Volleyball Player Positions
What are the different player positions in volleyball? What are they called, and what is each position responsible for? Keep reading to learn all about volleyball player positions. No prior knowledge is required.
Volleyball is a sport that requires masterful chemistry between teammates on the court, regardless of what position they are playing. There are six different player positions in volleyball, with responsibilities that are attributed to each position. It is important to note that since players rotate to a new spot after winning a point that the opponent served, player positions do not remain constant in a standard volleyball match.
What Are the Positions in Volleyball?
Volleyball features six players per team on the court at a time, and each player is tasked with a specific role depending on their positioning on the court. The players fielding these positions will change as players rotate; however, each position will always be filled by a player. Some players will also sub in to serve a specialist role, utilizing their hyper-focused skillset to their team’s benefit.
The different positions in volleyball are:
- Middle Hitters/Blockers
- Outside Hitters
- Opposite Hitters
- Defensive Specialists
- Serving Specialists
Setters are often viewed as the quarterback or point guard of a volleyball team. They need to have strong communication skills to relay instructions to teammates, and they are also the primary passers on most teams. The name of this position is derived from setters’ tendency to pop the ball into the air (known as a set pass), such that a nearby teammate can hit the ball over the net and onto the opponent’s side of the court.
Depending on the formation, a setter will usually play in the back row to allow all three front row players to hit. After the opposing team serves, the setter (if they do not receive the serve) will set up underneath the pass to deliver a set-pass to one of the hitters. In certain formations, there will be two setters opposite each other so that one is always starting in the front row to get to the initial pass quicker.
Other formations call for one setter to be in at a time but to rotate with another setter once they reach the front row. A lot of the time, however, teams will have one setter in for the whole set, which reduces the number of hitters to two when they reach the front row.
While setters can often be seen as the leaders or facilitators of a team, liberos are perhaps the most active players on the court at any given time. Liberos are adept at both passing and playing defense. They are often seen executing digs, which involve a diving attempt to prevent a well-placed spike from hitting the ground. They are also usually the best passers, especially when receiving serves from the opposing team.
Liberos are easy to spot on the court, as they wear different colored jerseys than the rest of their teammates. This is mainly due to the unique rules and regulations that they must follow. Liberos are not allowed to play in the front row and must substitute out once they rotate there. However, libero substitutions do not count as regular substitutions and are unlimited. Due to this rule, liberos will often line up opposite a team’s middle hitter in order to immediately replace the middle that is rotating to the back row. This allows them to remain in for the entire game.
Liberos are also not allowed to attack from above the net at any point on the court. Additionally, liberos are not allowed to overhead set the ball in front of the ten-foot line like a typical setter would. They are also not allowed to block. As a result of all of these rules, liberos are exclusively used for passing and defensive purposes.
Middle blockers or hitters tend to be the tallest players on the team. Often referred to simply as “middles,” they must be able to assist in blocking all three of a team's opposing hitters. On offense, middles are known for their ability to receive a quick set and spike the ball before the defense has a chance to set up a block.
This type of attack, also known as a 1, is typically the most common type of attack for middles, especially at lower levels. As the middles are usually among the poorest passers on the team, they are typically subbed out once they reach the back row, most often by the libero.
The outside hitter occupies the left side of the court. When playing in the back row, outside hitters often receive the opponent’s serve and attempt to hit the ball into the air to generate a scoring opportunity for a teammate. Playing in the back row, as opposed to being substituted by a defensive specialist, gives the team another excellent attacker who can hit from behind the ten-foot line when needed.
However, outside hitters specialize in playing the front row. Outside hitters need to be capable of either spiking the ball over the net or passing the ball to a nearby teammate for a spike. It is for this reason that outside hitters generally have excellent jumping ability.
It is equally as important for an outside hitter to be able to block an opposing team’s opposite hitter and occasionally help out on blocks toward the middle of the net. Outside hitters are almost always right-handed to have a better angle on their attacks.
The opposite hitter patrols the right side of the court and carries many of the same responsibilities as the outside hitter. The main difference is that opposite hitters will set up behind the setter and usually much closer than an outside hitter would. They will also be able to play both front and back row, but it is less common for opposite hitters to play all the way around.
Opposite hitters are responsible for blocking the opposing team’s outside hitters and occasionally middle hits as well. Unlike outside hitters, they are mostly left-handed, which makes finding a good opposite hitter crucial to a team’s success.
While volleyball only features six players on the court and six core positions, certain players serve the role of “specialist” on their team. These players have a very focused skill set that makes them valuable to their team despite potentially having shortcomings in other areas of their game. Nonetheless, these players are invaluable and can make the difference between a good team and a great team.
No team would be complete without a defensive specialist. As evidenced by the name, these players are all about playing defense and stopping the opposition from scoring. Also referred to as “back row,” defensive specialists tend to have good speed and reaction times, which comes in handy when trying to cover a lot of ground and save the ball from hitting the ground at all costs. They are also good passers but not always as skilled as liberos in both categories.
Many teams, especially at lower levels, will use defensive specialists to substitute for either the outside or opposite hitter when they rotate to the back row. This strategy is particularly useful in lower levels due to the expanded substitution policies and the inability of many young hitters to excel in the back row. However, using a defensive specialist in place of a front row player means that there are fewer attackers on the court.
As the name suggests, serving specialists are players whose skillset centers on their serving ability. In fact, many serving specialists will only be subbed onto the court in order to serve. These players can set the tone for a point and help compensate for a teammate’s lackluster serving ability. They are known to consistently ace opponents and serve balls that are tough for the opponent to rally.
Even though these players are brought in mainly to serve, they will likely have to play defense and pass if the other team is able to return the serve. If the point ends with the opposing team scoring the point (meaning that your team loses service), the serving specialist will likely be subbed out.
Serving specialists are very useful, as maintaining possession of service and reducing serving errors are crucial to winning volleyball games. However, the serving team will likely be in a weaker defensive position for the remainder of the point as the serving specialist will not be as strong defensively. Serving specialists are not very common, especially due to the limited number of substitutions allowed per game.
List of Volleyball Positions
- Outside Hitter
- Middle Blocker/Hitter
- Opposite Hitter
What is the best position to play in volleyball?
The best position to play in volleyball differs based on each individual player’s skill set. Players that excel defensively are best suited for the role of defensive specialist or libero, while players that are extremely athletic, taller, and have a keen sense for finding open spots to attack on the opponent’s side of the court are more likely to be hitters. Moreover, skilled overhead passers are often the setters on each volleyball team.
Which volleyball position should I play?
You should play the position best suited to your physique. For instance, players with a tall and lanky physical build are able to take advantage of those characteristics by attacking the front of the net as middle blockers or hitters. Being a particularly capable server or defensive player can also earn you a role as a serving or defensive specialist. While physical traits certainly matter, finding a role that you feel most comfortable in and excel at is most important.
What are the most important volleyball positions?
The setter and libero are the most important volleyball positions. They are both vocal players that advise teammates of their responsibilities and visible weaknesses in the opponent’s alignment throughout the course of a match. Both of these players will usually touch the ball the most as well, but every position on the court is essential to a team’s success.
How many positions are there in volleyball?
There are six different main player positions in volleyball, each with a unique set of responsibilities. It is important to note that since players rotate to a new spot after winning a point that the opponent served, player positions do not remain constant in a standard volleyball match. Nonetheless, starters are assigned a position to occupy at the beginning of each match based on the position that best aligns with their attributes and tendencies.