How to Win the Fifth Set in Volleyball

Women Spiking and Blocking a Volleyball
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The game should never have gone on this long. You and your teammates had your chances, but in the end, you were not able to close the door on your opponent. So here you are at the start of the fifth set.

Regardless of what went on up until this point, the slate has been wiped clean. You've won two sets and they've won two sets. It's a wash. You're now on the verge of a mere ten minutes of head-to-head action for all the marbles.

The fifth set of volleyball is a very different animal than the first four. Unlike the previous games that you played to 25 or 30 points, the fifth set is played only to 15. That means there is little room for error or a lack of focus. 

The pressure is on and you've worked way too hard to throw it all away now. So what do you do to make sure that last point belongs to your side?

Forget About the First Four Sets

You may be at the fifth game because you're playing great against a good team and you may be fired up about that. Or you may be upset with yourself and your team for not closing out the game earlier. No matter what you're feeling about the need for a fifth set to decide the match, it is important to put whatever happened in the first four sets in the past where they belong. Simply put it behind you.

If you had the momentum at the end of the fifth game, ride it as long as you can. Don't expect that momentum to win this last set for you, however. Momentum is fleeting and it can leave you just as quickly as it arrived. Don't expect the fact that you blocked their best hitter a few times in the fourth set to count for anything in the fifth. This is a brand new game and you have to deliver right now to get the win.

Good or bad, what happened before won't help you now. The score has been reset to 0-0. It is time to perform. You are only about ten minutes away from match point. Will this bring out your best or are you going to let this chance slip away? Focus your mind on every point. Don't let the easy ones get away because every point is essential.

When you step out on the court for set five, consider it the first set all over again. One game to 15 for the win. You'll have to clear your mind and take it one point at a time.

Be Smart, But Don't Let Up

You must have done some good things all match long if you've made it to the fifth set. The fifth set is no time to stop doing those things that you have done well. 

Since the fifth set is so much shorter than the previous sets, you may be tempted to let up some: to ease up on your serves to make sure they are in, to go with a roll shot instead of swinging away in hopes that your opponent will make the mistake. However, that is not what you did throughout the match, and it is not wise to alter your approach. 

Sure, you need to be smart about being aggressive. Don't swing as hard as you can into a solid block and get roofed. But if you see a hole in the block or have the opportunity to tool it off the outside hand, go for it.

Don't go for the jump serve ace if you haven't been getting them in all match, but serve tough and serve strategically. Is there a particular passer that's been having trouble? Is the other team having communication issues when you place the ball between certain passers? Continue to exploit the other team's weaknesses in the fifth set.

Remember that giving your opponent an easy serve is like handing them the point. Make them work for everything. Continue to take them out of their offense. Rely on the skills that you have practiced. You know how to serve a tough ball that will land inbounds and right where you want it to.

Find the Hot Hand

You've had four sets to analyze who has been delivering for your team and who hasn't. Now is not the time to go away from what has been working for you. If your outside hitter has been tooling the blockers at will, go back to them when it counts. Make the defense stop them. Pay attention because the hot-handed hitter could change over the course of the match.

For that exact reason, you don't want to neglect your other hitters either. It could be that your go-to guy is tired. He or she may have nothing left in that shoulder. If that is the case, use him or her wisely. Setting the other hitters regularly will keep your opponent's blockers honest - they won't be able to commit on your best hitter every time.

Also, take note of which of your teammates tends to deliver when the pressure is on and who fades into the background. There are always certain players that want the ball when the game is on the line and others that shy away. Keep a mental log of who's who on your team and go to your clutch hitter when it matters.