So you want to know how to defend yourself from a dink shot, or tip, as it is commonly known these days. I’m going to look at it from the perspective of a coach trying to improve a team’s defense against these types of shots rather than from the perspective of an individual player. That being said, I think you will find that most of what I have to say runs both ways.
It starts with attitude
The first element of defending against off-speed attacks, such as tips and rolling shots, is entering with a commitment not to let those types of balls hit the ground. Obviously, the overall goal of your defense is to prevent the ball from landing on your side of the court. However, there is a difference here. Defending against a hard hit ball is primarily about positioning, while digging a spike is about chasing. In many ways, the first is passive and the second is aggressive. An attacking attitude is needed to play good defense against out-of-speed balls.
After attitude comes positioning. Players with designated responsibility for top coverage, if any, are determined by the type of defense a team employs. For example, a rotational defense in which the right back moves behind the block in an attack from an outside hitter means that the right defender is responsible for shots over the block and towards the center of the court. In a standard perimeter defense there is no specifically designated point cover player, so it is basically up to the player (s) closest to the ball to do the digging.
Waiting for the shot
This is perhaps the most important part of being good at off-speed defense. Tips, shots, and the like tend to score more because defenders are surprised than because they are well placed. A good example of this is setter dunks that score when in the base defense of most teams there are two players specifically positioned to defend against the first or second ball to come. If those players wait for the setter to break up, they will often make a fairly easy game with the ball. Otherwise they are caught flat-footed and the ball falls, a source of many gray hairs on the coach.
Moving through the ball
As noted above, defending against an out-of-speed shot is often about pursuit. A player must move toward the ball to make the play. In many cases, 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 must be able to carry out a traversal excavation to the favored target area. This is something that requires training for less advanced players, as the mechanics involved are a bit different than the more static normal digging or passing.
When done correctly, with the right attitude and expectation, fending off a spike or other off-speed attack can seem pretty easy. Train your volleyball players to have the right attitude, expectations and mechanics and you will frustrate opposing attackers to no end!