How to Dive in Volleyball: 9 Steps to the Perfect Volleyball Dive
Updated: Jan 17, 2019
This is my chin today, from one simple mistake made 11 years ago…
Basically, this article is what I should have read when I was just starting out.
So let’s do what we can to make sure the same fate doesn’t meet the chins of you nice people.
How to dive in volleyball: This post will give you an extensive guide and tutorial for how to dive in volleyball. I’ll share the best beginner diving drills, demonstrate the proper volleyball dive technique, and hopefully teach you how to not be afraid to dive in volleyball.
What is a dive in volleyball?
When to dive and when to roll;
How to dive: Tutorial in 6 Steps (with video and photo);
How to overcome the mental block;
How to get comfortable diving; and
How to practice diving by yourself: One simple drill.
First thing’s first.
What is a volleyball dive?
Often called the swan dive, or sometimes the volleyball dolphin dive, this is a technique used in volleyball to keep the ball alive in difficult situations.
In defense, when the ball is travelling low to the ground, sometimes it isn’t possible to rely on the 5 Skills of Volleyball to play the ball up or over.
The volleyball dive is a technique used to quickly get part of your body--your hand or forearm--under the ball to continue the rally.
Our volleyball ancestors realized that when you play a ball that’s already close to the floor… you’re probably going to fall to the floor, too.
In this way, the volleyball dive can be thought of as a technique to control how you fall to the floor, while still playing the ball.
While you can always throw yourself at the ball with spirit and desperation, simply hoping not to hurt yourself, it really just takes one awkward fall to ruin the fun for weeks (possibly months).
There may come a time when learning how to dive properly in volleyball will save you a lot of pain and missed defensive opportunities:
That’s what this tutorial is here to help with.
What’s the difference between a volleyball dive and roll?
The main difference between a volleyball dive and roll is which part of your body makes contact with the floor.
During the swan dive, your chest will take a large part of the load on your fall--as you move forward through the ball and slide across the floor, it’s your arms and chest that break the fall.
During a volleyball roll, on the other hand, your thigh and hip will hit the floor first. After playing the ball, you should be able to roll your body over quickly to stand and move on to the next play.
Generally speaking, we can break it down into two main situations when you might need to dive or roll:
The Volleball Dive: When you are chasing a ball, running or stretching far out in front of you to play the ball.
The Volleyball Roll: When the ball is to your side and just out of reach.
Again, both techniques are really just about how you hit the floor.
Following common sense can actually take you a long way.
When the ball is far in front of you and you want to play it, which part of your body is most likely to hit the floor?
Your chest, right? So a dive just makes the most sense.
When the ball is flying by your side, will it really be possible to turn and land on the floor with your chest? What if the ball is much closer to your body, and you really just want to get a part of your body behind it quickly?
For those situations, a volleyball roll makes the most sense.
What is the proper way to dive in volleyball?
I'm going to teach the technique I'm most familiar with, the swan dive, as it's what you'll see all the way up to the highest levels of international volleyball.
However you want to do it, though: The main goal is to find the most comfortable way of playing the ball when falling to the ground in unavoidable.
Volleyball Diving Technique: The Full Tutorial
This is slightly more in-depth variation of how I learned to dive.
I've added in a few steps which I think will be useful for beginners, along with giving a detailed explanation at each step.
9 Steps to the Perfect Volleyball Dive
Step #1: The Worm
Yep. If you learn one thing from this tutorial, it’ll be a new (okay, ‘old’) dance move.
It’s not actually as bizarre as it sounds, and this step will help your body learn the movement it’s supposed to do as it strikes the floor.
I also like to start with this step for two more reasons:
It helps you become a little more comfortable making contact with the floor on your chest; and
It can be a bit of fun.
The second point is actually pretty important.
As we’ll talk about in a later section, one of the major barriers to diving in volleyball is the mental block. The paralyzing fear of actually diving to your death (at least, that’s how it can feel).
By starting with the worm, you might just a get a couple of laughs in and make the whole experience a little less daunting.
Step #2: Supermans
This is probably the number one reason I see young and developing volleyball players fear the dive:
They’re trying to dive from too high up.
When you begin diving from a standing position, it’s kind of like learning how to drive in a Ferrari:
Everyone wants to do it, but someone is probably going to get hurt in the process.
Instead, why not practice how to dive in increments that actually make sense.
The first step, I believe, is to practice the dive from as close to the floor as possible.
This is the Superman step, and it’s how I recommend all players learn how to dive.
Should I use a mat to practice diving?
Yes. As progress into the later steps, you can play around with using the mat and just diving straight to the floor.
Honestly, the mat is a great way protect your chin in the early stages, and it’ll just give you some confidence to try out the movement.
Start in a low position, with one foot slightly in front of the other.
Staying in this low position, push forward across the floor, catching your body on your hands and sliding through the movement.
Practice touching your hands and chest to floor as close together as possible. You can start by taking your bodyweight on your hands and lowering your chest to floor, but eventually you’ll do better to practice taking some of the force on your chest and getting comfortable with this feeling.
Step #3: One Step Superman
Again, we’re going to be staying low for this one.
In volleyball, it’s rare that you will ever begin a dive from a standstill position.
Most likely, you’ll be chasing down a ball, or you will take a few quick steps before completing the dive.
This is a warm-up exercise for our end goal: the Running Swan Dive.
One step superman:
From your staggered superman position, you’ll take one step forward with the alternate foot.
Staying low for the entire exercise, continue the movement just as you did in Step 2 for the Superman exercise.
You should have a little more momentum this time, and it takes some more co-ordination:
But the idea is basically the same, just with a new step added in.
Continue doing this until you feel like you’re comfortable leaving the ground off both legs and going into the superman move.
Step #4: One arm Superman
Okay, time to actually start thinking about playing the volleyball.
We’re going to take away one of your arms in this step: but don’t worry, you’ll get it back in time to complete the dive.
This is exercise is all about training your body to play the ball, then quickly return your arm for a nice landing.
There’s actually no ball in this exercise, so you can challenge yourself as much or as little as you like.
If it helps, try to imagine making a play on the ball with one arm, then falling down into the superman movement.
Again, we’re just going to start from our standstill superman position, but practice throwing one arm at the ball as we push toward the floor.
Practice this until you feel comfortable making a play with either hand.
Step #5: One arm, One Step Superman
You guessed it, time to put the two together.
Just like in the previous two steps, you’ll be staying low to the ground as you take one extra step into your superman move.
Again, practice throwing one arm out as if to play the ball, then bring it back to your chest as you finish the landing.
Try it out on both legs, with both arms, and if you’re feeling brave: take away the mat on a few repetitions.
Step #6: Supermans with the volleyball
From our low standstill position, there are two ways that we can introduce the volleyball.
With a partner, teammate or coach tossing the ball in front of you.
By yourself, with a backspin toss in front of you (we'll discuss that more at the very end of this post).
Honestly, both methods are fine: as we’ll see later, you can actually teach yourself how to dive completely by yourself with just a few simple drills.
It is nice, however, to practice with a coach or teammate.
For this method, have your partner drop the ball from shoulder height out in front of you.
It’s important to make sure they drop the ball at a good distance, or they’ll actually be doing more harm the good.
An easy way to test this is:
Mark your starting position;
Make a superman move without the ball and stay on the floor;
Have your partner stand in line with where you chest lands on the floor: that will be a good place for them to drop the ball in this first exercise.
If that sounds too complicated, just watch this video: (coming soon!)
As your partner drops the ball, you should already be leaning forward on your toes, staying low and ready to push forward into the superman.
Don’t worry too much about actually making a good play in the first few attempts.
Instead, keep your focus on staying low, clearing the ball away with one hand, and landing with control on the floor.
Step #7: One Step Superman with volleyball
We’re almost there, now.
Like you did in Step 5, make some room to add another step into your superman movement.
Your partner can stay where they were during the last exercise, and you simply take one step back from your starting position.
Exactly as you did in Step 5, push forward onto one leg and reach forward into your superman.
Your partner will drop the ball as they did in the previous step, and again just think about clearing it out of the way and landing with control.
By now, you should be starting to develop some touch for how to hit the floor with your chest, and how to soften the fall with your hands and arms.
Practice this until you’re comfortable contacting the ball each time, and then have your partner add some variation to the drop.
A little further away from you on one drop. A little closer the next.
When the position of the ball changes, it’s important not to stand up straight.
Instead, focus on staying low to the floor wherever you are, and make a diving movement no matter what--even if the ball landed two seconds ago!
Step #8: 10 Free Dives
This may sound like a punishment, but think of it as the last piece of work before the ultimate reward.
What you’ll do in this exercise is practice diving with a bit more momentum:
And from several more steps.
It’s important to know that nothing is really changing in this step.
You’ve already done several repetitions of the One Step Superman, and this really isn’t any different.
You’re just taking a few more steps before you make the exact same movement.
Here’s how it’ll go:
Running back and forth between baselines (or whatever space you have available) make a dive at each end.
Get up quickly, turn around, and repeat the movement 10 times.
You’ll be learning how to hit the floor from a few different angles, while also learning the quickest way to stand up after you dive--another important skill that goes hand in hand with defense.
After you’ve done that 3 times, you should be ready to try out the final product.
Step #9: The Running Swan Dive
This is what it’s all been leading up to, and if you’ve mastered each step you should be ready.
If you are practicing with a partner, have them stand 10-15ft away from you to begin with.
Have them toss the ball directly up, so that you can practice make a running dive without too much variation to start.
Putting everything together from the previous steps, as you approach the ball, I can’t stress one thing enough:
‘Remember to stay low to the ground.’
If you get too excited and dive from a standing position after everything we’ve been through in this tutorial, me and my chin will be a little upset.
Again, who cares about where the ball goes in your first few attempts.
The main things are to:
Focus on moving quickly to the ball;
Stay low to the ground as you approach the ball;
And feeling confident that you arms and chest will break your fall after you’ve played the ball.
Again, when you put it all together, hopefully it looks something like this:
(Video coming soon)
How to not be afraid to dive in volleyball
I wish there were some magical secret, but the honest answer is practice.
In fact, breaking down the diving process into incremental steps like in the Tutorial above is about the best way to approach diving without fear.
As you complete each step, you’ll build confidence and realize that it isn’t so scary falling to the floor after all.
I won’t downplay this factor though: being afraid to dive can be a powerful feeling, and it can really paralyze some players.
For that reason, take as long as you like with the above tutorial, and stick with the mats until you’re completely comfortable diving without them.
You don’t need to learn how to dive in one single day, either.
Generally speaking, coaches won’t want to spend too much time on this during practice--there are plenty of other skill to learn, and practice time is valuable.
So practice by yourself!
That’s what this tutorial is for, and if you can go away and spend 10-15 minutes each day working on one step at a time, you should be much more comfortable diving in just one week.
How to Practice Diving By Yourself
When I was first taught to dive (and I split my chin during the second session), I felt like I hadn’t made any progress at all.
So I went home and practiced on our hard tiled flooring.
That probably wasn’t the best idea, but if you can dive on tiles: you can dive on pretty much anything.
What’s most important from this story is that I learned how to practice diving by myself, at home, in my own time.
If you follow the tutorial above, you can actually complete the first 5 Steps without a partner anyway.
Once you hit Step 6, and introduce a ball, this is what I did: and it’s really simple.
It will take a little bit of coordination, but I’m sure you can guys can do it.
To recreate what your partner is doing for you, simply toss the ball low and out in front you with some backspin.
It might take some practice just getting the toss right, but once you have it down you’ll have the perfect home practice partner for diving.
When you’re practicing at home, you might not have the space to complete a full running dive.
Once you’ve nailed the first 8 Steps, just ask your coach or a teammate to finish the last step with you before or after practice: It’ll take 5-10 minutes, and everyone will get to see what you’ve been working on!
Diving in volleyball is often thought of as an advanced skill, but when you break it down into steps, I really believe anyone can do it.
If being afraid to dive is what’s holding you back, then think about it this way:
In one week, you can learn how to dive for the rest of your volleyball journey.
You can spend your entire career afraid to dive and avoiding defensive drills whenever possible!
I hope this tutorial helps. When I searched ‘how to dive’ myself, I couldn't really find a resource which covered each and every step, so I wanted to make one for you guys myself!
Stay posted for the full video version of this post, which will be going live on your YouTube Channel in the coming weeks.
And as always, if you found this resource useful, tag someone who might also benefit from learning how to dive with proper technique.