Volleyball Pepper: How to Play and 12 Pepper Variations

If there is a volleyball around, it is likely to be picked up for a game of “pepper”.

Typically used as a warmup drill, pepper is an easy way to mimic the three main skills used throughout a match:

  1. Digging
  2. Setting
  3. Spiking

In the standard round of pepper, players face each other about eight feet apart.

The first player tosses a ball up to themselves and softly “hits” it to the opposite player.

This player digs the spike back to the hitter who then sets it back to the digger.

The process continues if players can continue digging, setting, and spiking to each other.

While pepper is a classic warmup drill or just a fun way to enjoy two people and a volleyball, many variations have emanated from the original.

Each new pepper variety provides great opportunities to practice the essential skills of volleyball.

Basic Variations:

1. Overhand Pepper

This variation changes one simple aspect of the original game of volleyball pepper. Rather than digging a ball driven down, the ball must be passed overhand. In order for this variation to be successful, the player hitting must hit a higher ball at the player opposite them.

2. Rotating Pepper

Rotating pepper encourages players to switch partners at certain intervals. The remainder of the drill is the same as the original. This variation can be great for newly formed teams, as it is a bit of a social introduction to each other.

3. Quick Pepper

This format requires players to get close to each other and perform the original drill of volleyball pepper. Quick Pepper ensures players can manipulate their “touch” to keep the ball alive. As the two players are in close proximity to each other, the strength of the hit should be reduced for player safety.

4. Keep it Moving

The Keep it Moving variety of pepper demands players maintain a consistent tempo throughout the drill. The wrinkle is that the player digging has the option to dig the ball high or low, requiring the setting player to adjust the speed and angle of their set.

5. Me Twice then You

This variation requires the digging player to set as well. Thus, one player will dig the ball up to themselves and set the hitter repeatedly. This allows the hitter to continue the same movement, potentially providing a better warm up. Players switch after a predetermined number of successful rounds.

6. Two-Ball Volleyball Pepper

Two-ball volleyball pepper challenges players mentally while performing the same technical skills as the original format.

One player (A) holds two balls to start the drill. One ball is tossed high in the air toward the opposite player (B) while player A continues to hold the second ball. This begins the cycle.

Player B sets the first ball back to player A. The set ball is hit down at player B who digs the ball. Player A immediately tosses the second ball to player B after the dig. Player A simply catches the dug ball. Player B sets the tossed second ball back to player A who hits another down ball.

This cycle repeats until the drill is complete.

volleyball pepper

Advanced Drills Based on Volleyball Pepper:

7. One Versus Three

This drill expands on the basic volleyball pepper by introducing movement and communication requirements.

Set Up:

This drill requires four players and one ball.

  • One player is aligned at the back corner of the court.
  • Three players are aligned at the opposite back corner on the same side of the net.

How it Works:

The player alone is the “hitter”. This player hits the ball at the other three players. Depending on the hit location, a player will call the ball and dig it up into the air. After digging the ball, this player immediately runs to the opposite court.

There are now two players in each corner. One of the two remaining from the original three will call the ball and set it into the air. This player will immediately run to the opposite corner.

There are now three players opposite one player again. The final player from the original three will hit the set ball to the three now opposite and will start the process over.

Communication is vital as there are three players in one area preparing to dig a ball. It continues to hold importance as a player will have to identify themselves as being the one to set.

This drill is perfect to develop active communication and provides conditioning.

8. Over the Net Pepper

Like the original volleyball pepper, this drill promotes good ball handling and is a great option for warmups.

Set Up:

This drill requires three players, a ball, and the net is set up.

  • Two players are aligned on one side of the net with one at the net and one off.
  • One player is aligned on the opposite side of the net.

How it Works:

The player alone tosses the ball over the net to the player aligned off the net. This player passes to the player on the net who sets the ball. The passer hits a roll shot over the net.

The setter then moves to the passer position. The hitter goes under the net to set. The original tossing player now serves as the hitter. This cycle repeats.

A fourth player can be added to the drill. In this case, the hitter and setter switch positions on the same side of the net and no one goes under the net.

The introduction of the net to the game of pepper increases the game-like environment and encourages net awareness.

9. Six and a Diagonal

Volleyball pepper techniques are used to perform this advanced, over-the-net version.

Set Up:

This drill requires six players, a ball, and the net is set up.

  • Three players on each side of the net.
  • A player aligned at back-right, back-left, and setter positions.

How it Works:

A ball is tossed to one of the back-row players on either side of the net. The player passes to the setter. The setter then sets either back-row player who will hit a controlled shot over the net to the player in the same spot on the opposite side of the net.

This drill encourages control by requiring the player to hit to a specific player on the other side. It also works on the skills required for back-row attacks and scramble plays.

It’s a good idea to have balls on hand to quickly put in play after an error.

10. Three on Three Pepper

This challenging variation of volleyball pepper can test even highly-skilled players.

Set Up:

This drill requires six players, a ball, and the net is set up.

  • Three players on each side of the net.
  • Players must play from the back row.

How it Works:

A ball is tossed to one group of three on either side of the net. Volleyball pepper rules are followed with each player required to perform one of the techniques: a dig, set and hit.

The hit goes over the net and the process starts again. All players must stay in the back row throughout the drill.

As this is more of a practice drill, set a goal for successful attempts or a time limit ahead of time.

This drill is meant to be cooperative and players would be wise to hit toward good passers and set to good hitters.

11. Pairs and No Net

This doubles version of volleyball pepper allows players to work cooperatively in pairs.

Set Up:

This drill requires four players and a ball.

  • Players form pairs.
  • Pairs are aligned across from each other about ten feet apart.

How it Works:

The drill is initiated with one pair receiving a tossed ball. They alternately perform the dig, set, hit techniques of normal volleyball pepper. The hit is directed to the other pair who performs the three techniques and hits the ball back.

Players will need to communicate as the ball is hit to determine who will be the passer. This is a great drill to encourage cooperation and practice controlling the ball over distance.

12. Nine Player Pepper

This drill emphasizes good sets and a proper hitting approach in transition. It provides a conditioning component for the active players.

Set Up:

This drill requires nine players and a ball.

  • Six of the players will play back row positions (three on each side)
  • Three players will be the “active” group with two hitters and a setter

How it Works:

A ball is tossed to the back row on the side the “active” group is starting on. A back-row player passes to the setter who sets to a hitter. The hitter attacks the ball to the opposite back row.

The active group moves under the net to repeat the process the other direction. This continues until seven successful attack, dig, set, attack sequences are accomplished.

It may be too challenging for some groups to accomplish seven in a row, so requiring seven total successful attacks and digs may be more reasonable.

Final Words:

Pepper is a simple drill yet has provided an excellent opportunity to warm up and work on ball control for a long time.

Variations like these improve upon those traits and can encourage development in other areas like conditioning, mental toughness, and communication.

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