USA men’s national-team libero Dustin Watten wants to share what he’s learned as an athlete, how he’s inspired and what he’s overcome to get where he is.
In this article, he offers the second lesson from his series about passing:

“He who is best prepared can best serve his moment of inspiration.”
― Samuel Taylor Coleridge

As a receiver, our preparation sets the stage for us to be great – therefore we must work mindfully to build a foundation consisting of two main keys.

  1. An athletic and balanced posture. (which we spoke about yesterday)
  2. Natural space between our arms and our body. (which we will discuss today)

Today we will talk about three different ways to prepare and position our arms before the serve to create the space needed to adjust and provide a great angle on the most difficult serves — using three of the best liberos in the world as examples.

1. Arms down and loose

  1. Our body is in an upright position with our arms down. 
  2. Our arms are away from our body, shoulder distance apart.
  3. Our arms are slightly bent, as our elbows are closed to being locked.
  4. The only thing we have to do, is connect our arms together and lock out our elbows to finish the pass


Erik’s body is in an upright position with his arms straight down, shoulder distance apart.

It’s the simplest technique – and as we will discuss later, simplicity is king in passing because we can repeat the same process and expect the same outcome. The only movement from our base preparation is to connect our fingers and lock in our elbows, in turn, locking in our platform – giving us a long, strong and sturdy platform.

The drawback from this style of preparation of slightly straight elbows, is that it is going to feel uncomfortable creating the initial space from our arms and our body.

I love how simple both Taylor and Erik are passing, there is so much we can learn by watching them.

Naturally our arms will be tighter to our body (compared to the other three techniques) leaving little space for poor tracking of the line of the serve. If our eyes don’t track the ball well, this may leave us tight to the body, where our angle can be disrupted by impact due to contact (more on this later)

2. Arms out and bent. (side note: I use this technique currently)

  1. Our body is in an upright position with our arms bent from the elbow, establishing more initial space from our body
  2. We must initiate movement from the elbows once our wrists connect, making a straight platform with our platform.
  3. We are able to move most efficiently from platform to hands the quickest in this technique.


Salparov (BUL) ready with his arms bent. On float serves, he is able to make a quick decision between arms or hands

The difference between this and the first technique, we are in a more natural position to create space from our arms away from the body (due to our elbows being bent) – this allows us more time to adjust if are either slow or incorrect in our ability to track the line of the serve (ie: the ball floating, side spin, hitting the net, or simply not seeing a correct line of the serve).

Salparov’s style has resonated with me, as it’s how I prepare for receiving float and jump serves

The drawback to beginning in a posture with bent elbows is that we lose time (in tracking the serve) by having to straighten out our arms while the ball is in flight towards us.

3. Arms out and way outside our body.

  1. Our body is in an upright position with our arms are away from our body
  2. Our arms are outside of our body (further than should length)


Zatorski (POL) ready with his arms loose and outside of 

In reception and defense, despite our best efforts, our arms are natural drawn towards our midline in anticipation for contacting the ball. (We will learn more about this tomorrow) 

By starting with our arms much wider that our shoulders, it takes longer for our arms to gravitate towards our midline and we are able to move towards the ball (that is outside our body line) much more efficiently, (as they are still separate from each out) rather than connecting the arms them as a unit and swinging them to our side. As a unit, our platform takes longer to move and when we move our arms as a unit to our side, our hips naturally peal open, away from our target, distorting our angle.

Jenia, Zatorski and Danani (ARG) are dominating servers with this unique and new technique. I will be looking to experiment with this style for the upcoming professional season in Poland.

When choosing your individual way to prepare your arms to receive there are a couple things you should factor in when experimenting with each technique.

  1. Which feels simplest to reciprocate?
  2. Do you like to use your hands to receive as well?
    1. Which technique can you move quickest in changing hands and platform?
  3. Which feels more natural for your arms?
  4. Which naturally gives you more space from your arms and your body?

Put it into practice!


To get a better feel of how the best players in the world prepare their arms to receive, click here to check out the video analysis where we will watch, breakdown and learn from Erik Shoji (USA) Jenia Grebennikov (FRA) Teodor Salparov (BUL) Paweł Zatorski (POL) and Taylor Sander (USA).

Click here if you would like to use this time away from the court and to go all in and 60 minutes of volleyball analytics, at checkout use the promo code: vbmag15 for 15% off the entire 7-day set.

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