Kind of like parents telling you it’s illegal to have the light on in the car (I definitely fell for that one), I remember one of my early coaches distinctly telling me:
‘NEVER kick the volleyball if you want to play on my team.’
So, in this post, I thought I’d finally put one long-standing volleyball question to rest:
Can you kick the ball in volleyball? The answer is a resounding ‘Yes’. Kicking in volleyball is perfectly fine, in fact you are allowed to use any part of your body to play the ball. Whether that’s an arm, leg, foot or a head, so long as you only contact the ball once it’s fair game.
In fact, some of the most spectacular plays are made by international players resorting to their feet in one final desperate effort.
And while it certainly IS legal to use your feet in volleyball, this post will dive a little deeper to find out:
When it’s a good idea to use your feet;
If or why you should really try to avoid it;
Why your coach HATES it; and
If kicking is a skill worth practicing in volleyball.
*Have you ever made a great kick save? Leave a comment below telling us about it!
According to FIVB Rules, Yes: You Can Kick the Volleyball
“9.2 CHARACTERISTICS OF THE HIT
9.2.1 The ball may touch any part of the body.”
But it wasn't until 1993 that this rule was enforced.
Prior to this new phrasing, players weren't actually allowed to contact the ball with any part of the body below the waist--kind of like a reversal of the 'handball' rule in soccer.
The idea of this new rule was that players would be freer to make spectacular plays on the ball in defense:
Extending rallies and ultimately making the game more enjoyable for spectators and players alike.
Interestingly enough, the libero position was also brought into the game for a very similar reason. To learn more about the libero role in volleyball, I really suggest reading Volley-Pedia's Compete Guide to The Libero. It's the most extensive resource available on this important volleyball position, and we've slaved for days over it to make sure we didn't miss anything.
But just because you’re allowed to do it, does that mean you should go around kicking the ball whenever possible?
Of course not.
Volleyball is a highly controlled sport. Retired Australian National Team libero, Phil DeSalvo, once put it to me this way:
“In which other sport are you required to take a ball that’s coming at over 60 mph and control it into a 3ft x 3ft box?” (Although, to be fair, he said it in km/h and meters)
Well, that’s service reception at the higher levels, and let’s just say you don’t stand a chance at doing it well with your feet.
So when, if ever, should you use your feet in volleyball?
Actually, there are a few situations when using your feet is perfectly okay.
Here are some common ones that happen almost every game:
Whether by accident or as a last resort, kicking the ball up with your foot can be the only way to save a ball in defense.
In fact, just by standing in the right defensive position, you’d be surprised how often your feet will save the ball… check it out.
At the Net:
No. I don’t mean blocking with your feet like sepak takraw, I mean playing the ball quickly with your feet after a block.
This is actually one of the most common times to use your feet in volleyball. After blocking, you land and turn to see where the ball is in defense, right?
Well, the reaction time is quick. And when your defense has made a great play, but the ball is shooting low at your feet, you don’t have time to bend down and play it with your hands.
Flicking it up with your foot is a common skill, and some setters (particularly Brazilian setters, I wonder why…) are incredibly good at this.
The Chase: The most spectacular foot saves that decorate the walls of popular sites like volleyball-movies.net are the ones you may have already seen. Players jumping over barriers. Sprawling out like madmen, crashing into banners and advertisements--this is what volleyball is all about.
Generally speaking, when chasing down a ball out of court, you’ll have more control performing a swan dive.
*For a detailed guide to volleyball diving without splitting your chin open, check this space as I release my How-To-Dive Guide soon.
However, in drastic circumstances--or when there are obstacles that you don’t really want to be diving into face-first--kicking a leg out at the ball can really be your best option.
Kinda like this:
Why Should You Avoid Kicking the Ball?
Again, this has to do with controlling the volleyball.
Lionel Messi, if you’re reading this and thinking about switching sports to volleyball: You can ignore what I’m about to say.
Controlling the ball with your hands is just easier than using your feet.
Think about the role of the setter: to perform the perfect set, you need to place the ball in a one foot by one foot space. If you can do this with a kick, kudos to you!
Of course, you guys aren’t actually trying to use your feet in reception or in the setter position.
But each time you practice using your feet when the ball drops below waist height, you lose an opportunity. An opportunity to become comfortable controlling the ball with your hands in different situations.
Simply put: when you train, you’re not just ‘getting reps’, you’re instilling habits. Typically, if you practice a habit that has less control (kicking the ball) just because it’s easier, this can hurt you come gameday.
Why Your Coach Hates It
Instilling bad habits is one reason, but there’s another reason your coach is likely to cite:
“Those volleyballs aren’t cheap, you know!”
The idea being that volleyballs aren’t really made for kicking, so it could do some damage and cost the coach or club some money.
So, does kicking a volleyball really ruin it?
To be honest, not really.
Unless you are punting the ball as far as physically possible on a daily basis, using your feet to play the ball won’t do any more damage than serving a 60+ mph jump serve.
However, I will say this:
There are two good reasons that your coach is probably against kicking balls in practice and in matches. And they make a lot of sense.
Kicking balls in practice exponentially increases your chances of losing them.
I couldn’t count how many practices have ended with one player kicking the ball up into the rafters so that it just never comes down.
(Naturally, we then proceed to spend the next 15 minutes throwing more balls at the stuck ball to try and get it down… Okay, I can understand how coaches might not appreciate that.)
2. It probably isn’t the best match etiquette.
While I would definitely kick the ball along the ground when passing it back to servers on the other team, I can see how it may not be the most polite method. Especially in younger leagues.
Just imagine booting the ball out of the server’s reach (something I’m certainly guilty of): it just doesn’t reflect well on your team, and is hardly going to make you a coach's favorite.
Is it a good idea to practice kicking the ball as a skill?
So, I’ve told you that there are a few situations where kicking the ball isn’t just useful--it’s your best option.
I’ve told you why you should avoid it where possible, but that it will still happen from time to time.
So, if it’s something that's bound to happen in a match, maybe you should practice it, right?
Personally, I believe there are a good 25 different skills and situations that you should be spending your time on--especially if you’re just starting out.
Kicking the ball is not one of them.
It’s more of a reactive skill, and as you play more volleyball, you’ll begin to develop a natural touch for it. So don't worry about it!
I like to reward readers who make it to the end of my posts. So here you go, a little bonus tip:
While kicking the ball as a practice drill probably isn’t necessary, it may actually serve as a great warm-up drill.
Having played professionally in Europe, I know what it’s like to warm-up for volleyball with a game of soccer.
Mostly, I’m just trying not to roll my ankle, but when you can get into it, it’s actually more than just a good warm-up.
It's a much-needed mental change.
When you start to play volleyball on a regular basis--when you’re practicing 4-5 times per week--it’s common to start feeling a little burned-out.
Switching things up is crucial. And stimulating your motor cortex (the part of your brain responsible for movement and controlling your body) is actually really important.
*I was lucky enough to study Psychology in college, and it’s also a passion of mine. But I don't want to bore you with it!
Every now and then I’ll try to incorporate some of what I’ve learned about sport psychology into these posts, so you guys can start thinking about your mental game, too.
Let me know if you think that’s a good idea, or if you’d rather I just stick to the more physical volleyball stuff!
In the top teams today, a really common trend is to create fun, challenging warm-ups.
I’m talking about international level volleyball teams balancing things on their head, playing games like Vollis before a big match, and expanding their skill base with new fun and stimulating activities.
So while kicking the ball may not be the first skill you need to learn, it can be a really great way to keep your body learning new movement patterns and skills.
It’s like a mental test for your feet (for me it certainly is) and while you don’t need to be good at it, just kicking the volleyball up to yourself with your feet can be enough to strengthen some important body-mind connections!
Long story short? Yes, you certainly can kick the volleyball.
But when and why you’re doing it is actually more important than knowing that it’s FIVB-legal to do so.
Take a moment to think about the end goal of your team, and if kicking the ball is really the best thing to do. Will it give your team an advantage? Will it put you in a better position to score? Will it save the rally and boost team spirit?!
For another interesting question answered by VolleyPedia, check out our post on whether or not it's okay to block the serve.
You’ve gotta love this sport.
Leave a comment below letting me know if you found this useful, or if I missed any of your questions. I’ll be happy to respond!