Volleyball Overhead Digging – How to Dig High Balls?

Read about volleyball overhead digging.

Ability to dig an approaching ball by hands above the shoulder level is an important skill for the modern volleyball player. This overhead digging could also be called "open hand Digging"

Playing Defense "Around the Clock"

Have you heard any volleyball coach using term “playing defense around the clock” – to describe the player’s ability to play the ball 1) in front, 2) on the side or 3) above the head?

What do we mean by that?

On this page, we use "times" (11 o'clock, 12 o'clock or 1 o'clock) to describe the position you contact the ball.

Players use “overhead digging” when the ball is on the 12 o’clock position directly above your head. Or 11 or 1 o’clock position when you contact the ball on the left or right side of your head.

(We hope you understand what we mean by that? 11 o’clock is on the left, 12 o'clock is in the middle and 1 o'clock is on the right side.  Well, if you look at the situation from your own point of view..)

Volleyball Overhead Digging – “How to Perform Overhead Dig”

Naturally player takes the basic defensive position first - being ready to play the ball by the forearm dig - or alternatively by the “overhead” dig, if the ball travels high towards head.

This "12 o’clock"-dig (in which player contacts the ball directly above or in front of head) is very close to the volleyball setting – with a difference that player should tighten the fingers and push hand slightly closer together.

Fingers need to be tightened so the ball doesn’t come through the hands.

When contacting the ball, the defender should perform "a set” – by keeping shoulders, triceps, wrist muscles “strong and steady”. It is surprising but you need strength in this dig - usually players with strong shoulders and arms are able to perform this dig well.

Volleyball Overhead Digging – “Open Hand Dig” - the Ball on the Side

"11 o’clock" and "1 o’clock"- digs are slightly different than "12 o'clock dig". On 11 o’clock defense you dig the ball on the left side of your head. 

You notice the difference when you move this “defensive platform”, in other words your "open hands" to the left side or right side of your head.

Thumb Position

When you move your "open hands" to the left or right, it is (almost) impossible to keep your thumbs pointing at each other, like you do in volleyball setting.  This time you have to move the fingers pointing up.

This is a safety issue also; you fingers are safer when they are pointing up. This finger position is kind of hard to explain, you should try it yourself and you’ll see the difference.

How to Contact the Ball?

When contacting the ball on the 11 or 1 o’clock positions you should let the ball hit the platform of your two open hands.

Both of your palms should form like a “cup” platform. Your fingers “take off the speed” of the ball – and help you to direct the ball to the defender. You should not hit the ball with the palms only – otherwise the ball bounces and you can’t control and direct the ball.

High Ball! Off the Net!

Hand position is similar to the blocker who is late and tries to take off the speed of the ball. Of course the defensive player’s purpose is to dig the ball straight up (unlike the blocker). It is extremely difficult to target this defensive ball to specific location on the court. Therefore the defensive player should just try to dig the ball high and off the net.

Volleyball Overhead Digging Alternatives

One Hand Dig – “For Emergencies Only”

This should be used only as an emergency hit and only if nothing else is possible, since there are better and more controlled ways to play the ball.

When the ball shoots high speed above the head level, the only way to save the ball could be to pop the ball up by left or right hand palm.

This could be a useful hit for back court defenders to save balls, which have touched the blocker’s hands and are flying high behind the back line (if the overhead digging/setting can not be used.)


Could be used in the same situation as above - when the ball is flying high above the player.

Player lifts both arms up above the head – to form a platform by putting fists together and closing other fist inside the other one. (Player could also form the platform simply by putting flat hands together and using the “side of the palms” to hit the ball).

This hit is used often in Beach Volleyball, but since there are better ways to play the ball in Indoor Volleyball, this is not very recommended way to contact the ball.

Related Pages for Volleyball Overhead Digging

Go to Volleyball Digging section on the Volleyball Skills page.. you'll find the link down below.

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