Pancake in volleyball: explained for beginners

A pancake is not food in volleyball but is a defensive move. Sometimes it is needed to slide and dive over the court if you want to keep the ball in the air. A pancake is a type of dive wherein a player holds their arm in front of them to make it as long as possible. The hand and fingers are stretched as well in an attempt to keep the ball in the air.

This is mainly done if the ball is far away from the player and can be a last attempt to keep it in the air anyway. It is named the pancake as the player is as flat as possible. This pushes the player forward as fast as she or he can. 

It is a lot easier to keep the ball in the air if you don’t have to dive.

This is an intense movement and players don’t want to make this all the time. It is mostly done by the libero or defensive specialist as these players spend a lot of time perfecting their dive. 

Let’s go into how to dive before we discuss a pancake in more detail.

Diving in volleyball: how to do this

After the other team has attacked, it can be difficult to keep the ball in the air as the ball can be far away. The goal of a dive is to slide over your body. A lot of players land on their knees but that is not the goal.

You want to set some steps to get some momentum and slide forward. Knee pads help you somewhat when you slide. If you use the right techniques, you shouldn’t feel too much of an impact after you have slid over the court. Let’s take a look at the correct technique: 

This can be practiced at home by repeating the same steps over and over again. You won’t be able to get it completely right the first few times. It is only after a while that you will be able to get all the nuances right. 

Every volleyball player has to be able to do this so coaches often spend quite a lot of time on this. You have to keep the ball in the air but also be able to control it and pass it to someone on your team.

A bad pass is useless so you have to be able to get a good handle on the ball while you are sliding over the court. You first learn how to slide and later on you can focus on controlling the ball. 

Newer players often don’t like to do this and some of them use arm pads to reduce the impact. Getting the technique right is a challenge.

You have to get as low as possible before you dive so that you move forward. A lot of people want to move towards the ground instead of forward and this can result in stings. Your coach can provide feedback on your technique so that you learn the right approach. 

From diving to pancaking

Once you are great at diving, you can start to work on your pancake dive. In essence, it is quite similar but instead of using a platform (both hands together), you are extending your arm to get closer to the ball. This is mainly done when you notice that you won’t be able to reach the ball with your platform and need to get farther away.

This is only done if you really can’t reach the ball as a stretched-out hand gives you less control over the ball and makes it harder to pass to a team member.  Stretching out can be quite intense and you don’t want to do it too often. If you have to pancake a lot, it can indicate that you have to work on your reflexes or need to understand the game better. This will allow you to dig more often without having to dive over the ground. 

You have to keep looking at the ball at all times so that you can adjust your slide if needed. 

You can also roll around immediately after doing a pancake to get up faster. This is quite challenging as you don’t have a lot of time to touch the ball. This is only done by advanced players that feel that they will need to defend again soon so it is quite exceptional to see this happen during a match.

The other players on your team have to remain attentive as sometimes players can give up on the rally and thereby drop the ball when it is unexpectedly passed to them. 

Training a pancake is quite easy. You ask someone to throw the ball in your direction and you have to keep it in the air. It is also possible to throw the ball yourself but this makes it easier as you know the direction of the ball in advance.

This can lead to very spectacular scenes during which defenders can make great saves. This can be a great boost for the team morale as they see that the other players on their team are pulling out all the stops to win the rally.

This can only be seen on the college level or by professionals as younger players are often not able to perform this technique given its complexity. Let’s take a look at some great pancakes below: 

To conclude, we can say that pancaking is a defense move. It shouldn’t be used too often as it offers less control over the ball but can be a great way to keep the ball in the air if it is far away. This is more of a last resort than a basic move in volleyball. Liberos and defensive specialists should train on this. Other players might stick with a normal dive as this can be challenging enough.