This article was written by Scott A. Paluso as part of certification for CAP II accreditation.
The riddle offense.
Let me start by saying that this offense is not for everyone. It came about as a solution to a unique set of athletes as a way to tap into their strengths and create a system that worked for our program. Even though your personnel may not fit into this particular system, maybe it will spark some creative thoughts that can help you make your offense more effective.
We run a 6-2. The reason for this is that our conference had some very high caliber outside hitters that demanded a solid right-side block. The setters in our program were not the tallest players on the roster and were not capable of putting up the block we needed to compete. This is a scenario that many coaches face.
We also had three middles that were very good off one foot behind the setter as well as being three of our best hitters. Running the 6-2 does not lend itself to the slide as much as a 5-1. It is still possible to run the slide and have the right-side come around, but even if we did that with two of the hitters that were good at slides, we were not utilizing the strength of the third.
I also noticed that if we did not put the ball down with the slide, our middles were having a hard time recovering back to the middle of the court to get back into good blocking position, especially if the opposing setter went right back to their outside hitter as our middle was busting it back to the middle, who then had to change directions again.
Capitalizing on strengths to create the "riddle"
So, the challenge was to capitalize on their strengths while preventing us from getting into bad situations. Instead of having one of the middles not play or converting one of them to just play right-side, we decided to train our middles and our right-sides as one position. I called them “middle rights.” One of my players decided it would be better to switch it to “right middles” and then shorten it to “riddle.” So instead of having middles and right-sides we now have “riddles” and thus the “riddle” offense was born.
This allowed us to do a couple of things. First, when our middle ran a slide, instead of recovering back to the middle to block, she would just stay on the right side. Second, it allowed us to get creative with our offense. We were able to run either of our two-front row “riddles” on slides in any serve receive rotation.
For example, In rotation 1 when our setter is in zone 1, our left side hitter is in 2, and we have a “riddle” in 3 and 4, we would typically stack all three hitters left and our standard play would be having one of the “riddles” run a slide, the other run a quick set in front of the setter, and the left side hit a 4 (high ball to outside).
Then, the very next time we were in the same rotation we could have the “riddles” change routes to keep the defense guessing on who the “middle” was and who was running the slide. From those base routes we could do a lot of other route combinations, including running slides in front of the setter, crossing routes with the outside and multiple quick combinations. In rotations 2 and 3 we could do similar creative combinations.
Our “riddles” really like this since they are the focus, and they feel that they can use their best approach in just about any situation. Our outsides like it because they are getting more single block situations since the blockers have to focus so much on what the “riddles” are doing. Our setters love it more than any other position because they get to be super creative with the routes they call.
In transition, since the strength of our “riddles” is off one foot, we have them both transition off the net next to each other. The one in the middle would transition like a normal middle, but the “riddle” on the right side would transition just to their right to a more interior position. This would allow either of them to run the slide, which is their best approach. We call the slide from the “riddle” on the right an interior slide (probably not the most accurate terminology since the middle slide is more interior on the court, but our kids understand that it refers more to their transition position then the hit itself).
As with any system, there are limitations. First and foremost is the importance of the pass. This can be said for just about any offense, but with this system since two hitters are usually running up-tempo sets, most out of system plays in serve receive go to the outside or the back row. In transition, if we have an out of system pass, our “riddle” who is on the right side will step out of her interior position to a more traditional right-side position to hit on the right pin off two feet.
Another issue that we encountered is a lefty. We had a solid lefty the second year we ran this offense who did not like being in the middle, so we did two things. First, we would tell her and the “riddle” that was in the front row with her to switch if they had time to keep our lefty on the right as much as possible, where she was more comfortable like a traditional offense.
Second, we also trained her to go off one foot but in front of the setter where the middles hit a 31. She really liked this and would commit to working on her blocking from the middle if it meant that she could run this front slide (the classic give and take).
We designed several free ball plays that would benefit from this system as well.
The simplest one that the players liked the most was that our “riddle” in the middle would run the normal slide, our “riddle” on the right would run a low 2 and our outside would run a high outside ball which we are working toward developing into a faster “Go” set.
Another variation was to run the slide and have the right “riddle” run what we call a “Slash,” a low 2 behind the setter that is hit at the same tempo as the slide so that both those hitters are basically in the air at the same time. This overloads the right side of the court and our outsides are just salivating to get set because they are most likely going to be one on one.
There are all kinds of variations and we ask our setters to keep coming up with ideas to try as much as possible to find out what works.
As I said, this is not for everyone and it will be ugly at the beginning, but that is how we learn and get better. Our team has really bought into this system for a couple of reasons. First, they see that we are creating a system using their strengths and the things that they are good at to put us in situations where they can be successful. Second, it has given them ownership since we created it with their input and feedback, so they feel like it is their offense.
Most importantly, it is fun for them.
When something is fun for the players they are happier and when they are happier they give more effort. If you have the personnel to run something like this, give it a shot, but even if you don’t maybe this can help you think outside the box and create a system of your own that plays to your strengths and gives your kids the chance to use their talents. Creative offense is a “riddle” that we all need to solve.