Why does a volleyball team have 12-15 players on a roster but only six on the court? Most players have a specialized position that they will sub into the game for. So what are these positions and who usually plays them?
The Setter (S):
You may hear setters referred to as the “quarterback” of volleyball. They will typically be a team leader, as they usually touch the ball in every single play. They take the 1st contact pass, listen to what the hitters are calling for, and set a hittable ball to another player. In most offenses, the setter plays from the right-back and release to set after playing defense. Setters have to have the most knowledge of the game, as they run the entire offense on the fly. Selflessness is another great quality in skilled setters. Rarely does a crowd stand up a roar because of a good set, but without them, the big impressive hits never happen.
Outside Hitter (OH):
Every time the team gets into a panic, a high outside set is what gets them back into the game. The outside hitter is typically the “outlet” player that is ready to attack the ball under all circumstances. They play from the left front and typically block and pick up tips on defense. These players may be the shorter of the hitters on your team, but they have to have a great vertical and be quick and athletic. Many times outside hitters have more of an opportunity to play all the way around because they are well-rounded players.
Middle Hitter (M):
When you see your stereotypical “wow you’re tall, you must play volleyball” player, you are likely looking at a middle hitter/blocker. These players usually block across the net in all three positions, so they have to be fast, smart, and ideally tall enough to put up a great block. On top of the pressure of blocking, middles often run quick hits with their setter to bring their team points. Height, great verticals, and aggressive swing will make for the best players in this position.
Opposite Hitter (OPP):
The opposite hitter plays from the right side of the net. While anyone can play this position, it is the ideal spot for a left-handed hitter. They play from behind the setter taking high & quick back sets. Some of these players might actually the setter when they rotate to the front row and another setter takes over for them, and sometimes they sub in for a setter in the front now. These players can have the sneakiest attacks as many teams focus their defense on the big middle or quick outside hitters. A close working relationship with the setter is important for these players as they are normally set blind AND have to stay out of their way as they transition from the back row.
As a relatively new position to volleyball, you still see many fans asking “why is that girl wearing a different color.” The answer is that it signifies the defensive captain position we refer to as a libero. This player is typically the best defensive specialist (we’ll get to this next) that is well rounded in both defense and serve receive. The libero is allowed to sub at will behind the 10 ft. line without it actually counting as a substitution. They are also allowed to enter for multiple players. You will often see them go in for both middle or outside hitters. The libero should be confident, aggressive, and near-perfect on passing.
Defensive Specialist (DS):
The defensive specialists often are the shorter members of the team that you see sub in the back row for your hitters. Just like in their name, they are focused on defense. They serve receive and dig balls hit by the other team for the setter to turn into something playable. They must have the stamina to constantly move and stay low on the court, and the volleyball IQ to understand where the ball will be in play.