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The Lo-Down: Tempo Time
Photo Credit: Eric Francis

The Lo-Down: Tempo Time

October 17, 2017

There are few games as fast-paced as volleyball. Because the ball is always in motion and a point is scored on each rally, it might seem like there’s only one tempo to the game – fast. But while things are always moving pretty quickly, an offense is varying its tempo based on how it wants to or how it can attack.

These three tempos are used throughout volleyball, though they may be called different things program to program, and today were going to explain what each one means.


This is the quickest tempo in volleyball. A zero set is one that goes from the setter to the middle, and, if the team is in system, there shouldn’t be a lot of distance between the two. That makes this set a real quick hitter. The middle will only have the last step of her approach to get up and attack a set at this speed, so it typically requires a perfect or near-perfect pass or dig. It also requires a precise set from the setter.


You could consider this the most common tempo in volleyball as it is an in-system set to the outside. In a one-tempo attack the setter will look to set to the pin hitters – left front and right front – and they will have the last two steps of their approach to attack the ball. This is the second-quickest tempo in volleyball and requires an offense to be in system. At Nebraska the setters are taught to put the ball right at the pin or just inside of it.


Tempo-two sets are also going to the pin, but these happen when a team is out of system. When the pass or dig is too far off the net, the setter might have to make an emergency move or another player, often the libero, may have to put up a hittable ball. Whoever ends up handling the set is looking to put up a high ball so the attacker has time to get there. The hitter should be able to take a three- or four-step approach when attacking, which offers options but the defense will also likely have time to set its block. At Nebraska players are taught to put tempo-two sets about one foot inside the antenna, about one foot off the net and well above the antenna in terms of height to allow the hitter the best opportunity.

Most teams prefer to run a “fast” offense. There are a few reasons for that, but the biggest one is that a quick tempo is simply more difficult to defend. When a team goes quick, it’s harder for the defense to read where the setter is going with the ball. That makes it more difficult for the blockers to get there. Quicker tempos are deceptive and can be successful, but the offense has to be able to pass. If the setter is constantly having to run all over the place to track down passes it is hard to put tempo on the sets.

A slower tempo can be beneficial for certain types of teams. If an offense features a lot of tall hitters, and perhaps lacks some athleticism, a slower tempo might suit it better as the hitters are capable of hitting over the block. For teams like that, going quick isn’t playing to its strength.

Want more of The Lo-Down? Find all of Lauren's previous columns here.

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