Who can play volley-ball?

Volley-ball is a game of anticipation, skill and of opposition within separate spaces. Contrary to popular belief, it is accessible as early as primary school in adapted forms. It enables a mixed practice and the development of a wide range of skills in a large space.

You will find here some suggestions for Sports Education in schools and in clubs, from 1-a-side to 4-a-side.

We will focus on the logic of the game and the main problems that a player must solve, in order to present the fundamental organisation principles of his activity in the time and space specific to the game.

We hope, with this approach, to go beyond the formal models that usually prevail in the approach to volley-ball.

Presentation and user's manual

Public aimed at:

  • Students and apprentices
  • Primary and secondary school teachers
  • Sports trainers and coaches

You will find:

  • Game analyses and learning issues
  • A list of teaching themes
  • Learning situations sheets with video clips and teacher's comments
  • Observation sheets detailing the points to be observed and video clips for illustration
  • Resource pages with technical or scientific additions in case you wish to look further into certain points.


You will see in the video clips schoolchildren aged 9 to 13 (year 2 to year 6). They mainly belong to the O.COMPAS school and to the OMEBA TOBO college of KOUROU in Guyana. We thank the teachers and the pupils for their collaboration.

You will see pupils of all levels. From the complete novice to School Sports Association level, including a level of 2nd cycle of school practice.

You will not see perfect technical models, nor a perfectly run class or group.

We have purposely chosen not to select the pupils, not to rehearse the scenes, but to film real sessions in real conditions with ordinary classes. We hope, with these images, to prepare you to the move responses that you will probably encounter during your own intervention, even if our examples are not exhaustive.

Your observation capacity, your ability to analyse the variety of pupils' responses, and to reveal the problems and progress indicators, even when these responses are imperfect, seem to us a fundamental stake. You can acquire the "specialist's eye" to intervene with pertinence and guide the work. Our observation sheets are designed to help you do this.

In the chapter "learning situations" you will find more details on the approach we are proposing.

1. Game logic and issues

Volley-ball presents three fundamental characteristics:

  • The obligation to play the ball… to the volley (except when serving)
  • A target court to defend and attack
  • The opposition of two teams

Volley-ball can therefore be described as a succession of counterattacks.

Each team must use the opponent's attack to build its counterattack. We will consider each of the three characteristics to envisage the problems they give to the players and the teaching issues that follow.

2. The serve

The serve constitutes the first attack.

Realised under specific conditions (ball held, 8 seconds to hit) it aims at stopping the construction of the opponents' counterattack. To achieve this, it must follow a particular form, on a tactical level (choice of target) and on a technical level (manner of hitting).

See full chapter

3. Hitting without holding: timing of trajectories

Hitting without holding implies that you must play at a moment defined by the trajectory of the ball. This timing will either be imposed by the opponent (on the first touch), or managed by the team after the first touch of the ball by the means of passes. This makes it impossible to envisage hitting the ball independently from the processes that take place upstream.

Even if for some spectators and some beginners hitting the ball is the aim and purpose of volley-ball, this individual action is only the "tip of the iceberg". One of the skills of the teacher and eventually of the players is to perceive and analyse the activity before and after the hits.

In this perspective we give a central role to the processes of attention, of reading the trajectory, of decision making and of movement. This is where we find some of the richest aspects of volley-ball from a teaching point of view.

  • How does the player prepare to intervene?
  • At which moment exactly does the player start moving?
See the resource on
action and intervention times

At the collective level, the hit results fundamentally from the organisation of the game without a ball and from the processes of decision making and choice.

  • At which moment do players decide to intervene or not on the current trajectory?
  • What do they do during a trajectory that does not directly concern them?

Hitting without holding and with a limited number of hits, enables us to consider volley-ball as a game of counterattack: direct counterattack with one hit or indirect counterattack with two or three hits. In order to solve the individual and collective problems raised by the time constraints and uncertainties, players must organise and re-organise constantly on trajectory information and signals. This makes perception and move coordination during the trajectory times the very first theme (and a permanent working theme) in player training.

See the resource on
react or anticipate
See full chapter

4. Attacking / defending a target alone

Why do we call it
a target? (Glossary)

Attacking or defending the ground target supposes the construction of an intervention space specific to volley-ball. This space results from the player's experience on the action in a vertical dimension (playing high but also down to the ground) but also lateral and deep (front / back).

This also involves the elaboration of an exact representation of the possible trajectories, the areas at threat and free spaces in the opposite camp.

See the resource on
the representations of the target to defend

Finally, it rests on the organisation of placing and movements which optimise the intervention on the ball. This is why the first problems will be approached in a context of one to one opposition, which enables the game and the formation of the initial skills.

See full chapter

5. Attacking / defending a target collectively

In a collective game, spotting the targets to attack and orienting the opposite team's counter-attack remain imperative in the gathering of information.

However, playing with 2 players each side brings new problems:

  • A distribution of roles, or treating new information and making choices.
  • Repartition of zones for defence.
  • Coordinate intervention times, which means communicate.

From two players we will start to progress toward the collective dimension.

See full chapter

6. Playing without holding: hitting techniques

Volley-ball is sometimes considered as a "technically complex" game. It would only be accessible at an advanced age. We have however taught volley-ball successfully to pupils as young as 6 years of age. En reality, even if the forms of movement produced by the children and the beginners do not look like those of expert players, the problems encountered are of the same nature and the access to the principles of efficiency is possible at a young age.

These principles are about the placing of weight (feet), orientations, hitting surfaces on which we will give landmarks which will help to try, miss (that's inevitable), amend and succeed.

After that, coordination will improve and be systematically and precisely perfected, as the game gets more complex and faster. During the first stages, the player will understand what is going to be the permanent background of the game: the trajectory times, the spaces, the targets. He will elaborate intentions and decision parameters aiming at more and more precise and more and more complex targets.

Of course he will have to solve the problems and translate his intentions into hits. These hits are discovered and perfected during the matches but also during fun exercises and regular workshops beside the matches. However, it is essential to link these teachings to the constraints and intentions present in a match.

During a match

During a learning situation

The ball, either due to the opponent or due to imprecision from the partners, will not come to the player by itself. We learn, most of the time, the hits that occur in conditions of uncertainty and requiring a move.
Hitting conditions will be various and rarely optimal. They impose technical choices (hitting with two hands, with one hand, an underhand hit, a bump?). We learn from the outset a variety of hitting techniques responding to the diversity of situations and hitting conditions including techniques for borderline situations.
The efficacy of a hit is judged not on the shape of the move but on whether it has reached its target: scoring, making a precise pass, making playable a ball that looked lost... Hitting techniques are perfected in relation to their immediate efficiency in the current learning task (what I'm looking to achieve right now) and the aims of the game (what I'm looking to achieve in the game)

Technique and tactics

The tactical evolution of the game brings new issues, which bring about new technical learning - technical learning, in turn, open new tactical opportunities. Therefore, learning hitting techniques is not a preamble. Il accompanies, enables and stimulates the tactical evolution of the game and it makes complete sense in this evolution.

See the resource on
volley-ball and technique
See full chapter

7. Continuity and breaks

Breaking the opponent's exchange is the aim of each team. Moreover the fact that they are playing by hitting without holding causes errors. A characteristic of a game played by beginners, even sometimes after many lessons, is very short game sequences (one, two, sometimes three hits). Although the first hit (the serve) requires an organisation and particular movements in defence, each new hit calls for a reorganisation, other movements, or replacements.

We are the faced with this paradox: the game does not have any continuity therefore the players don't get organised to respond and when occasionally continuity appears the players are not ready to respond and a break occurs. We spontaneously blame the break in the game to a bad hit (technical error). A careful observation of the game shows that most mistakes come from delays in decision making.

This decision making rests on:

  • Treatment of the right information: "reading the game" using the relevant signals.
  • Communication which enables to reduce uncertainty.

In order to break this vicious circle, it is essential very early on to build organisation models, attitudes designed to ensure the continuity of the game. We must create phases of continuity to learn how to respond. This stage is not only very significant for the level of game produced but it is also fundamental for the pleasure players get out of playing.

We will work mainly on actions rhythm, on the way to elaborate anticipation behaviours in the various phases of the game, starting from the signals and information that the player is learning to recognise.

See the resource on
reaction times
See full chapter

8. Probable error

The continuity of the game rests on the anticipation on the part of the players in the different phases of the game but also on appropriate placings and reactions adapted to the errors which can occur in your own team.

A margin of error in the hits must be taken into account for a good management of the game space and collective organisation.

No more than on perfect hits made in perfect conditions, game construction cannot rest on perfect tactical development. It's the opposite!

The error is probable. Learning to play is learning to respond to this probability and to reduce it progressively without ever making it disappear. It is therefore a pillar of the player's training.

See full chapter

9. Teaching organisation

Learning situations answer three precise objectives. It is important that the teacher and the pupil know what needs to be learned in a given situation. Of course we always learn several things at the same time, but the sheets for learning situations proposed here are aimed at observable progress. They are accompanied with observation files which enable the teacher to note this progress without being distracted by multiple evolutions.

When, for example, we work on reaction time and trajectory, a very good "timing" can sometimes go with a miss or a bad hit. This calls for some work later on hitting techniques but it is essential to note that the time constraint has been resolved. It is therefore from this point of view a success. When we work on taking in to account the probable error we must make an effort not to focus on the ball (which is very difficult) but to observe the game without ball, the attitudes, the support actions.

There also exist some general rules for organising a motor learning. We will find here some suggestions for organising, taking into account the specifics of volley-ball, workshops, groups, series of hits, rotations, communications, matches and tournaments.

The natural and understandable desire of the teacher is to see his pupils succeed at the proposed tasks. However this desire contains some traps. In order to see as soon as possible the comforting spectacle of successful actions, on could be tempted to:

  • Simplify to the extreme the conditions and constraints to the action.
  • Give the solution to problems even before the pupil has encountered those problems.

This way, we achieve rather quickly movements that are conform to expectations, and success in tasks. That's good! But, if we notice that once placed in different situations and in game conditions there is nothing left of this learning, then we must question ourselves.

We can do this using the accumulated professional experience and research on learning. They indicate that:

  • If a learning situation does not cause errors this means that it is only a situation of reinforcement of a skill that was already acquired. The level of difficulty must be low enough to make the task achievable but high enough to require a transformation of resources, be they tactical, technical or physical. Moreover, this level of difficulty (neither unachievable nor boring) makes the task attractive to the pupils.
  • If a technique is acquired totally outside the constraints of the environment where it will eventually be needed (the match) we obtain rather quickly a "mime" of the technique. But it is lacking everything that makes its efficiency in the context of the game like signals and information that triggers the technique, the conditions variables.

Let's not put the pupils in failure situations for too long, but let's not be afraid of the error. An error is not a freak but a necessary passage. From this point of view, the multiplication of situations is not in itself a teaching asset. For a situation to enable the learning required, it must be repeated often enough while being attentive to the quality changes that occur in the pupils' activity.

If we systematically put in place new situations we run the risk of teaching pupils to... put in place new situations.

See full chapter

10. Refereeing

Pupils can very quickly acquire great autonomy in the organisation of the game. Refereeing participates in this educational dimension and fosters the integration of the rules and logic of volley-ball.

The spirit or the letter? Following the official rule to the letter, particularly with the very young ones, proves at the same time difficult, boring and useless. These are therefore adapted rules which will be established and which will evolve as problems occur while respecting the "spirit of volley-ball" in order to encourage a fun and safe practice. However a handful of rules constitute the core of volley-ball and we can't ignore them or we would misrepresent it.

The pupil who takes on the responsibility of refereeing must learn to "talk volley-ball", a language of gestures and of whistle, the rudiments of which we will find here./p>

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