So you want to know how to defend against a dink shot, or tip as it is commonly referred to these days. I’m going to look at it from the perspective of a coach trying to improve a team’s defending against these sorts of shots rather than from the view of an individual player. That said, I think you’ll find the bulk of what I have to say relates in both directions.
It starts with attitude
The first element of defending against off-speed attacks like tips and roll shots is to go into it with a commitment not to let those sorts of balls ever hit the floor. Obviously, it’s the general goal of your defense to keep the ball from landing on your side of the court. There’s a difference here, though. Defending against a hard hit ball is mainly about positioning, while digging a tip is about pursuit. In many ways, the former is passive and the latter is aggressive. It takes an attacking attitude to play good defense against off-speed balls.
After attitude comes positioning. The players with designated responsibility for tip coverage, if any, are determined by the type of defense a team employs. For example, a rotational defense in which the right back player moves up behind the block on an outside hitter attack means that right back defender is responsible for shots over the block and into the middle of the court. In a standard perimeter defense there is no specifically designated tip coverage player, so basically it is up to the player(s) closest to the ball to make the dig.
Expecting the shot
This is perhaps the most important part of being good at off-speed defense. Tips, roll shots, and the like tend to score more because defenders are surprised than because they are well-placed. A prime example of this is setter dumps scoring when in most teams’ base defense there are two players specifically placed to defend against the first or second ball coming over. If those players expect the setter to dump they will often make a rather easy play on the ball. If not, they are caught flat-footed and the ball drops – a source of many a coach’s grey hairs.
Moving through the ball
As noted above, defense against an off-speed shot is often about pursuit. A player must move to the ball to make the play on it. In many instances the player has to run to get the ball and may not be able to be stopped in time to make a good play. In these cases they need to be able to execute a run-through dig to the favored target zone. This is something which requires training for less advanced players as the mechanics involved are a bit different than the normal more static dig or pass.
When done properly, with the right attitude and expectation, defending against a tip or other type of off-speed attack can look quite easy. Coach your volleyball players to have the right attitude, expectations, and mechanics and you will frustrate the opposing attackers to no end!