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As a referee, How do you differentiate good sets from bad sets?

I'm a beginner volleyball ref. One of my main challenges is identifying double hits. I scanned the USAV rules and didn't see anything obvious about what is and isn't legal. I understand that a set must be "clean" and you must touch it with all the fingers simultaneously. I think the set happens so fast that I am not sure I'm actually seeing one finger/hand touch it any sooner or later than the other fingers or hand. In reality, I don't see how a human can touch a ball legally given the definitions I've heard of how to set a ball.

  • Welcome. Resource requests are off-topic on Sports SE, but we encourage content that is expertise and experience-based, so I have slightly altered your question to further clarify your point of view. If you feel I have altered it too much, do not hesitate to roll back. – user527 Mar 4 '16 at 1:39
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Welcome to the "Art of Refereeing"! I think the best answer to this is from the foreward to the FIVB rulebook (page 10):

a good referee will use the rules to make the competition a fulfilling experience for all concerned.

Double touches and carries are always going to be judgement calls on the part of the referee, and how you make those calls should depend on the skill level of the participants. If you're refereeing a beginners' league, then you should allow more leeway when judging a double touch or a carry than you should if you're refereeing the Olympic final - if you used the Olympic standard in a beginners' tournament, you'd probably end up calling a fault on every single set and that isn't going to produce a fulfilling experience for the players.

The question this obviously leaves is how do you know how strictly to call faults in any particular competition - the answer to that is probably to watch some matches in the competition and see how plays are called, and then set your standard to match that - as that's what the players in the competition will expect. Of course, if the organising committee for the competition has given guidance to be more or less strict on a particular point, then follow that as well.

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My advice would be to carefully watch the warming up at the net. Although you might be tempted to watch the attackers, try to watch the setter. They will clearly show (e.g. through facial expressions) whether or not they're happy with the set, not only result-wise (could the attacker hit it), but also technically.

You will get a good feel for their own expectations; try to match those with your own judgement during the game.

Secondly, take the context of each set into consideration; standing still with a pass arriving spot-on 'deserves' a better set than one the setter has to run for and direct in an awkward angle. Also, a non-setter who takes over the set can be allowed some more clumsiness.

Many referees will also use signs as 'the ball turned more than once around its axis after the set', or try to hear the double-touch. Be sure to only use this sign as a backup for your other observations, weighing these in with your own experiences.

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I would turn things around. If you can definitely see - in real time - more than one touch during the set (ie touches by separate fingers or hands were definitely not simultaneous) then that is the only time you can call a double hit. As the answer from Philip Kendall explains, your definition of "not simultaneous" may be stricter for high level teams and more lenient for beginners.

Remember that ball handling is one thing that players may never question the referee on - as it is quite context dependent. However it is up to you to draw a line and maintain it - throughout the match. Always try to use the technical terminology (catch and throw) rather than informal terms (like carry).

  • Pedantically, the term is "catch", not "catch and throw". FIVB Rule 9.3.3. – Philip Kendall Apr 28 '16 at 8:34

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