Volleyball: Polynesian Style

“Volleyball: Polynesian Style,” New Era, Feb. 1972, 42

Polynesian Style

Latter-day Saint Polynesians from the San Francisco Bay area have become legends in the Church volleyball world. Almost always represented at the now discontinued all-Church tournaments, they walked away with many championships.

People asked, “Why are they such good volleyball players?” And answers such as these would filter back: “It’s in their genes; they have more volleyball chromosomes than people born in Idaho.” Or “It’s because they have a lot of sand in the islands, and running in the sand gives them better volleyball ability.” Or “It’s like perfect pitch—either you have it or you don’t.” And the myths continued.

Ironically, in a game that usually favors the tall, willowy basketball types, the Polynesians consistently have not only the shortest but also the heaviest players.

So in an effort to really find out why Polynesian Saints from San Francisco generally have no peers in Church volleyball, a New Era representative, complete with tape recorder, camera, and note pads, recently spent a fascinating evening discovering some Polynesian volleyball secrets.

The truth is that volleyball plays a big part in their lives. Most of the players have lived in the South Pacific, and volleyball is as popular there as baseball is in Los Angeles. Consequently, when they practice, they are serious about improving and they really work at it. They spend the bulk of every practice period doing special drills and exercises to help them further develop specific playing skills.

Most of their concentrated practice goes into developing defensive skills: “We practice defense because a good defense wins most of the games. A block or bump doesn’t look as spectacular as a spike, but it is more important to the game,” said Wilfred Laeha, a former coach and current player.

Apply the following skills and exercises to your own volleyball practice, and in a short while you will see a world of difference in how you play the game.


The object in serving is to put the ball over the net as close to the net as possible, thereby helping to cause the opposing team to make an error in their return. Therefore, no matter what type of serve you use, you should have complete control of the ball.

“Sometimes I serve the ball straight; other times I hit it full-handed so that it spins. Another favorite serve I use is the floating serve. The floater is the most effective serve in volleyball today. I’d say that 90 percent of the good volleyball players serve the normal floater,” said Aaron Makaiwi.

With the floater serve there is no spin on the ball. Hit it overhand so that it seems to float through the air in a zig-zag motion as if bouncing on a column of air. The floater is about as unpredictable as a bouncing football. An opponent has a hard time returning a floater. He cannot make good contact with it because he can’t determine its exact path as he can other serves.


Bumping is an extremely important technique for everyone on the team to master. Almost all incoming balls are received with a bump. Usually the ball is bumped to the set man who then sets the ball for the spiker who puts the ball over.

In bumping, you should contact the ball with the underside of both forearms, keeping the knees bent. When the arms make contact, the knees should come up slightly as the arms give to slow the force of the ball.

There are several good drills to develop bumping skill. A pair of players can practice bumping back and forth. Or you can practice alone by bumping against a wall. One of the best bumping exercises is to have someone pass the ball. When you have received it with a bump, you turn 180 degrees and bump it again. This double bumping exercise gives you the needed practice of playing with your back to the net and also helps you to be able to cover your zone better.


Approximately 15 percent of a defensive court is not covered by players. The location of this undefended area varies with different defensive formations, but it is always there.

Once you feel you have a regular bump under control, you need to work on increasing your zone of effectiveness so that you can help defend a larger area. There are several special drills that help you learn to cover a bigger area. Most of these will make you contact the floor, because many of the balls will be almost to the floor when you bump them.

In the following drills, each player contacts the floor and gets used to falling—to the front, the back, and sideways—so that anyone can make a successful save.


As the ball is bumped to the set man, he gets under it, receiving the ball with his fingers. The ball actually hits the thumb first, then rolls off the fingers. Generally a set man should receive the ball with knees and elbows bent; and as he contacts the ball, he pushes it up into position, setting it for the spiker who goes up in the air with the ball and delivers it across the net.


A good spike is the most powerful offensive weapon in volleyball. It looks beautiful and the crowds love it. However, before you can make a good spike, you have to develop a proper approach. Many people don’t realize that a spiker takes two or three steps before jumping. This forward motion accomplishes two things. It increases the height of your jumps and helps you remain up in the air a little longer at the peak of your jump. The spiker contacts the ball with the heel of his hand and wrist just as he does in the overhand serve.

A couple of good drills to improve your jumping ability include squatting and jumping with weight on your shoulders and jumping up several flights of stadium stairs. These exercises must work, because one volleyball coach is reported to have promised some star college basketball players an additional five inches on their jumps if they would come out and play volleyball.

Photos by Brian Kelly

In the roundhouse serve, Wilfred Laeha stands sideways to the net and swings in a roundhouse motion. This is a powerful serve and can be directed to just barely clear the net.

The ball should be bumped with the underside of the forearms.

Holding the hands together increases the amount of control you have in bumping.

In the roundhouse and overhand serves, the ball is hit first with the upper wrist and lower heel of the hand; then the hand moves onto the ball so the fingers can better direct it in its course as the hand follows through. This method of ball contact is also used on the spike.

Aaron Makaiwi belts a full-handed serve that will be spinning like a top when it hits the other side of the net.

Kimo Hanohano shows that the underhand serve still isn’t forgotten.

Alu Vavao swan dives onto the floor without returning a ball. As coordination and confidence increase in a plain dive, begin practicing returning a ball while diving.

Greg Enomoto, in position to receive the ball, takes it on his fingers and then delivers a perfect set.

Alu Vavao seems to be airborne as he spikes the ball.

Ken Galeai dives forward, executes a beautiful forward bump while he is in midair, then catches himself. The forward bump is the most important bump in volleyball.

To save the ball that is passed off his shoulder, Greg Enomoto will be forced to fall sideways on the floor. This exercise will also help a player learn to squirm under a low ball.

Aaron Makaiwi rolls backwards on the floor after recovering what would normally have been a lost ball. To develop this bump, have a teammate bounce the ball on the floor approximately three to six feet in front of you so that as you hit it you have to roll backwards onto the floor. Many players who are not afraid to contact the floor on a front dive will hesitate in this situation unless they have practiced this drill.

Another good drill to help develop agility when playing on or near the floor is to have a man lie flat on his stomach on the floor and then pass him the ball and have him pass it back to you as Jerry Alip is doing.

Kimo Hanohano spikes with rifle precision and enough force to knock a 200-pound New Era staffer off his feet.