Volleyball is one of the most exciting and popular games in the world. A lot of things can happen during a game but for those watching, things seem to fall into place as players in a six-man team move on the court to handle the ball. There is a science to the play, actually because every member of a team has a specialized position and corresponding responsibilities and skills to contribute to the game. Understanding the different volleyball positions will help fans appreciate the game even more.
The Setter is the master of offense in volleyball. He is the play-maker, tasked at ensuring that the team is ready to put the ball in action to their benefit. It is the job of the Setter to make the decision as to who gets the ball at a particular time during the game.
The Setter is one of the most critical positions because he will create the play for the team. Prior to the serve, the Setter must ensure that every teammate is in the right position. He must also communicate the play so the hitters know exactly what to do and where to go. He oversees the flow of play on the court. Since volleyball only allows three passes (with the third pass meant to pass the ball to the opposing team), the ball is usually passed to the Setter so he can hit the ball in a way that will allow any of the hitters to ground it on the other side of the net. This is an important aspect of the team’s offense.
The Setter’s position is in the backcourt on the right side. This allows him to have the best view of his team and the opposing team. That position also allows him to watch the action starting at the serve, whether it is his team’s or the opposing team’s turn. As such, the setter must be quick on his feet and able to dig if and when necessary.
What the Ideal Setter is Like:
- Excellent understanding of volleyball
- Excellent leadership and communication skills
- Consistent, accurate, able to control the set
- Good decision-making skills
The Libero is a specialist in defense, which is a special position in volleyball. He is often easy to spot. He is usually the one who has a different-colored jersey. He is allowed to move anywhere in the court and may replace any player in the back row without express permission from game officials. This will not count against the allotted substitutions for the team. The Libero may not be allowed to serve, although this is allowed in certain situations. In the NCAA women’s volleyball, for example, the Libero volleyball position may serve in a single rotation in one set. This, however, is prohibited by the FIVB. The Libero is also not allowed to block or attack the ball if it is at the same height as the volleyball net height. He is not allowed to set a hitter/attacker from the front court and he can only play in the back row.
The Libero’s main job is to ensure control of the ball. He must pass the volleyball in a way that allows his team to run an effective offense. When required, he must be able to dig to keep the ball in play and pass it on to the teammate who can handle it best. The Libero is a permanent position in the team during a match and may be replaced only if injured. The replacement is made with a player who was not playing at the time the Libero incurred the injury. That replacement remains the Libero for the rest of the match. In the past, only one designated Libero was allowed but some organizations these days allow two Liberos, although only one can play at a time.
What the Ideal Libero is Like:
- Good ball-handling skills
- Capable of consistent passing and digging
- Consistent and quick
Middle Blockers or Middle Hitters
The Middle Blocker is the player who is tasked in blocking attacks from the opposing team’s hitters, regardless of where they are positioned on the court at any given time while the ball is active. To optimize his role, the Middle Blocker stands in the middle of the volleyball court close to the net, flanked by the two outside blockers. During offensive play, the Middle Blocker will often hit a quick set to ground the ball on the opposing team’s side. He will also perform as a decoy as part of the offensive strategy to confuse the opposing team’s blockers.
The Middle Blocker has to think strategically to determine how the opposing team will play after the serve. He must also be able to determine where the setter is going to pass the ball. It is also important that the Middle Blocker can spot the opposing team’s front row hitters so he can alert his teammates prior to the serve.
When his team is on the offense, the Middle Blocker must be able to make quick attacks, often on the third pass from the Aetter. This is where his ability to “read” the Setter comes in handy. At the same time, the Middle Blocker must be able to observe how the opposing team sets up their defense. This will allow him to ground the ball successfully. When the team is on the defense, it is the Middle Blocker’s responsibility to block any attacks from the opposing team. The Middle Blocker must coordinate the movements of the frontcourt teammates to set them up for blocking any offensive attacks from the other team. This means working with an Outside Blocker to perform an effective two-person block.
What the Ideal Middle Blocker/Hitter is Like:
- Ability to evaluate and anticipate the opposing team’s offensive play
- Quick-thinking and fast-moving
- Good blocking skills
- Capable of “reading” the setter
- Ability to adjust to the actions of the setter
- Jumping ability to perform successful blocks
- Height is an advantage. The Middle Blocker is often the tallest member of the team.
Outside Hitter or Left Side Hitters
The Outside Hitter or Left Side Hitter is the player who is positioned on the front left side close to the net. His job is to attack and defend the team from that side of the court. In most teams, the left side is usually the main attacking position, which means the Outside Hitter receives the most number of sets and offensive shots. He can move and play in the front and back rows.
During an offensive play, the Outside Hitter positions himself on the left side of the court close to the net. The ball is then passed on to him by the setter. The Outside Hitter must then decide on the best move to make while keeping an eye on the defense setup of the opposing team.
When the team is on defense, the Outside Hitter works in tandem with the Middle Blocker to block attacks from the opposing team. This allows their court to be defended from both the left and the center simultaneously. This area is usually where the most attacks from the opposing team are performed.
The Outside Hitter must be agile and fast, with good physical resistance. He is expected to rotate smoothly from the front center or right center to the left side after the serve goes over the net. He works with the Middle Blocker by calling out the play so the team can identify the opponent’s hitting patterns. He will also set the block to ensure that it is in the proper position.
The Outside Hitter is a very popular position in volleyball and is often called “strong” or “power side”. A strong Outside Hitter will make the game difficult for the blockers of the opposing team.
What the Ideal Outside Hitter is Like:
- Capable of handling the ball consistently
- All-around skills to play well in the front and back courts
- Passing ability
- Capable of solid hits
- Good passing and digging skills
- Height is an advantage
Opposite Hitters or Right Side Hitters
The Opposite Hitter is the player who is positioned on the right side of the court, opposite of the Setter. This is the most flexible and adaptable of all positions in volleyball because he is expected to be able to perform defense and offense. In essence, the Opposite Hitter is the backup attacker who also blocks any attacks from the Outside Hitter of the opposing team. Because of his position, the Opposite Hitter will take over setting responsibilities in case the Setter is unable to perform them or is unavailable. He may not always receive a serve or pass.
During defensive play, the Opposite Hitter is responsible for blocking attacks from the front right side of the court. In case the Outside Hitter of the opposing team makes an attack, it is the responsibility of the Opposite Hitter to block it. He also works and coordinates blocking strategies with the Middle Blocker for tandem blocks.
The Opposite Hitter is expected to determine where the team’s hitters are moving during a play and to provide assistance whenever necessary. He is also expected to set a dig if the Setter cannot get in position in time. He is usually the member in the team who scores the most in terms of points. Among the six positions, the Opposite Hitter is usually the one who makes the least number of movements and do not make as many passes. They do, however, take on the responsibilities of a backup or second setter if the Setter cannot get the ball.
What the Ideal Opposite Hitter is Like:
- Excellent ball control
- Good blocking skills
- Quick and agile
- Good all-around playing abilities
- Strong jumping abilities
- Height is an advantage for effective attacks and blocks
The Defensive Specialist is often confused with the Libero because of the similarities in their defense responsibilities. Unlike the Libero, however, the Defensive Specialist is allowed to substitute for any player in the team. This player is usually a lesser-skilled player in the back row that is moving from the front. Once the Defense Specialist replaces this player, it will be counted against the team’s allocated substitutions. He can also play any volleyball position, front or back row. In some cases, both the Defense Specialist and the Libero can play together. Unlike the Libero, the Defense Specialist wears the same color jersey as the rest of the team.
The Defense Specialist’s main responsibilities include returning serves, setting, and digging smashes and drives. He has to be very quick on his feet and capable of anticipating where the ball might go once the opposing team attacks or blocks. Because he often performs digs, the Defense Specialist often experiences floor burns. Many newbie volleyball fans are unfamiliar with this position because it is often considered an optional role.
Although blockers and hitters often get the attention, the Defense Specialist (like the Libero), actually performs a very important job in ensuring that the team maintains control of the ball and that it remains in play. He is the player who scrambles for the ball and performing those exciting saves. He is expected to make consistent passes and dig, and should have effective defensive coverage. Since he is allowed to serve, he should also be able to perform this task reliably as well.
Since a Defense Specialist’s job is to dig for the ball, they must be able to anticipate the offensive play of the opposing team so he can position himself in the best spot for effective defense. Since his actions are not limited to the back row, the Defense Specialist must develop good overall volleyball skills to ensure that he can defend or assist in an attack when necessary.
The scope of the Defense Specialist’s job during a game often depends on the coach. Some coaches, for example, may prefer to use the Defense Specialist of the team mainly for defensive play such as covering, digging, and diving, and designate the Libero primarily to receive the serve.
What the Ideal Defense Specialist is Like:
- Quick and agile
- Good passing skills
- Good digging skills
- Good ball control
- Fast reflexes
- Effective passing capabilities
Each team member plays a key role in the game of volleyball. Understanding how the game is played and what each team player does provides fans a clearer perspective about the rules and nuances of the game. After all, volleyball is not just a game of passing the ball back and forth over the net. It is a very elegant, precise, physical non-contact game, which makes it a beloved sport the world over.