Four Effective Volleyball Combination Plays

Updated on April 14, 2020
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I love the sport of volleyball and enjoy sharing strategies to help teams win.

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In volleyball, teams often run a quicker offense in order to be more efficient. What is meant by quicker is that the middle hitter will attack a very fast set while the outside attackers will also hit a set that is about the height of the antenna at its peak.

That sometimes is not enough, though, and it becomes necessary to move the hitters around in order to create confusion or an overload situation (three hitters against two blockers). This article will highlight four plays that are designed to put your hitters into more beneficial situations.

  1. The Cross Play
  2. The Trip Play
  3. The Stack Play
  4. The X Play

Offense Defined

For the sake of this article, the offense will be labelled by a number system:

  • For location along the net, the number signifying the left antenna will be a one.
  • For each step a person would take across the net, moving left to right, you would add another number until reaching the right antenna, and that would be a nine.
  • For height, a quick set will be a one, antenna height would be a two, and anything higher than the antenna a three.


For example, a high outside set would be a 13. A quick set in front of the setter would be a 51. A high backset would be a 93. The setter typically stands in the six spot along the net. A quick set behind the setter then would be a 71.

When listing a playset, for the sake of this article, the outside hitter's set will be listed first, then the middle hitter's, followed by the right-side hitter.

These playsets can be implemented into serve-receive patterns, free-ball offense, or—with high-level teams—in transition.

Playset #1: The Cross Play

The first play in the playbook is called the cross play. In this play, the outside hitter hits a 52, or an antenna-height set right in front of the setter. The middle hitter goes for a 31, and if there is a right-side hitter, they are your outlet if things go badly with your pass and hit a 93.

What you are trying to accomplish with this play is to get your middle hitter matched up on the opposing team's setter. Or, if their middle blocker goes with your middle hitter, then your outside hitter should be all alone in the middle of the court with a ton of options.

So in summary, the playset is 52-31-93.

The cross play.
The cross play.

Playset #2: The Trip Play

The trip play is so-named because everyone goes on a trip to the left. The outside hitter goes for a 12. The middle hitter hits a 31, and the right-side attacker goes for a 52. So all three hitters end up attacking from in front of your setter.

This play is designed to flood the middle and left side of your attacking zone, and you are trying to either get your middle hitter or right-side hitter isolated. Or, if the left side blocker for the opposing team follows your right-side hitter into the middle, a tip back to zone four opens up for your right side.

In summary, the playset is 12-31-52.

The trip play.
The trip play.

Playset #3: The Stack Play

The stack play is a timing play where the aim is to get two hitters jumping at different times against a single blocker. The outside hitter hits either a 42 or 52, depending on your philosophy of running the play on the net or a little bit off the net. The middle hitter hits a 51 while your right-side attacker is the outlet with a 93.

You are trying to make their middle blocker decide who to jump with: your middle attacker or your left-side attack. If their right-side blocker does follow your left-side attacker into the middle, a tip to zone two does open up for them.

This playset is 42- or 52-51-93.

The stack play.
The stack play.

Playset #4: The X Play

The X play is designed as the opposite of the stack play. In the X play, the right-side attacker is the one hitting next to the middle blocker while the outside hitter is the outlet. So the outside goes for a 12, the middle hitter hits a 51, and the right side hits the 42.

The goal is to make the middle choose between blocking the middle hitter or the right-side hitter. If the blockers do adjust and switch, you can also get your middle hitter isolated against their left-side blocker or to have a tip to zone four open up.

The playset is 12-51-42.

The X play.
The X play.

Questions & Answers

  • When playing volleyball, when can the players move to set up their play? Is it before the serve or after the serve?

    They can set up in the serve receive formation prior to the serve as they are still in rotational order. Once the ball is contacted, they are free to move anywhere on the court.


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