Take a hit – learn the Outside Hitter & Opposite positions in volleyball

The edges of the volleyball court are home to outsider hitters and opposites – players who are reliable, consistent and able to put the ball down on the other side of the net. 

The outside and opposite hitters are an essential component to any volleyball team. The outside hitter is sometimes referred to as the “Ace” because of their dependability to get the ball over the net and score. The opposite has the important job of blocking the outside hitter on the other team. They need to be able to read the hitter and shut them down. 

Without strong wing hitters, a volleyball team may be in trouble. So when did these wing hitters come into play and what’s the difference between the hitter on the left and the hitter on the right? We have some answers for you below. 

History of Hitter Positions in Volleyball

Like the middle hitter, the wing hitters probably entered into the sport around the same time the set and spike was introduced in the Philippines in 1916. Opposite hitters, or right-side hitters, became more popular when different rotations like the 5-1 and 6-2 were created because it allowed for more offensive players in addition to the setter. 

Brazil’s double Olympic gold medallist Sheilla Castro

Outside Hitter vs. Opposite Hitter: What’s the difference?

Besides the obvious difference of the outside hitter hitting from the left side of the court and the opposite hitter hitting from the right side of the court, there are some other differences to point out. 

Outsides are usually very strong and dependable hitters because the majority of the sets are coming to them. If you watch a volleyball game, you’ll see that if a setter is given a pass off the net or way inside, they will give it to their outside hitter because it’s the easiest set to make. This doesn’t mean the outside hitter has to have huge spikes every time they touch the ball, but they should have great technique and control when they make contact with it. 

Opposite hitters, though they need to be an offensive force as well, are more focused on blocking because they are usually put up against the opposing team’s outside hitter. They need to be able to read the ball well and put up a strong block. They also may have to step in as backup setter if the setter takes the first ball, though that happens more at the younger level because older players will typically use the libero as the backup setter. 

In any case, both wing spikers have to be able to block, transition off the net and be ready to hit in a matter of seconds. They also have to pull off the net and play defence when the ball is set away from them in order to pick up the tips and the short, trick shots. This means that in addition to a great arm swing and massive hops, the wing spikers should be quick on their feet and reactive to the ball. 

Rules of the Outside Hitter / Opposite position

Wing hitters have pretty straightforward rules when it comes to their positions because they are subbing out in a normal fashion unlike middles and liberos. 

Substitution 

Sometimes the outside and opposite hitters will be subbed out of the back row if they do better at the net and not so great at defense. For outsides, a player called the defensive specialist (DS) will sub in when the outside hitter gets to the back row. This is because the team may want two really good defensive players in the back row at all times: the DS and libero. 

For the opposites, if the team is running a 6-2 rotation, there are two setters who sub in for the opposite hitters any time they enter into the back row, so the setter is always in the back and there are always three hitters up at the net. 

Net Violations

Like the middle blockers, wing spikers need to be careful at the net because if their jersey or shoes touch the net, they forfeit the point, whether it happens when they are hitting or blocking. If their shoe completely crosses the midline underneath the net, they also give up the point. 

Back Row Attacks

If the wing hitters are staying in the entire rotation and playing in the back row, they may get set to. The wings can safely attack from the back row as long as they jump from behind the 10-foot line. They can land in front of the line, but they just have to take off from behind the line. 

What makes a good Outside Hitter in volleyball?

You don’t need to be particularly tall nor have a massive vertical to be an outside hitter, but it certainly helps when you’re going up against a big block. Still, as long as you know where to hit the ball based on how you read the block and adjust your hit in mid-air, then you can be a great outside hitter.  

Tips 

Since the outside hitter is relied upon heavily by the setter and the rest of the team, they have to be consistent. This means to become a great outside, you need a lot of reps. This can look like grabbing a friend and having them either set or throw a bunch of balls for you to hit or just hitting a ball against the wall to get used to the wrist snap. 

If you have someone tossing you balls, have them throw the balls all over the place, because chances are, you will be getting a lot of sets that are off the net to save the play. Get used to hitting from everywhere on the court, so you can be a force not only from the left side, but everywhere else on the court like the middle or back row. 

The last thing you should do as an outside is strengthen your quads, hamstrings and calf muscles. Since you are jumping from all over the court and getting lots of playing time, you need to make sure your ankles and knees are protected by strong leg muscles with the endurance to last an entire volleyball match. 

USA’s Outside Hitter come Libero Kelsey Robinson

What makes a good Opposite Hitter in volleyball?

Height tends to help an opposite hitter because they will be blocking quite a bit, but it’s not required. Sometimes another advantage that an opposite can have is being left-handed because the angle is a lot better on the right side if you’re hitting with your left hand instead of your right. You have more flexibility to hit a hard cross or line shot, which may be more difficult if you’re right-handed and hitting from the left side.  

Tips 

Since blocking is such a huge component of playing the opposite hitter position, work on blocking technique. This can look like working on blocking footwork at an empty net, moving up and down the net while you practice the different footwork combinations. You can also do this against an empty wall in a gym, outside or really anywhere. 

Like the outside position, you should also work on hitting, so grab a friend and have them set or throw you balls to hit. A setter may want to work on back setting, so take advantage of this opportunity and hit some balls with them. 

Transition footwork from blocking to hitting is so important as well so find an empty net or wall, jump up for a block and then work on transitioning quickly off the net and being in position to hit. The quicker you transition, the quicker the setter can get you the ball which you will ultimately slam down on the other side of the net. 

Equipment

For both wing hitter positions, the equipment is the same. It might be nice to have a pair of ninesquared arm sleeves because they add an extra layer between your arms and the ball, which is helpful in the front row for blocking and in the back row for passing. 

Knee pads are also a must because wings play some defence even if they are only in the front row. These ninesquared knee pads are an awesome choice to protect your knees without adding too much padding. Nobody wants little turtle shells as kneepads. 

Lastly, for all of the at-home drills you will be doing, it might be nice to have your own ball. A great choice is the Molten FLISTATEC Volleyball, because it’s FIVB-approved and used by USA Volleyball, the NCAA and the Italian National League. You can also browse through all of our volleyballs to find your perfect fit. 

Poland’s Opposite Mariusz Wlazły unleashing his scary service

Famous volleyball Outside Hitters 

Do you want to see these positions in action? Try watching highlight reels of these outside hitter players:

Yuki Ishikawa [JPN]

He’s a really strong player, producing a big presence at the net and seems to always find the floor with his hits. Ishikawa’s also a really dependable hitter and can hit through a block as well as around it. Ishikawa has earned the title of “Ace” on his team and won the award of Best Outside Spiker at the 2019 FIVB World Cup.

Kelsey Robinson [USA]

She’s a strong asset in both the front row and the back row. One thing she is really good at is hitting out of the middle in the back row because the block can’t read her. She’s a force everywhere on the court earning the title of Best Outside Hitter at the 2019 FIVB World Cup and was ranked Best Receiver in the same event. 

Asahi Azumane [Haikyuu!!]

From the volleyball anime Haikyuu!!, we’ve included Azumane because he’s an upperclassman who had trouble with confidence after playing in a game where he couldn’t find his way around the block. Yet, he’s encouraged to come back to the team and starts living up to his title of the Ace once again with almost every hit finding the floor or at least finding its way through the block. 

Famous volleyball Opposite players 

Do you want to see these opposite volleyball players in action? Try watching highlight reels of these star players:

Mariusz Wlazły [BRA]

Wlazly played for the Poland national men’s volleyball team in the early 2000’s through 2014, but his legacy still lives on. He was even given the title of Best Athlete in the World in 2014 by SportAccord. What might’ve been scarier than his hits were his serves reaching a speed of up to 110kmh. 

Sheilla Castro [BRA]

She dominated the early 2010’s in volleyball, raking in lots of individual and team awards like Most Valuable Player in seven major tournaments and helping Brazil win the gold at two Olympic games in women’s indoor volleyball. Her hits and blocks are massive and she’s the perfect person to watch if you want to know what a really great opposite looks like.

Fan favourite Japan’s Yuki Ishikawa