Volleyball positions, player rotations & formations explained

Sunday, 11 Mar 2018
Volleyverse - @volleyverse

At first glance volleyball might seem a bit easier to understand than any other team sport. After all, there are only twelve players on the court (six players for each side). However there is more to comprehend than initially meets the eye and its important to understand how volleyball positions, player rotations and formations impact how teams play the game.

To thoroughly understand the difference between locations on court and positions in volleyball, you first need to learn the basic layout of the court.

Volleyball court layout

A typical indoor volleyball court is 18m by 9m divided into two zones per half-court: the front court, which is the area in-front of the attack line (also know as the 3m line) and the back court which sits behind the attack line.

According to the basic rules of the sport, there must be six players from each team on the floor at any given time – three in front court, and three in the back court.

Given these volleyball positions on court, the three players in front are responsible for making sure that the ball crosses the net to the opponent’s side either through spikes or blocks. The back-row players, on the other hand, are responsible for receiving the ball, though they can also attack the ball only if they start the attack from behind the attack line in the back court.

Volleyball player rotations & zones

The players rotate through the numbered positions marked on the diagram in a clockwise direction as their team gains possession of the serve.

Although players are required to stay in their specific positions at the start of the game, it becomes an entirely different matter as soon as the ball is served. Players can then move to their respective playing positions. For example, a middle blocker located at the front-left can move to the middle front position immediately after the serve has been released.

With a six-person team on court, everybody needs to be aware of each teammate’s position so as not to overlap or hinder each other. The basic rule is that players can move in an “L-shaped” pattern to quickly get into their playing positions.

Volleyball positions & roles

In volleyball, the players’ positions are highly specialized and strategic. This means that each player has a primary responsibility in each game, although they are by no means restricted to doing only these activities.

Setter

A setter’s job is to set up high quality attacks and distribute the ball to his or her spikers or hitters. Also called the control tower, the setter is responsible for bringing the ball to the player with the highest probability of scoring.

While setters might not be as flashy as spikers, they usually possess the best ball technique and heightened court awareness. After all, they are the ones who need to make split-second decisions on where to bring the ball.

Outside Hitter / Open Hitter

These players are mainly responsible for attacking and scoring. The left-wing spiker is commonly known as the outside hitter while the right-wing spiker is called the opposite hitter. In a volleyball game, outside hitters are primarily responsible for attacks while the opposite hitters help with blocking the opposing teams outside hitter.

For both positions, the player’s leaping ability and power are required for them to do their jobs well. It also helps if the outside hitter and the opposite hitter know how to receive and pass the ball. In addition, it is considered a blessing if you have a left-handed person handling the opposite player position as they will undeniably have an easier time hitting the right side of the court.

Middle Blocker / Middle Hitter

Middle blockers transition to middle hitters depending whether their team is on the defensive or offensive.

In both roles it is important that these players are able to judge the movement of the ball and be mobile enough to be in position to attack the ball as required.

Player height is another key factor for effective middle blocker / hitters and this combined with leaping ability, agility, and perfect timing makes the perfect player.

Libero

Liberos are highly specialized defensive players and are the ones primarily responsible for receiving serves or attacks from the other team. They are usually the players on the team with the quickest reactions and most mobility.

As the libero will never attack the ball above the height of the net they do not need to be particularly tall and hence are often the smallest player on the team.

Unlike the other player positions, a libero can freely come and substitute a backrow player, often replacing the back-court middle hitter. However, he or she needs to wait one finished rally before he or she can return to the game. Liberos wear a different colored uniform to their teammates; to enables the referees and linesman to identify.

Volleyball formations & tactics

To further complicate matters different formations are used, which are usually varied depending on the level of the teams involved. There are three standard volleyball formations:

4-2 formation

A basic formation mostly used by beginner teams this formation has 4 hitters and 2 setters, with the setters usually operating from the front right or front centre positions.

This formation usually has two outside hitters and both them and the setters align themselves in opposite positions in the rotation so there is always one type of each in the front and back court.

The 4-2 formation is considered to have a couple of clear disadvantages with the lack of a clear offside hitter and a lower number of attackers leaving the team with fewer offensive weapons.

5-1 formation

The most commonly used formation by high level teams only has one player that assumes the setting responsibilities regardless of their position in the rotation. This leaves 5 attacking players spread across the front and back courts and means that the setter always has 3 hitters to vary setting strategies.

The 5-1 formation is actually a hybrid of the 4-2 and 6-2 formations.

6-2 formation

In the 6–2 formation, a player always comes forward from the back row to set. The three front row players are all in attacking positions. Thus, all six players act as hitters at one time or another, while two can act as setters. So the 6–2 formation is actually a 4–2 system, but the back-row setter penetrates to set.

The 6–2 lineup thus requires two setters, who line up opposite to each other in the rotation. In addition to the setters, a typical lineup will have two middle hitters and two outside hitters. By aligning like positions opposite themselves in the rotation, there will always be one of each position in the front and back rows. After service, the players in the front row move into their assigned positions.