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Setting using your hands is discussed a lot in beach volleyball circles. But still, the questions you have as a beginner aren’t always answered clearly:

How do you actually make your sets look like the pros’? What's the proper form? Which mistakes should you avoid at all cost?

It can all seem a bit mysterious.

That’s why we’ve created this tutorial: To make the path to perfect hand sets super clear for you.

After reading this article, you’ll know how to avoid common pitfalls, what perfect technique looks like, and how you can develop it for yourself – so you can become the smoothest setter in your beach community. 

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Why focus on perfecting your beach volleyball setting?

 

1. It’s amazing to watch.

The best setters are fluid, flexible and strong. It’s beautiful to watch them deliver nectar for their hitter to feast on. No doubt, buttery-smooth handsets are impressive – both to other players and spectators.

2. Setting is the most important technique in beach volleyball.

Capable coaches and pro players will tell you as much.

An excellent setter will better the ball. Even if his partner made a not-so-great reception, he’ll deliver the goods. And on a defensive dig, he’ll be able to set up the perfect counter-attack.

Setting skill separates intermediates from beginners – but even more so, professionals from intermediates.

3. Developing great hands advances your beach career.

Let me tell you how it advanced mine.

Turns out, everyone loves playing with a great setter. So much so that it can bring you into a circle of players who’d otherwise never give you the time of day.

When I learned how to consistently set the ball well using my hands (this was many years ago, before I ever started playing professionally on the AVP and FIVB) –- suddenly, my phone started ringing: People were inviting me to drill or play practice games.

I even had players looking to partner up for the next tournament.

That’s the power of giving anyone you’re playing with the most readable, clean, hittable handsets.

Mark Burik Setting a Beach Volleyball

Let’s now dive into this step-by-step guide to beach volleyball hand setting:

The Foundation of Beach Volleyball Setting - Well-Shaped Hands & Smooth Fingers

When you watch beginner beach volleyball players set, you’ll often see them use their hands like paws to slap at the ball.

 

Many also play the ball with stiff fingers. The result is a lot of spin on the ball, and a set that’s almost always ruled not clean.

 

If this is you, don’t fret, because you’ll learn the correct hand and finger position right now.

The video course to master hand setting fast (& the best online community of beach players) 

Knowing how important hand setting is in beach volleyball, I decided to package up everything I’ve learned about this skill over a decade plus playing at the highest level and coaching hundreds of beach players, both in person and online.

The program is called The 30-Day Setting Blueprint.

It’s now part of our Complete Player Program (along with every other course we’ve ever created).

If you’d like to build beautiful handsets with the help of instructional videos – and other passionate beach players, who will be perfecting their setting alongside you – consider becoming part of our community of BAB’ers:

Join the Community & Build Beautiful Hand Sets

The best hand position for setting in beach volleyball (The Hamburger)

How do you get a smooth touch on the ball when hand setting?

  1. You let your wrists get pushed back by the ball – to cushion it without being called for catching it (‘lift’)
  2. You keep your fingers relaxed – so they can smoothly surround the volleyball
  3. You optimally use thumb action – to get a nice, clean push on the ball

The best way to get all 3 is what BAB’ers like to call The Hamburger.

Pull up your hands in front of your face, as if you’re ready to bite into a Big Mac.

What do you notice? 

  • Your elbows are wide, pointing to the side*. This means you can most naturally fold your wrists down (towards your face) and up (towards the ceiling). As well as naturally and strongly lock out your elbows – which will give you more strength in your hand set.
  • The insides of your thumbs are turned up. If you pushed your thumbs up, you’d be able to direct the imaginary beach volleyball towards the sky. 
  • Your fingers are bent, not straight or stiff. If you were to keep them relaxed, you’d be able to wrap them around the ball easily.

 *There’s individual differences in anatomy – for example in the arms or in how the thumbs are angled. For some people, the perfect ‘Hamburger shape’ happens with their elbows a bit more in.

Try and see which elbow position allows you perfect wrist and thumb action.

 

Wait On Your Side Of The Court - Be READY for Any Pass

In beach volleyball doubles (2 vs 2), if your partner gets served, you become the setter. Your goal is to turn any kind of reception into the most hittable set possible.

To do this, you must be prepared to go after passes going in all kinds of directions – including too far onto your side, or even behind the court.

Once you know the serve is going to your partner, watch their reception, and be ready.

Start in the athletic ready position

One mistake we see often is setters starting in a too upright or overly relaxed stance.

You’re fastest when you’re a bit squatted, lower to the ground, with your weight more forward than if you’re standing normally. 

Don’t rush.. unless you have to

The second common mistake is players rushing to the net as soon as they know the ball will go to their partner. This makes it hard – or outright impossible – to get to any pass going outside the optimal passing zone. (You can start slightly trotting towards the net a bit earlier, but don't rush too far, too fast).

Yes, as the setter in beach volleyball you’ll sometimes have to sprint for the ball.

But don’t charge full steam ahead before you’ve even seen what you’ll be dealing with and where the ball’s actually going to go.

Arrive to set just in time

There’s a natural rhythm that makes putting up perfect sets for your partner much easier, and that is:

You get to your position at the exact moment the ball drops into your hand.

That way the setting motion is a natural extension of the movement you’re already in. 

 

If you’re early, it gets much harder.

Standing and waiting for the ball leads most players to not use their body to set correctly.

The pros have a way of dealing with being too early to set (they’re staying in motion under the ball, taking little steps in place), but I would call that a more advanced skill.

Instead, we can make it easy on ourselves. Which is why I advise you to always try and ‘surf the wave’: To find and stick to the natural setting rhythm.

For beautiful setting success, make sure to get there just in time.

Get around the ball. Face where you’re setting. Net foot in front.

Now, let’s get into the proper footwork for hand setters in beach doubles.

Once you’ve approached the ball to set, you want to be facing exactly where you’re setting.

While this isn’t always possible – and there’s also situations where you’re setting sideways (in line with your shoulders) – squaring up to your desired set location is a great rule of thumb.

3 reasons why it’s a good idea to face where the set should end up:

  1. It’ll make it much easier for you to actually deliver the ball to the location you want, consistently.
  2. Your partner can read your body to know where he needs to end up attacking from. He’ll be thankful you’re making his life easier.
  3. If you try to redirect the ball outside of your body line, the other team (or the referee at a tournament) will likely call you for a double contact or lift violation – because in beach volleyball, the rules regarding hand setting are pretty strict about those things.

Put the foot closest to the net forward

Another general rule, this one makes it less likely you'll overset the ball onto the opposing side of the net.

It helps you square up your body and stops you rotating over that foot. So if you err in your setting accuracy, you're mostly erring on your own side of the court, producing a set that's further back than what's ideal.

But this also means your team is still in control of the ball, instead of straight up gifting it to your opponents with the overset.

The Ideal Set Location – 4ft Off, 12ft High

These are some of the most popular questions we get when it comes to hand setting or bump setting:

How high should you set the ball?

and

How far from the net is the perfect set?

We could cop out here and say ‘everyone’s different, just experiment and find the set you like’.

That’s not what I’m going to do in this hand setting guide. Rather, I’m going to give you a more specific answer about a standard type of set in beach volleyball. It’s one you should be able to execute well anyway – whether you’ll end up using it as a default option with your partner or not.

This set does work well with many players.

We’ll dive into the reasons why it makes sense to use this set, and why it’s effective (especially against teams who are above beginner level in their block/defense skills).

 

To set up-and-down is a proven standard

Especially for beginners in beach volleyball, it’s a great idea to play tight, whereby both players try to never be too far apart while passing and setting.  

Imagine there’s a big rubber band around you and your partner, keeping you somewhat close together at all times. Reducing the distance between you and your partner reduces how far the ball has to travel, and leads to more consistently precise plays. 

What does this mean for the setting location? 

Ideally, your partner will pass the ball 4 to 6 feet off the net.

From there, you’ll do what’s called an up-and-down set: You’ll push the ball upwards from where you are, so that it would land no further than 5 feet away from you.

You want the set to be right on their hitting shoulder – neither too far out, nor too far in.

Not too close, not too far from the net

Many setters and attackers have the instinct to prefer a set that’s right on top of the net, or very close to it. After all, that makes it easier to spike the ball straight down into the court.

But – if you set too close, good teams will block your attack every time. 

It’s a good idea to start keeping the ball a healthy distance from the net.

Do this right from the beginning so you don’t develop bad habits for when you’re playing better teams.

Because they’ll shut you down every time, ruining the efficiency of your attack.

A set that’s about 4 feet off the net gives your partner the chance to go around the block using various shots, but still spike hard at a reasonable angle.

Perfect Technique With Full Body Mechanics

We’ve talked a lot about how soft hands and fingers are key to a smooth hand set.

But by getting your legs involved as well, you’ll gain that much more consistency and control in your technique.

Remember how we want to be in a lower, athletic stance as we watch our partner pass the ball?

We’ll also keep that low position as we come in to set.

 

How to Hand Set in Beach Volleyball: 8-Step Instructions

  1. We start our hand set with our hips at about quarter squat height. One foot is in front – the one that’s closest to the net.
  2. Pull up your hands, 2-3 inches in front of your face. Create the Hamburger position with your hands. Remember to keep your hands and fingers relaxed.
  3. As the ball is about to hit your hands, start pushing your hips forward and straightening your legs.
  4. The ball will hit the shape you’ve created for it with your hands.
  5. Straighten your arms in the exact direction you want to set. Meanwhile, your thumbs are already pushing up on the ball from below.
  6. Extend your wrists and fingers fully at the top.
  7. You’ll end up with your arms, shoulders and upper back fully extended & with your legs straight, on your toes 
  8. It’s a good idea to hold this end position for a second –  for you to check your form, so you always try to have that clean, full extension, and because it makes it easier for your partner to calculate the path of the set.

Important Tip for Hand Setting: Don’t Catch & Release.. Push It Away!

You could control the ball by meeting the ball higher, taking it down with your arms, and then sending it out again.

Many players do this, because it’s an easy way to produce what seems to be a ‘clean’ set, and they might not know better. There was a period in beach volleyball history where the rules allowed you to deep dish with an exaggerated down-and-up movement.

But.. those days are gone, and nowadays you’re judged much more harshly when you lift the ball like that – especially in higher-level tournaments.

I urge you to learn to hand set the right way: Try to only push the ball away, don’t take it down with your arms.

Set With No Spin: Go Through Maximum Range!

The first way to hand set a beach volleyball without spin has to do with coordination.

You need to be able to straighten both arms equally at the same time, or you will most likely make what’s called a double contact on the ball. If you can’t yet do that right now: It’s something you can practice and you’ll quickly become better at.

The second way is by going through a full range of motion (but not catching the ball). Again, if you use your legs to set, as well as play the ball from close to your face, you can guide it a long way before you release it.

You’ll produce a spin-free hand set without breaking the strict rule against lifts in beach volleyball setting.

  • Enjoy instructional videos from our professional coaching staff
  • Get progressive drills to build up your hand setting to a high level
  • Become part of the BAB community: Get feedback from fellow players & support each other on your hand setting journey
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