Linear vs. Non-Linear Passing in Volleyball
When big names like John Dunning, Mark Massey and Bond Shymansky start talking about passing, the first thing you are going to hear is the term non-linear passing. In fact GMS (Gold Medal Squared) also uses the same philosophy.
To explain the concept the best I can (hopefully I’ll make a video soon) non-linear passing technique consists of facing or squaring up to where the ball is coming from. The linear passing model is basically facing our squaring up to where the ball will be going, which is usually wherever you put your setter.
I am slightly biased as I teach non-linear passing, but I wanted to discuss some of the pros and cons of the different passing models.
My favorite part about the linear model, which is generally speaking, the older model of passing, is that it requires you to position your body behind the ball. The idealistic model of linear passing would be to actually be able to draw a perfect line from your platform to the target. By getting your body behind the ball and facing your target, this assures that the player is beating the ball and moving their feet to enable the linear model. This in my opinion is a great technique for young athletes as one of the things I hear from coaches across the nation is, “Move your FEET!”
Now the downside of the model is that as the game advances and things get faster and faster, there really is no time to get your body behind the ball. In college men’s volleyball, a ball coming at 65-75 mph is going way too fast for you to actually get your body in front of if you aren’t already in a perfect position. In women’s it would be the same as 50 to 55 mph balls come flying extremely fast at the top levels. So then the linear model has to be adjusted. Many coaches instruct the girls to move sideways and sort of shift behind the ball when they contact it to keep the linear passing model. The problem I have with this is the physics behind it. When you contact the volleyball on your platform, it is only there for a fraction of a second, almost instantaneously. Regardless of what you are trying to do with your body, the only thing that matters is what position your body and passing platform are in, the instant the ball contacts your forearms to pass. So the way that coaches teach to overcome this is by creating an angle with your platform….which is what non-linear passing is all about.
With the non-linear passing model it addresses a few of the aforementioned problems. The key to non-linear passing is that you face where the ball is coming from and create an angle with your platform to direct the ball to the setter or target.
The difficulty with non-linear passing is that you let your platform do all of your work. While moving your feet and passing at your mid-line is still encouraged, the angle of the platform is truly all that matters, so I see a tendency from most athletes to stop moving to the ball. There is a tendency to stand and reach and even, in my opinion, a tendency for the athletes to stop reading the play as much on the other side of the net because body position behind the ball isn’t stressed as frequently.
The positives to the non-linear passing model are the answer to all the linear models questions. When the speed of the game increases, the non-linear model allows you to move your arms only, meaning you can beat the ball easier if it is within arm’s-length. The physics work as the angle of your platform is set a split second before the ball makes contact, giving the ball the correct trajectory regardless of if your body is moving or not.
If the passing models were truly as simple as I just explained, coaching would be simple. Within these two models there are hundreds of variations, and beyond that there is the method of teaching that will vary with each coach. What cues or keywords, what they emphasize the most and what background each athlete came from gives many more variables.
What passing model do you use? Why do you use it?
See you on the court!