How to Dig a Volleyball

Three Parts:Preparing for the DigExecuting the DigAdapting the Dig

A dig is one of the basic moves in volleyball,[1] but doing it effectively is a challenge, especially when attempting to save a hard spike from hitting the ground (or your face!). Done properly, digging a spike is not simply a defensive maneuver -- preventing the opponent from scoring -- but the transition into your team’s offense. Proper preparation, positioning, and technique are critical to an effective spike dig, but so too is the ability to quickly adapt.

Part 1
Preparing for the Dig

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    Study the opposing hitter(s).[2] Watch him/her in warmups before the game even starts, if you can. Watch his/her hitting motion on spikes and take note of any tendencies that might give you a split-second advantage in knowing where a spike is headed.
    • Keep an eye out for “tells.” Does he strongly favor spiking to his left? Does she exaggerate her backswing when faking a spike?
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    Watch the hitter’s motion as you prepare to dig. Even deceptive spikers tend to align their shoulders in the direction they intend to hit.[3] Take an educated guess on where the ball is headed, but also don’t assume it has to go there. (Lean a bit that way, don’t “sell out.”)
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    Always expect the ball to come to you. Even if your read on the hitter says you’re in the clear, be prepared to be wrong and to react. Good misdirection spikers are betting on you relaxing.
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    Be light on you feet. This applies generally to volleyball positioning, but especially for digging. Keep your weight forward on your toes so you can move more quickly. There’s a reason why the phrase “on your heels” has a negative connotation.

Part 2
Executing the Dig

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    Get low and lean forward. Get into a low "ready" position,[4] even lower than you would to receive a serve. It is easier to rise up for a high ball than to dip lower for a low one.
    • Keep your knees bent and bend at the waist so that your shoulders are out past your knees. Place your feet wider than your shoulders. Hold your arms out away from your body.
    • Keep your weight balanced on your toes so you can spring forward or to either side to get the ball.
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    Place your arms in a receiving position. When the spike is imminent, stretch your arms, pressed together from hands to elbows, in front of you. Bend and lock elbows.
    • You are creating a “platform” from wrists to elbows upon which the ball will bounce.[5] You’re not a carpenter but a volleyball player, so don’t make it a level platform unless you want the ball to bounce back over your head (or off your forehead). Keep your wrists lower than your elbows to direct the ball forward.
    • To hold your hands together, place your thumbs side by side and overlap the fingers of your stronger hand over the curled fingers of your weaker hand.[6]
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    Move to meet the ball. Remember your footwork, and don’t lunge unless you have to. Otherwise, take a quick step or a shuffle and remain in your ready position. Keep low as you relocate.
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    Aim for your target. Your goal on a dig is not just to get the ball up in the air, but to pass it to a teammate to set up your offensive series.[7] You’ll most likely be aiming for your setter up by the net. Align your body as much as possible towards that target while receiving the spike. Use all that geometry you learned in school to set your platform at the right angle.
    • Aim a little short of your target if necessary to keep from digging the ball back over the net. Don’t give your opponents an easy second chance.
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    Absorb and redirect the spike. You don’t need to swing at the ball; the spiker has supplied all the necessary power (and then some, most likely) for your purposes. Keep your elbows locked and your angle of deflection the same, but let your shoulders dip to absorb some of the power of the shot.
    • Even though you aren’t swinging at the ball, do follow through with your platform, moving your arms slightly upward and towards your target. Think of it as nudging the ball in the right direction.

Part 3
Adapting the Dig

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    Dive and dig. A good spiker won’t always give you the luxury of properly setting your feet and platform to direct the ball cleanly to your teammate. Sometimes, you’re just going to have to hit the floor (or the sand).
    • To dive for a spike in front of you, bend your knees to get even lower and drive your body forward. Your platform and your upper body will be parallel to and close to the ground. Slide on your chest as you hit the ball, ideally on your platform but even with your wrist or knuckles.
    • When you really need to stretch out as far as possible, you can try a “pancake.” Extend your hands, palms down, while you dive so that the ball bounces off the back of your hand(s). Slide on your palms along with your upper body.
    • Keep your head up as you dive. Do this not only so you can see the ball, but so you don’t smack your chin on the ground as you land.
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    Sprawl and dig. Similar to a dive, a sprawl is directed more toward one side or the other. If the ball is to your right or left, step out in that direction and extend outward as in a dive. Dip your inside shoulder (the side away from the ball) while keeping your arms together. This will allow you to maintain the angle of your platform in the intended direction.[8]
    • Bend your elbows more or curl your wrists if necessary to keep them off the floor as you stretch and to maintain at least part of your platform at the correct angle.
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    Get the ball in the air. Proper technique is fantastic and will make you a better and more consistent digger, but in the end, you essential job is to get the ball back up in the air. (They don’t award points for good technique as the ball bounces past you.) Especially on partial blocks or deflections that send the ball on an unexpected trajectory, you may have to lurch your body, flail your arms, and land a little less gracefully. Do what you have to.
    • Unless you’re in the Olympics or something like that, don’t risk injury just to dig a spike, though. Landing awkwardly can cause leg, arm, or even head injuries. Proper equipment, such as knee pads and ankle wraps, will help quite a bit.

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Categories: Volleyball