the people in leadership positions.

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Terry Pettit
Terry Pettit

Terry Pettit is an author of three books and a presenter on leadership and teambuilding. He is a former head coach for the University of Nebraska women's volleyball program and the host of the podcast "Inside the Coaching Mind." Pettit's webpage is