Diving Deep – What You Need to Know About the Volleyball Libero Position

Imagine you’re watching a volleyball game and you see a player in a different colored jersey enter into the game. He or she is flying all over the back court, making incredible saves, receiving hard-driven serves and covering the hitters going up against big blockers. 

Who is this player? And why do they wear a different colored jersey? 

This is the libero, a defensive specialist who has impeccable ball control skills and is quick to get balls up, no matter where they are on the court. 

So where and when did the libero originate in the game of volleyball? What can you do to become a really great libero? Don’t worry, we will answer all of your questions below. 

History of Libero Position in Volleyball

Let’s start with the meaning behind the word ‘libero’. It means free in Italian, signifying the freedom the libero has to come on and off the court—as long as they’re in the back court only.  

The libero was invented in 1998 at the international level, which was around the same time volleyball moved to the rally point scoring system. Before that, teams were only allowed to earn points on their own serve, so naturally, the matches could take quite a long time. 

To help quicken up the matches, they introduced the new scoring system which allowed teams to score on every side-out. During the same time, the libero position was introduced to let teams have a defensive specialist on the court for the majority of the match, and therefore, leading to longer, more exciting rallies. 

Once the libero was solidified on the international level, they then brought the position to the NCAA in 2002.

Italy’s defensive specialist Monica De Gennaro is one of the top Liberos in volleyball.

The Role of the 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 most of the time, they are the smallest player on the team.

They are also responsible for cleaning up shanked passes or blocked hits, which is why they need to have quick reaction times. It’s also a bonus if they are a decent setter because some teams have the libero take the second ball if the setter takes the first ball. 

Rules of the Libero in Volleyball 

Substitution 

Unlike the other player positions, a libero can freely come and substitute a back row player without it counting toward their total substitution count. They often replace the back-court middle hitter. However, he or she needs to wait one completed rally before he or she can return to the game. 

Jersey Color

Liberos wear a different colored uniform than their teammates in order to help the referees, libero trackers and linesmen identify them.

Since they have so much freedom as to when and who they can substitute for, it’s important to identify them on the court. You have to identify this player right at the beginning of the game, and no player can switch jerseys to become the libero once the match has started. Sometimes teams will designate two liberos in case one libero has to leave the match due to injury, illness, etc. 

Restrictions

The meaning behind libero, ‘free’, seems a little counter intuitive considering all of the restrictions they face during play. Some of those restrictions include:

  • Liberos cannot block or even attempt to block a ball
  • They cannot send the ball over the net when the ball is contacted completely above the height of the net. 
  • No finger-setting attackers when they are standing in front of or on the 10 ft. line is allowed.
France’s Libero Jenia Grebennikov demonstrating how to receive a volleyball

Tips on How to Be the Best Volleyball Libero

If you’re reading this and thinking to yourself that you want to try out this position, then do it! Bruises and bumps do come with the position, but the feeling of getting a perfect dig or getting a ball up that seemed impossible, is what makes it all worth it. 

If you don’t know where to start, here are some tips and equipment to get you try-out ready for volleyball season. 

Tips

Height is not a factor when it comes to the libero position. Shorter height might actually make this position easier because you won’t be hitting the ground from as high when you dive. 

In any case, developing quick footwork and reflex movement is essential. To help develop your reflex time, repetition is key, so gather a few of your friends and have them hit, tip and serve at you all day long if possible. Get used to reading the hitter’s body language. 

Flexibility is key when you’re playing libero. If you’re practically squatting and exercising those fast twitch muscles all game, then stretching and recovering after practices and matches is very important. Plus, you’re constantly falling onto the ground and getting back up so being flexible in your legs, shoulders and back can only help you in that arena. 

Equipment

Knee pads are a must when it comes to liberos. If you are hitting a hard surface multiple times per match, then you will want something to protect your knees. Try a pair of knee pads from ninesquared. Not only do they look cool, they’ll do a great job of protecting your kneecaps as well. 

If you’re looking for a little extra protection, then try the ninesquared elbow pads. It might be nice to have a little extra padding on elbows as you lay out for those shanked passes. 

Dominican Republic Libero Brenda Castillo with a spectacular defensive play.

Famous Volleyball Liberos to Look Up 

Now what’s a better way to get acquainted with liberos then to spend hours watching professionals play the position? Here are a few players to start with: 

Sergio Dutra Santos [BRA]

Known as one of the best liberos of all time with more awards than any other libero. He’s since retired, but leaves a legacy behind him as a multi medalist of the World League, South American Championship, World Cup and the Grand Champions Cup, in addition to becoming the first libero to be named Most Valuable Player in the history of the FIVB World League in 2009. 

Jenia Grebennikov [FRA]

One of the best liberos playing right now. He’s won many medals including two gold medals in the World League in 2015 and 2017.

Monica De Gennaro [ITA]

Known as one of the best liberos playing at the international women’s professional level right now.  In the 2018 FIVB World Championship, she won the title of “Best Libero”. Whether it’s wicked hits from the other team, block coverage or setting, nothing hits the ground when she’s on the court. 

Brenda Castillo [DOM]

One of the most well known and one of the best female liberos. She plays for the Dominican Republic women’s national volleyball team and stands at only 5’ 6”. In the 2016 Women’s Olympic volleyball tournament, she was awarded the title of “Best Libero”.