Volleyball lingo that sounds like food but is for real

What do a chicken wing, a pancake, and deep dish have in common? No, it’s not what I had for dinner last night – though it sounds yummy! They are actual terms used in volleyball.

Every sport has its own terminology. Some of it is official, and some of it is much more casual – and creative. Learning the lingo of any sport takes time and experience – and also asking lots of questions. Volleyball is no exception. But this list will help you get started.

You may have already heard some of these terms, or maybe you’re just hearing them for the first time. Either way, you may question if they’re for real. Trust me, they are. I’ve used every one of them, and I’ve heard others use them as well. I have no idea where they came from, but if you want to be a “real” volleyball player, learn these terms and start using them!

1. Pancake

A pancake is a type of dig. A spectacular type of dig that is timed JUST RIGHT. It’s when you come out of nowhere, looking like there’s no way you’re going to get that ball, and you sprawl across the court, with your hand outstretched and flat against the ground… and the ball bounces directly on your flattened hand, and stays in play! Amazing!

The downside of a pancake is that your teammates may not have been expecting anyone to actually get the ball, so they may not react as quickly. Or, someone might actually just CATCH the ball you just sacrificed and bruised your body getting. That actually happened to me. I can still see her startled expression: “I can’t believe you actually GOT that ball!” Yup, I did. And I can’t believe you actually CAUGHT that ball!

2. Raspberry/Strawberry

You’re not a real volleyball player until you’ve left a little bit of yourself on the court. Literally.

When you dive for the ball, sometimes your skin will slide along the gym floor, making this disgusting squeaking sound. Disgusting, because it sounds like a rubber-soled shoe squeaking on the gym floor but it’s actually your skin being left behind. This can happen to knees, the heels of your hand, your hips… basically any skin that can make contact with the floor.

This unattractive and surprisingly painful skin abrasion is known as a raspberry, or sometimes a strawberry.

Don’t worry, it heals quickly. And makes a great story. As long as you got the ball up, of course.

3. Six-pack

If you’ve ever been six-packed, you never forget it. It’s when you return a hard-driven spike – with your face. Ouch. Yes, it hurts. A lot.

It could also refer to being hit in the abs by the ball as well. While this doesn’t hurt quite as much (trust me, I’ve had both happen to me), it still is a really unpleasant sensation.

This could happen for a number of reasons. Maybe the blockers didn’t get there in time, leaving the rest of the defensive players vulnerable. Maybe YOU were the blocker and misjudged where your hands should be. Or, maybe the hit was just that fast, and you didn’t have time to put your hands up to shield your face.

That’s how it happened to me.

I was playing in coed tournament, and was in the backcourt, playing defense. The other team’s middle player, who had an amazingly fast AND powerful hit, got an amazing set and just pounded the ball around our blocker, and onto the attack line. Where I happened to be. Actually, where my FACE happened to be.

I kid you not, I actually stumbled backwards. I also felt my face, looking for my nose which I was positive was now over by my ear. My teammates saw that I was a bit stunned, and called a timeout.

As I was sitting on the bench, trying to recover both the feeling in my face and my pride, another teammate said, “Well, at least you were in the right spot defensively!” Which, actually did make me feel better!

The hitter also came over and apologized, which was nice, too. And, ever since then, my new defensive position is to keep my hands up, covering my face. Which really is what it should’ve been then, too.

4. Chicken wing

Probably the least coordinated way you can touch a volleyball, a chicken wing is when you manage to contact the volleyball cleanly with your upper arm or elbow, while your elbow is bent. So you kind of look like a chicken flapping.

Hey, I know I said these terms were creative, but sometimes you just gotta go with what makes sense. So, when you look like a chicken, you’re gonna get called a chicken.

5. Roll

Mmmmm, a hot, buttery roll. Okay, not that kind of roll. A roll shot in volleyball is when you hit the volleyball underneath the ball and ROLL your hand along it to the top (instead of directly on top like a regular hit).

Why would you do that? Speed and precision.

It’s easier to aim a roll shot more directly where you want it to go, so you can aim for vulnerable areas of the other team’s defense.

It’s also easier to hit a roll shot over or around the block as well.

The best way to do a roll shot so that it’s most effective it to act like you’re doing a regular hit, then contact the ball differently at the last minute. This will throw off the other team’s defense, because they will be expecting a harder driven hit, so won’t be prepared for a roll shot.

6. Serving

Similar to when you’re serving dinner, a serve in volleyball delivers a tasty opportunity. Only, instead of a nice delicious meal, a volleyball serve gets the play started. It’s one of the basic skills of volleyball, and a really important skill to get good at.

It’s basically the only time in the game that you start with full control over the volleyball. So, make sure you practice so that you have a strong serve. Since all 6 players on the court take a turn serving, there’s really no way to hide if you’re a bad server.

And if you can’t serve the ball over the net, you’ve literally handing the other team a free point. In an average game, that could mean 2 or 3 points.

7. Getting stuffed

Not just for Thanksgiving dinner! Getting stuffed is when a hitter gets blocked so hard and fast that the ball goes down on their own side of the net. Sometimes it happens so quickly that they don’t even know where the ball went.

This can happen if the ball was set too close to the net, limiting the options that the hitter has. It could also just be because the block is super aggressive.

Getting stuffed can also be referred to as getting roofed or housed.

Not to worry if it happens to you. It happens to all players every now and then. Just work on returning the favor!

8. High ball

Wait, aren’t the drinks for AFTER the game? Hopefully, yes, there is some socializing happening after your game.

A highball set during the game is also known as a 4 set. This is the most common type of set in volleyball. It’s a nice, high set to the outside left hitter. Again, not so creative, but pretty self-explanatory.

A high ball is a good set to be able to master, even if you’re not a setter. Sometimes, the setter is going to call help, and if you’re the one helping, you’ll want to be able to set the most common type of set. For one, it’s also the easiest type of set to actually set. And two, the teammate who you’re setting won’t be expecting a fancy set. They will be expecting a nice, high ball.

9. Pepper

One of the first things you learn in volleyball is peppering. This is when two players warmup playing volleyball between themselves, trying to go for a consecutive bump-set-spike pattern. It looks something like this:

Player 1: tosses (or hits) the ball

Player 2: bumps

Player 1: sets

Player 2: hits

Player 1: bumps

Player 2: sets

Player 1: hits

As you can see, the pattern continues to alternate so that each player should get to hit.

The purpose of pepper is to warm up before a game, and also to practice ball control. You can also make it more interesting by including a third player, and each player runs to the other side right after they contact the ball.

10. Deep Dish

A type of pizza? Or a type of set? Not sure how these two are related, but in volleyball, a deep dish is a longer, deeper volley, where it sometimes looks like the player is actually holding the volleyball longer than a regular set.

Not so common in indoor volleyball, but very common in beach volleyball. So, to avoid getting a ball handling violation in indoor, save the deep dish for the beach volleyball court.

11. Butter

Can be used to refer to the perfect set, or to the setter’s hands. Just beautiful.

You might ask, “Well, aren’t all sets supposed to be consistent?” And you’d be correct. The job of the setter is to set as consistently as possible, so that the hitters know exactly what to expect. However, in a game, there are so many variables, it’s easy for a play or a set to go awry. The pass could be off, the setter could be slow, or their technique may be off for a set or two.

But every now and then, the hitter will get a set that’s just like butter. Their timing is perfect, and the set is the perfect height and speed. It’s a beautiful thing.

As long as you don’t get stuffed, of course.

12. Fishing

As you know, one of the basic rules of volleyball is that players aren’t allowed to touch the net. Ever. However, every now and then, a hitter or a blocker will just get themselves STUCK right in the net. Not just a little swipe. I’m talking a full on, landing in the net, hand stuck in one of the little holes. Like a fish caught in a net.

Maybe the hitter misjudged how close they were to the net, and they were watching the ball too closely instead of taking a quick look at how close they were to the net. Or, maybe a blocker was watching the ball or the hitter too closely, and misjudged their jump. Or, the power of the hit threw off their technique, and they swiped at the net.

Regardless of how it happens, it does happen. The ref will likely catch it and call it. However, if you’re playing pickup or a recreational league without a ref, make sure you own up to touching the net. That’s just good volleyball etiquette.

13. Spiking

Spiking the punch is one way to make things more fun. And spiking the volleyball is also one of the ways to really liven up a volleyball game. Imagine if there were no hits, and everyone was just bumping the ball back and forth over the net?

Spiking is actually a more outdated term that’s been replaced with hitting instead. So, avoid sounding like a newb by calling it “hitting”, instead of “spiking”.

14. Shank

Known as a cut of meat, in volleyball, a shank is something you want to avoid. Sometimes, even with the best timing and technique, a forearm pass will just go wrong. Like, really wrong. I’m talking like 90-degrees wrong.

A shank is when a player goes to forearm pass the ball, and instead of it going straight up to the target, it gets deflected off to the side. So badly, that no one can salvage it.

A shank is usually a surprising thing, because everything looks like it was lining up properly for a good pass, then the ball just … goes way left. Or way right. Whatever direction the ball went, the point has been lost.

I was playing beach volleyball once, and my partner shanked the ball … right into my face (hmm, I’m starting to see a theme here…). So hard, in fact, that the lenses popped right out of my sunglasses! So, in this case, we were BOTH pretty surprised.

Well, there you go. Fourteen volleyball terms that, even though they sound like food, are legit volleyball lingo. Use these, when the timing is right, of course, and you’ll sound like an experienced volleyball player in no time!

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