Attacking

INTRODUCTION

Attacking the ball is one of the most exciting skills in Beach Volleyball to watch and one of the most enjoyable or frustrating skills to perform. Whether it is a spike or a shot, the words "attacking the ball" are a very accurate description of the mental attitude and the physical actions needed to effectively hit the ball.

GOOD TO KNOW

Attacking the ball in Beach Volleyball is one of the most intricate and violent movements that is performed by an athlete in any sport.

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Wesselink (NED) attacks the ball high above her head
Attacking the Ball – Part 1 of 10 - Introduction

The unparalleled physical and mental demands of performing a sport in soft deep sand that requires an athlete to use their entire body with balanced explosive precision makes the sport of Beach Volleyball remarkably unique from every other sport, including indoor 6 person volleyball.

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Maria Clara (BRA) attacks the ball with an open hand while keeping her chin up and eyes focused on the ball

Seconds before the attacker makes contact with the ball they are 2 to 9 m / 6 to 30' away from where they would like to attack the ball from - and may be on their feet, knees, side or stomach. The attacker also has to rely on their partner to set the ball within 60 cm/ 2' of where they would like to attack the ball from and then needs to time their approach, jump and swing based on their partners set.

attack-300-269The attacker performs these series of explosive movements all while being perfectly balanced, and in full control of their body.

Attacking the ball in Beach Volleyball is somewhat similar to the 'alley-oop' dunk play in basketball, but with many more variables and a much higher degree of difficulty.

The Attack is made up of the approach, and the actual contact of the ball - which is also called the hit.

The Approach is the foundation of contacting the ball and must be performed with disciplined, explosive and balanced movements that look the same each and every time the ball is attacked.

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The contact of the ball during an attack will either be considered a spike or a shot.

A spike is when the attacker contacts the ball with a great deal of power, the ball moves with a lot of speed and has a downward trajectory.

A shot is when the attacker contacts the ball with much less power, thus the ball travels a lot slower compared to the spike. The ball usually has a slight looping or arcing trajectory to it.

When contacting the ball for either the spike or shot, the ball is attacked as high as possible above one's head with an open hand.

TARGET AREAS

The most common target areas for where to hit either a spike or a shot are #1, AWAY from the backcourt defender, and:

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APPROACH

Attacking the Ball – Part 2 of 10 - Approach IThe approach is the foundation of attacking the ball. Whether the attacker wants to spike the ball or make a shot – the intensity, explosiveness and overall look of the approach must be consistent.

If the approach for a shot looks any different than the approach for a spike, a quality opponent will quickly know what the attacker is able to do or not do on any given play. Without a consistently explosive approach and jump, it is not possible to successfully attack the ball with any degree of consistency.

GOOD TO KNOW

A powerful arm swing is useless without a balanced and explosive approach. Invest as much time into the approach as you do into the arm swing.

The approach, like every other skill in Beach Volleyball starts with your feet – it is a very specific movement that takes incredible power, explosiveness, balance and concentration.

2-STEP APPROACH

The most efficient approach in Beach Volleyball is a 2 step approach – this means that as the setter is making contact with the ball you will only need 2 steps to be almost directly under the ball. The steps are not regular steps that are taken when walking or running – the approach combines a step, a lunge and a squat.

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SKILLS BREAKDOWN: 2 Footed Plant

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    2 FOOTED PLANT
  • Start with your feet parallel and shoulder width apart.
  • Get down into a 'chair depth' squat,
  • Keep your arms straight; put them back behind you as far as they can go with the palms of your hands facing up.
  • Keep your arms close to your body.
  • Your arms should be at shoulder level behind you.
  • Feet parallel and arms back.
  • From this position stand up while at the same time swinging both your arms up as high as possible above your head; keep your hands shoulder width apart.

SKILLS BREAKDOWN: Land on Both Feet at the Same Time – Part I

Make sure your feet are parallel rather than staggered (1 foot in-front of the other). If your feet are staggered it is very difficult to control the direction of your jump. When your feet are parallel you can jump both straight up and forward.

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GOOD TO KNOW

Most right handed players initially prefer to lunge forward off of their left foot; most left handed players initially prefer to lunge forward off of their right foot.

Land on Both Feet at the Same Time – Part II

When you get the feeling of Part I, do the exact same thing but now:

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Land on Both Feet at the Same Time – Part III

As you get used to Part II, do the exact same movement, but this time when your feet contact the ground, land in a chair depth squat with your chin and eyes pointed upwards. Landing on both feet in a chair depth squat with your eyes and chin pointing upwards is a very different feeling and balance than landing with your eyes pointed forward.

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SKILLS BREAKDOWN: Jab Step

GOOD TO KNOW

When a mistake is made in attacking the ball, focus on correcting the Approach FIRST, then the arm swing.

The next part to the approach is adding the jab step to the movement. The jab step is a quick step forward in the direction that the set is going.

When the foot that you stepped with (left or right foot) contacts the sand, lunge forward off that foot and land on both feet in a squat position - as you have already practiced.

Practice the jab step part of the approach in the same way you practiced all the other parts – slowly walk through it at first and then make the movement more and more aggressive.

If you were lunging forward off of your left foot while practicing to land on both feet at the same time during the previous drill, then make the jab step with your left foot / quickly step forward with your left leg, land on your left foot and lunge forward, etc.

If you were lunging forward off of your right foot while practicing to land on both feet at the same time during the previous drill, then make the jab step with your right foot, land on your right foot and lunge forward, etc.

MOVE FORWARD / OR BACK

Attacking the Ball – Part 3 of 10 - Approach II

One of the many differences between 2-person Beach Volleyball and 6-person indoor Volleyball is that in Beach Volleyball, the player passing the ball always needs to also put themselves into position to approach / attack the ball. In indoor Volleyball, the player passing the ball is rarely the player who is also attacking the ball.

What this means is that in beach volleyball the player passing the ball not only has to focus intently on passing the ball perfectly, but also must instantaneously change their focus to become the attacker the moment after they pass the ball.

Therefore, as soon as a player passes the ball they need to quickly move forward or backwards so that they are about 2 large steps away from where they expect the set to be placed – before the setter makes contact with the ball.

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Practice getting into position to approach a set by passing the ball up toward the net and on your half of the court from many different areas in the court and then going through the approach. Make sure that you are about 2 large steps away from where you expect the set to be placed – before the setter makes contact with the ball.

In this drill the setter does not set the ball, they will just catch it. This drill is specifically for the attacker to practice getting into position to attack the ball and then go through the approach without having to think about jumping and swinging at the ball.

HAND WEIGHTS

Using light hand weights (less than 1kg / 2 lbs) when practicing your foot work and arm movements is a fantastic way to help your mind and body learn certain skills. Holding a light weight in each hand when practicing the approach movements will allow you to better feel exactly what your arms are doing as well as how balanced your body is.

Make it a daily priority to carefully practice each part of the approach with and without hand weights – perform the movements at game speed and at half speed, paying close attention to all the details.

ARM SWING

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Pen Gao (CHN) contacts the ball with an open hand while keeping his head up

Attacking the Ball – Part 4 of 10 - Arm Swing IThe final part of the arm swing is the actual contact of the ball. Open your hand wide open when contacting the ball. Make sure that the palm and fingers of your hand make contact with the ball.

Many times when contacting the ball you will want your hand to turn over / your wrist to snap in the direction that you want the ball to go in. The ball will travel in the direction you turn your hand / snap your wrist in if you get your entire hand to contact the ball.

Get very comfortable and confident in the feeling of contacting the ball with the palm and fingers of your wide open hand.

GOOD TO KNOW

The approach and arm swing used in 2 person Beach Volleyball is significantly different that the approach and arm swing used in 6-person Volleyball.

SEE YOUR HAND MAKE CONTACT WITH THE BALL

When contacting the ball in Beach Volleyball, the attacker is not looking at where they want to ball to go, the attacker is focused on / looking at the ball. A common habit to overcome is: looking at where you want the ball to go - rather than focusing on making contact with the ball.

You must train your mind and body to create the new habit of actually seeing your hand make contact with the ball. A soccer player needs to see their foot make contact with the soccer ball, a baseball player needs to see the bat make contact with a baseball, a tennis player needs to see their racket make contact with a tennis ball.
A Beach Volleyball player needs to see their hand make contact with the volleyball. Keep your chin up and your eyes focused on the ball when making contact with the ball!

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The #1 reason why a ball is incorrectly contacted by:

  • only part of the fingers or palm, or
  • the wrist

is because the attacker did not see their hand make contact with the ball.

If the ball is not correctly contacted with the entire palm and fingers of the hand every swing, there is no chance for the ball to consistently go where you want it to go.

When practicing the arm swing without the ball make sure that as you finish each swing you are looking up at the palm of your hand, high above your head before you drop your eyes.

GOOD TO KNOW

Keeping your head, eyes, chin, elbow and shoulders up (rather than dropping them) helps you contact the ball as high as above your head as possible.

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Misty May-Treanor (USA) directs the ball by turning her wrist while keeping her eyes up on the ball

WRIST MOVEMENT

When the ball is contacted with an open hand, the direction the wrist turns will greatly affect the direction the ball travels in. Turning the wrist to the left, right or straight ahead when contacting the ball with an open hand directs the ball to go to the left, right or straight ahead.

Turning the wrist to the left, right or straight ahead naturally creates top spin on the ball. Top spin helps the ball move in a straight line as well as drop to the sand sooner (rather than 'floating' in the air).

GOOD TO KNOW

Top spin will occur naturally if the ball is contacted correctly – there is no need to force top spin or try to create top spin on the ball.

SHOULDER MOVEMENT

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Right handed attacker with right shoulder rotated back

Shoulder movement during the attack is when the attacker twists / rotates their shoulders as they are making contact with the ball.

Twisting the shoulders during the arm swing creates a great deal of power in the hit.

Twisting the shoulders during the arm swing incorporates the entire upper torso (back, stomach chest and shoulders) into the hit rather than just swinging at the ball with your arm and part of the shoulder.

Twisting the shoulders occurs during the jump:

The last part of the approach is jumping upwards from a chair depth squat position, feet parallel and shoulder width apart, with both arms straight behind you, shoulder width apart and at shoulder level - (See the 2 Footed Plant).

As the attacker jumps, both arms swing from behind them and upwards, staying at shoulder width apart.

As both of the attacker's arms are getting to shoulder level in front of their body, the shoulders and upper body twist / rotate as the arms both continue upwards.

If the attacker is right handed, their right shoulder rotates back, (so their left shoulder will be pointing slightly forward); if the attacker is left handed; (their left shoulder rotates back, so their right shoulder will be pointing slightly forward).

Attacking the Ball – Part 5 of 10 - Arm Swing II

NON HITTING HAND MOVEMENTS
(also called "off-hand" movements)

The non-hitting hand and arm play a very key role in the arm swing and attack of the ball. The non-hitting hand/arm acts as a mirror image of the hitting hand/arm on the way up during the jump - (does exactly what the hitting hand/arm does)

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The Non-Hitting Hand and Arm:

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Attacker's non-hitting hand high above their head

  • PROVIDES BALANCE AND EXPLOSIVENESS FOR THE JUMP
    Swinging both arms upward as fast as possible all the way above the head helps the attacker jump higher because they are using their entire body to jump, not just their legs.
    Swinging both hands all the way up above the head also provides balance to the upper body because it allows the attackers head and shoulders to move upward without tilting / leaning to one side or the other.
  • HELPS THE SHOULDERS ROTATE BACKWARDS
    Swinging the non-hitting hand high above the head significantly helps the shoulders rotate backwards (left hand above the right eye, if right handed; right hand above the left eye, if left handed) – which allows the entire upper body to be engaged during the arm swing.
  • HELPS THE HITTING HAND CONTACT THE BALL HIGHER
    When the attacker sees their off-hand high above their head, it makes it much easier for them to locate and contact the ball as high as they can reach above their head.
  • CONTROLS HOW MUCH POWER THE UPPER BODY ADDS TO THE ARM SWING

The speed that the shoulders rotate forward is controlled by how quickly the off-hand/arm is pulled down.

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As soon as the off-hand reaches its highest point high above the attackers head, the off hand and arm folds straight down to the attacker's side.

When the off hand/arm folds down to the attacker's side it rotates the shoulders forward, which engages the upper torso into the arm swing.

The faster the off hand /arm folds down to the attacker's side, the more power the upper torso adds to the arm swing – (this is what to do when spiking the ball).

The slower the off hand/arm folds down to the attacker's side, the less power the upper torso adds to the arm swing – (this is what to do when making a line or cut shot).

When folding the off-hand/arm down, make sure to keep it controlled and close to the body.

ELBOW HEIGHT

Attacking the Ball – Part 6 of 10 - Arm Swing III

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Larissa (BRA) with her elbow pointing up at ball and off-hand/arm folded down at her side

The elbow height of the attackers hitting arm is a critical component of the arm swing.

The higher the elbow of the hitting arm is, the higher the attacker will contact the ball. The lower that the elbow of the hitting arm is, the lower the attacker will contact the ball.

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After the elbow of the hitting arm gets above the level of the ears, the forearm and hand can pull back / cock back.

When the attacker pulls back / cocks back their forearm and hand, they keep the elbow height of their hitting arm above the level of their ears.

Keeping the elbow height of the hitting arm above the level of the ears while pulling back the hitting arm and contacting the ball:

  • simplifies the arm swing, and
  • allows for a consistently high contact point.
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Ricardo (BRA) keeps the elbow of his hitting arm above the level of his ears during the arm swing while folding down his off hand and arm

GOOD TO KNOW

The elbow of the hitting hand should be pointing straight up at the ball just before the hand contacts the ball.

.

Attacking the Ball – Part 7 of 10 - Arm Swing IV

GOOD TO KNOW

The use of hand weights while correctly performing the approach and arm swing help speed up the process of making these movements a habit.

HAND WEIGHTS

Using light hand weights (less than 1kg / 2 lbs) is a great way to practice the arm swing (and approach) without the ball. Holding light weight in your hands when practicing the arm swing and approach movements will help bring your full attention to what your entire body is doing.

Make it a daily priority to carefully practice each part of the arm swing and approach, without the ball - with and without hand weights.

BREATHING

GOOD TO KNOW

Unless all the correct movements of the approach and arm swing are a habit, as soon as the body or mind becomes slightly tired during a play, the approach and arm swing movements will not be performed correctly.

Just as when weight lifting, breathe out through the mouth during exertion.

The jump is the most explosive part of the attack – breathe out through your mouth while jumping and then, push any air remaining in your lungs out, as you make contact with the ball.

Breathing out while you jump not only helps you jump more explosively, it also helps loosen your body up so that you can whip your entire upper body at the ball.

Whipping your entire upper body at the ball is far more effective and efficient than contacting the ball with a tight / rigid upper body.

ATTACK THE BALL AS HIGH AS POSSIBLE

It doesn't matter if you are going to hit the ball as hard as you can or if you are going to make a shot, you must attack the ball as high above your head as possible.

Plant your feet, jump explosively and reach as high as possible every time you attack the ball.

do-not-drop-your-elbow-400-141Attacking the Ball – Part 8 of 10 - Arm Swing Velbow-drops-400-131

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Brink (GER) contacting the ball as high as possible above his head

GOOD TO KNOW

Tossing the ball up above your head with 2 hands, following the ball straight up above your head with both your hands and rotating your shoulders back - replicates what your arms do will jumping to attack the ball.

HOW TO TEACH YOURSELF TO ATTACK THE BALL AS HIGH AS POSSIBLE

STEP 1: Hold the ball with BOTH hands at waist level and toss the ball up above your head.

STEP 2: Let your hands follow the ball so they both end up straight up above your head.

STEP 3: As your hands get to the level of your shoulders, rotate your right shoulder back if you are right handed, left shoulder back if you are left handed.

STEP 4: Keep your eyes up on the ball with your chin up and your head facing FORWARD - (DO NOT rotate your head when your shoulders rotate).

STEP 5: Leave both your hands up above your head and simply let the ball drop to the sand.

When you get confident tossing the ball up with 2 hands and having your arms and shoulders go through the entire motion just described in steps 1 -5, (while keeping your body balanced and your head still) – It's time to start practicing making contact with the ball

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GOOD TO KNOW

Hitting the ball / swinging at the ball as hard as you can actually makes your arm swing and timing worse until you learn to consistently contact the ball with your entire hand as high as possible above your head in full control of your body – without jumping.

HOW TO PRACTICE THE TIMING OF THE ARM SWING

→ Practice the exact same techniques as you just did with the ball but this time stand within 3 m / 3' of the net;

→ now add a few more pieces to the drill, including hitting the ball over the net;

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Although both hand techniques need to be mastered, FIRST learn to face the direction you want the ball to go in and make solid contact with the back of the ball.

Hansel (AUT) contacting the back of the ball while keeping her eyes focused up on the ball

May-Treanor (USA) contacting the side of the ball while keeping her eyes focused up on the ball

LINE SHOT

If you are right handed, start on the right side of the court, shoulders square to the net. If you are left-handed, start on the left side of the court, shoulders square to the net.

To hit the ball down the line, as you contact the ball with your open hand, simply turn your hand over / snap your wrist forward / straight in front of you.

Keep your hand high above your head – do not drop it / swing your arm down to your side.

The target to have in mind for where you want the ball to land when doing a line shot is:

  • within 60 cm / 2' of the side line and
  • 60 cm / 2' of the end line;

(this is where the side line and the end line connect straight in front of you.)

CUT SHOT

If you are right handed, start on the right side of the court, shoulders angled to the net / 45° to the net, so that you are facing cross court. If left-handed, start on the left side of the court, shoulders angled to the net / 45° to the net.

To hit the ball cross court / make a cut shot, as you contact the ball with your open hand, simply turn your hand over / snap your wrist straight in front of you, which is cross court.

(This is the same hand and wrist motion you used for the line shot but this time you are facing cross court)

The target to have in mind for where you want the ball to land when doing a cut shot is so the ball lands cross court within:

  • 3 m / 10' of the net and
  • within 1 m / 3' of the cross court line

You are now learning how to face the direction you want the ball to go in and make a line shot or a cut shot - while developing timing, a consistent arm swing and contacting the ball high above your head.

Attacking the Ball – Part 9 of 10 - 2 Player DrillsTIMING OF THE ATTACK

You have been practicing contacting the ball without jumping and without a partner – now it's time to add the jump into the arm swing – with or without a partner.

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Gomes (GEO) jumping straight up under the ball and contacting it with an open hand

GOOD TO KNOW

Because there are so many different moving parts to the attack – Be patient with the process of learning each individual technique.

GOOD TO KNOW

Practice ALL of the basic techniques individually and collectively, in slow motion and at game speed.

STANDING APPROACH

In this drill, you can practice with your partner or individually.

If you are practicing individually (without a partner), do everything that you were doing when practicing the line and cut shot without a partner, but this time toss the ball up even higher (at least 2 m / 7' above the net) and jump up while going through the arm swing motion.

You will not have any approach – all you are going to do is toss the ball up, adjust your feet to get under the ball, squat down into a chair depth 2 footed plant, jump up and attack the ball high above your head.

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If you are practicing with a partner, one partner starts with the ball - they can hand set or just toss the ball straight up about 2 m / 7' above the net, and so the ball would land within 1 m/3' away from them and within 1 m/3' of the net.

The attacker is not going to have any approach – the attacker slightly adjusts their feet to the direction that their partner tosses or sets the ball, gets into their chair squat depth, 2 footed plant, jumps up, and sees their hand make contact with the ball high above their head - following all the techniques that have already been practiced.

Get used to attacking the ball as high as you can without any approach because it is part of the game.

There are times in a game that the attacker will not be able to get a full approach so they must be confident in their ability to jump aggressively out of the sand and contact the ball as high as possible above their head without stepping into the jump / the approach.

When the attacker is able to aggressively jump up without an approach and contact the ball solidly with their entire hand high above their head, the next step needs to be added.

FULL APPROACH DRILL

The best way to learn the full approach and arm swing is with a partner (although it can be practiced without a partner).

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For this drill, the setter starts with the ball, the setter can either hand set or toss the ball straight up - about 3 m / 10' above the net so the ball lands within 1 m/3' away from the setter and within 1 m/3' of the net.

GOOD TO KNOW

It takes approximately 10,000 repetitions of a specific technique to develop a true habit – by consciously practicing the correct technique; the best possible habit will be developed – by consciously or unconsciously practicing a bad technique, a bad habit will be developed.

The attacker starts about 2 large steps away from where they expect the set to be placed.

As soon as the setter tosses up or sets the ball, the attacker:

  • jab steps in the direction that the set is going, then
  • lunges forward and lands on 2 feet directly under the ball in a chair squat position,
  • aggressively jumps up and goes through the entire shoulder twist and arm swing motion
  • contacts the ball with their entire hand as high as they can reach above their head.

This is exactly how to learn the timing of the attack – start with standing and hitting the ball, add a jump without an approach, then add the approach – practice each of these parts every day, with or without a partner.

As the attacker becomes more efficient with the timing and techniques of attacking the ball when the setter starts with the ball, there are many more practice drills that can be added to replicate the variables that occur in specific game situations.

KEY POINTS

  • Move forward or backwards so that you are within 2 - 3 m / 6.5 – 10' away from where you expect the set to go - before the setter makes contact with the ball.
  • After the setter makes contact with the ball, take a quick step (jab step) in the direction the set is going.
  • Make an explosive lunge step forward off of the foot you land on so that you land almost directly under the ball.
  • Land on both feet at the same time in a deep squat /crouch with both arms straight behind you as far back as they can go, and with the palms of your hands facing up and your body balanced.
  • Keep your eyes up on the ball.
  • Explosively jump upwards while swinging both arms up as quickly as possible and breathing out through your mouth.
  • As the arms are swinging upward and are reaching the level of the shoulders, twist the shoulders so that the right shoulder (if right handed, left shoulder if left handed) is rotated back.
  • Keep your head up, still and your eyes looking up at the ball (don't rotate the head with the shoulders or drop the head).
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Heuscher (SUI) contacting the ball with perfect form

GOOD TO KNOW

Continually attempting to jump and hit the ball as hard as possible before learning how to keep your body balanced throughout all of the steps of the approach and arm swing can easily stop the development of a player because it ingrains bad habits that are very difficult to correct.

Attacking the Ball – Part 10 of 10 - Key Points
  • Bring both hands up above the head as high as possible, get both elbows above the ears before cocking back the hitting hand and forearm
  • If right handed, reach the left hand as high as possible above the right eye - (if left handed, reach as high as possible above the left eye).
  • As soon as the non-hitting hand reaches its highest point above the left or right eye, pull that hand down / fold that arm down to the side.
  • As the non-hitting arm is folding, point the elbow of the hitting arm straight up at the ball while rotating the shoulders forward/whipping the upper body, arm and open hand at the ball - as high as possible above the head.
  • Contact the back or side of the ball with an open hand while snapping the wrist in the direction you want the ball to go in.
  • See your hand contact the ball
  • Breathe out any remaining air in the lungs as contact with the ball is made.
  • The only difference between attacking a shot or a spike is how quickly and with how much power the upper body, arm and open hand is whipped at the ball.
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