So you want to know how to protect against a dink shot, or tip as it is commonly referred to 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 an individual player perspective. That said, I think most of what I have to say will be in both directions.
It starts with attitude
The first element of defending off-speed attacks like dumps and rolling shots is to get into it with a commitment to never let those types of balls hit the ground. Obviously, the overall goal of your defense is to keep the ball from landing on your side of the court. There is a difference here, though. Defending against hardball is mostly about positioning, while digging a mound is about chasing. In many ways, the former is passive and the latter is aggressive. He takes an attacking attitude to play good defense against off-speed balls.
After attitude comes positioning. The players with designated responsibility for coverage of a heap, if any, are determined by the type of defense a team employs. For example, a rotational defense where the right-back player moves up behind the block on an outside hit attack means that the right-back defender is responsible for shots over the block and into the center of the court. In standard perimeter defense there is no designated designated front-cover player, so it is essentially a matter for the player (s) closest to the ball to do the dig.
Expect the shot
This is perhaps the most important part of being good at off-speed defense. Tips, rolling shots, etc. tend to score more because defenders are surprised than because they are well placed. A great example of this is scoring setter dumps when in most teams base defense two players are in a certain position to defend against the first or second ball coming over. If those players expect the setter to dump they will often make a fairly easy play on the ball. If not, they are caught barefoot and the ball drops – the source of many coach gray hairs.
Move through the ball
As noted above, protection against an off-speed shot is often about chasing. A player must move to the ball to make the play on it. In many cases the player has to run to get the ball and may not be able to stop it in time to make a good play. In these cases they need to be able to perform a runoff to the preferred target zone. This is something that requires training for less advanced players as the mechanics involved are slightly different than the usual more static dig or pass.
Done right, with the right attitude and expectation, defending against a mound or other off-speed attack can look pretty easy. Train your volleyball players to have the right attitude, expectations and mechanics and you will frustrate the opposing attackers for no purpose!