Ball Handling - Get It Right

Ball handling is perhaps the most difficult facet of volleyball officiating to master. One reason for this is that there are no hard fast rules to say that this contact is legal and that one is not. The rules state that there may not be prolonged contact when playing the ball. But prolonged is a very vague term. A prolonged illness may last for weeks; if one holds their breath for a prolonged period it may be for minutes; a prolonged stare may last for many seconds. In volleyball prolonged is very likely something much less that a single second. The rules also state that other than the first contact a player may not have multiple contacts with the ball when attempting to play it. I would contend that even when touching your right hand and your left hand to a wall, one touch first and the other second. They will never touch at exactly the same time. So every contact of a volleyball ball by a setter is a multiple contact. Your challenge as an official is to determine how long an interval between contacts are you going to allow and still be legal; is it 1/1000 of a second or more or less. Once you establish your tolerance guide you need to try to keep it.
When officiating a match and trying to make the judgment calls required, you should not continually follow the path of the ball. Your job should be to get your eyes ahead of the play to see how the player who is about to play the ball is positioned and watch the hands or platform that is going to be used. You focus your attention on a small window around that presumed contact area. You should watch the ball enter that small window, see the contact and see the ball leave your focus window. You then expand you view to the big picture momentarily before you narrow in to the next small window.
With those concepts as a preface to ball handling here are a few guides to make your job easier.

Prolonged contact - Lift
Over controlling the ball is generally prolonged contact and under controlling the ball is generally a multiple contact.
If the contact portion of the body, either hands or forearms are moving toward the ball at moment of contact there is likely no prolonged contact. Likewise if that same part of the body is moving in the same direction as the ball at time of contact there is likely prolonged contact.
Balls being dug out of the net or attempting to be pass more often than not are multiple contacted rather than prolonged contacted.
If a player is attempting to set a ball and it get too high for them and it spins backwards as it leaves their fingers, it is most likely not a prolonged contact.

Multiple contacts – Lifts
Since multiple contacts are allowed on all 1st contacts even serve receive and most 3rd contacts are passed free balls or spikes, the contact that one needs to focus on the most is the 2nd contact. Keep in mind however that when the 3rd contact is a player using their hands to push the ball to the opponent’s court, you need to be just as critical of that as any 2nd contact, perhaps even more critical.
Remember to always focus on the setters hands before the ball arrives and watch the ball come into and out of the hands.
Spin on the ball should not determine if the set is legal or not. However spin can often be very telltale. A ball spinning on a vertical axis is almost impossible to achieve without multiple contacts. A ball spinning backwards on a horizontal axis is very easy to do with legal contact. A ball spinning forward it is very like prolonged contact.
Crowd reaction, coach reaction and player reaction should not be factors as well but can often give you some guidance as to how well you are calling the match.
When you encounter a ball handling situation that you are not sure about, take a quick glance at your officiating partner and see if they are giving you an opinion, if they are take it.

Ball handling is a hard skill for many to get right. You will not get better at it without working at it. Take time after every match to get input from your partner and from others whose opinion you might value. Attend camps and try to get better. Just because you sit at the piano doesn’t mean you can play a song and just because you can play a tune doesn’t mean you can play a song that other will want to listen to. That only happens when a parent or grandparent attends their daughter’s or granddaughter’s piano recital. You are now the judge at someone’s daughter’s or granddaughter’s volleyball match. So get it right and be consistent at how you make your calls.