Understanding Volleyball Rotations And Their Associated Positions

When I first started playing Volleyball years ago, I found the rotations and positions very complicated. It almost made me want not to play the game at all. I just wanted to smash some volleys and win games.

Well, rules are a part of the game to make it more enjoyable for everyone. So, I sat down and tried to learn as much as I could. I went through several different tactics and numerous combinations to improve myself. As a result, I improved as a player. I was able to carry out better strategies amidst games and win some essential points for my team.

But I didn’t want to stop there.

I knew the difficulties new players faced and how to get past them. So I started coaching my fellow peers, teammates, and eventually, more and more people joined in.

Maybe you are stuck in the same position as I was when I started playing. Hopefully, by the time you’re done reading this, I would have made your journey a bit smoother and more comfortable.

Let’s get started, shall we?

Volleyball Rotations Rules For Beginners

To understand rotations in Volleyball, you need to know what a ‘sideout’ is.

A ‘sideout’ occurs when the serving team loses a rally. This gives the ‘right to serve’ to the receiving team. The team that won the rally now has to rotate their positions clockwise and start serving. The team that lost the rally will not rotate and stay in their positions.

volleyball-chart-rotations

The chart will help you understand the rotations better. The numbers you see are the positions of the players on the court. The arrows signify the order of rotations. Note that the position numbers will not change; just the players will keep rotating every time a ‘sideout’ occurs.

The player in position 1 will serve and keep doing it until the next rotation. In the next rotation, the player in the number 2 position will serve, and so on.

This is done to ensure that the serving player changes. So, if you want the best server on your team to keep serving, keep winning points after serving!

What if you don’t rotate in Volleyball?

It is against the rules, and you will lose a point. The ref will call ‘a rotational violation’ if you fail to rotate or rotate in the wrong order. Yes, even the order is essential. Sounds confusing? Let me explain.

The referee can call you out of rotation if you break the order or make a positional violation. 

What is the rotation order?

Your starting line-up will determine the rotation order. The way you line-up has to be maintained throughout the set. You’ll have 3 players in the frontcourt, and 3 in the back. That means the players in positions 3 and 2 will always be in that order when rotating.  This has little to do with what position a player plays, such as a libero, outside hitter, etc. You have to maintain these positions till the ball is served.

Once the ball has crossed the new after a serve, players are free to move around as they wish to. And that is usually the case. You will find that after a serve, players will take up positions to receive the ball best. You must decide your team’s receiving strategy before you step on the court for the best outcome.

Enough about the rotational violation. Let’s talk about the positional violation or, as it is alternatively called, the overlap.

Suppose a player leaves their position before the service or occupies an incorrect position in relation to their teammates. In that case, it can be termed as an overlap. The latter part might sound very similar to the rotational violation, but it is not. Allow me to clarify.

Consider the middle front player. He has to remain on the right side of the left-front player and to the left of the right-front player. If these players are standing too close to each other for some reason, it can be termed as overlap and a positional violation.

Likewise, all the players have to keep their relative distance and position from each player. They don’t necessarily have to be perfectly lined up as in a military formation. They just have to maintain the order of the starting line-up.

You also have to keep in mind that the back row players remain in the back row. Suppose a back-row player is in the front row before the service; it would also count as a positional violation. The same goes for the front row players.

Note that you must remain in your position till the ball is put in play. You can then move around after that, but there are some rules to that as well. Don’t get disheartened. You can move freely, but if you’ve rotated to a backcourt position, you cannot attack the ball in the frontcourt. If a player from the backcourt, except the Libero, wants to attack the ball, they must do it from behind the 10-foot line.

If the different positions and their names seem confusing to you right now, that’s alright. Keep reading. All of it will be clarified in the next section.

Volleyball Positions Diagram And Numbers

volleyball-chart

We all know by now that there are 6 players on the field, each playing a different role. Sure everyone is supposed to pass, set, block, or serve whenever the situation demands it. But those are necessary volleyball skills that every player must-have. 

So, what are these specialized roles? What does each of them do? Let’s list them.

  1. Libero
  2. Right-Side Hitter or Opposites
  3. The Setter
  4. Middle Blocker
  5. Left-Side Hitter or Outsides
  6. Defensive Specialist


Now even though there may be 6 items on the list here, it does not mean that all 6 of these roles may be present on the court. How? That’s simple. There are 2 left-side hitters, 2 middle players, 1 setter, and 1 right-side hitter generally. 

The hitters, blockers, setters sound intuitive with their names describing their position on the court like right-side or middle. But then what about the Libero? Where do they fit in? Let’s learn that.

The Libero Position

  • Defense specialist.
  • Replaces any player in the back row.
  • Can be substituted freely.
  • Wears a different color jersey.

The Libero position is a special one. It is primarily a defensive position and one of the most important. The Libero can be freely substituted with any player in the back row. This means that Liberos can freely walk in and walk out for another player, and it won’t be counted as a substitution. Usually, it is the middle player that is substituted for a Libero for enhancing the defense.

You must’ve noticed while watching a volleyball game that one player on a team is wearing a different color jersey than the rest of his/her teammates. Congratulations, you’ve spotted the Libero on that team. This is done to help the referees distinguish them easily.

And if by any chance, you weren’t able to guess which one is the Libero, they are usually the ones that make rallies so enjoyable to watch. Their main task is to receive the opponent’s attacks and serves. This would usually require them to pull some spectacular digging moves, sometimes even sacrificing their body. 

Another interesting rule for the Libero is that they cannot attack (above the net), block, serve and set in the frontcourt. You have to carry out most of your tasks from the backcourt if you are playing as a Libero.

Skills needed to be a great Libero

As a Libero, you are vital to the defensive success of your team. You are expected to lead from the front (from the back, in this case) and will be the first to touch the ball most of the time. You need to be able to read the court, get in the right positions, and be very alert.

When playing as a Libero, you need to have excellent digging and passing skills. Trust me; you will be facing some very tricky volleys coming towards you, and your team will rely on you to diffuse them and make the right pass. So, communication skills are also necessary for your success in this role. Working hard on agility is an absolute must as being slow to react may cost you many points.

Right-side Hitter or Opposites

You’ll usually find these in the number 2 position. As the name suggests, the right-side hitters play from the right side of the court. Depending on the formation, you’ll find at least one of them on the court.

The right-side hitters are also called opposites because they are positioned opposite to the setter. Their primary duty is to assist the setter when called upon. If your setter is not available for some reason, the right-side hitter is expected to take charge and set up the ball.

Opposites don’t get set up as often as the left-side hitters. Often they’ll be the one hitting off any backsets. Much of this will depend on the passing of the team and the strategy.

This position is considered the best for lefties. The way lefties approach a ball in this position can be optimal for getting a good hit. So, keep that in mind if you are a lefty.

Skills needed for the Right-side Hitter role

Opposites will find themselves playing front row and back row in a game. Therefore a well-rounded player must be deployed in this role. 

If you’re want to play as the right-side hitter, you should work on your attacking, blocking, passing, and serving. These skills will be critical in games when you’ll rotate from position to position and might even turn the game around during a bad spell of play!

The Setter

The most crucial role for any team’s offense is the Setter. The player in this role is responsible for receiving a pass and set up the right player in any situation. If your setter is weak, then your entire attack can fall apart.

Setters will get the second ball most of the time and then set up the hitter for an effective attack. This is a specialized position that requires very high levels of agility, practice, and hustle. When playing the setter role, you’ll be tasked with a lot of quick decisions that could decide the outcome of any rally.

I don’t think there’s ever been a dull moment when I played setter. There’s constant movement to receive the ball right, set up the right player, move to the correct defensive position, and whatnot. And amidst all of this, you have to read the court well, spot the weaknesses, and communicate with your team. I realize that sounds like a lot of stuff to do. It may even sound stressful, but it is not. It is a joy to play this role.

Skills needed for the Setter role

As a setter, you’ll have to take responsibility to read the court well and set the right player up. You’ll be expected to be very agile and super-sharp mentally. You need to be able to control your emotions and be consistent with your passes and sets.

By now, you must’ve realized how important it is for the setter to have game skills and mental toughness. Start working on your passing, setting skills, strategizing, attacking ability, leadership, and communication skills if you want to a good setter.

Middle Blocker

Reasonably straightforward to understand from the name itself, the middle blocker role is the primary blocker on your team. They play in the middle and probably are the tallest member of the team. They are tasked with blocking as many attacks as possible. They have to remain very alert.

The middle blocker is the first line of defense but will most likely only play in the front row. When the time comes to rotate to the back, they’ll usually make way for a libero to step in. Middle blockers have to protect their side of the court from any dinks, tips, and overpasses.

As a middle blocker, you’ll also have to hit the ball sometimes. You’ll have to be quick with your movements on the court. You’re expected to block and get in position for hits. It is a very fast-paced role. 

Skills needed for the Middle Blocker role

To be the best player in the middle, you’ll have to perfect your basic skills first. You’ll also have to work on your jumping, speed, and reaction time.  

Make sure you practice your blocking, attacking incredibly well. Those are your key roles in any game. You should also be able to read the court well, anticipate what the opponent is going to do next, and plan your movements in split-seconds.

Left-side Hitter or Outsides

If one player gets the most attacking action on any team, it has to be the left-side hitter. They are absolutely crucial to any team. Outside hitters should be all-rounded and the most potent attacker on the team. Why? Because they are probably going to be set the most.

You must be wondering why the left-side hitters are likely to do most of the hitting. Well, there’s a good reason for it. It is due to their position on the court and the possibility of taking a whole hitting approach. This allows them to get as much power and momentum as they can into their hits to score points.

Also, attacking from the left is ideal for a right-handed player. They can easily make enough room for themselves to hit with power. But it’s not always hitting for the left-side hitter. Often, you’ll have to make good passes when playing in the front or backcourt.

In defense, you’ll always be in a prime position to receive a cross-court hit from the opposing team’s left-side hitter. Overall, this position requires someone with high energy and agility.

Skills needed for the Left-side Hitter role

To do real justice to the left-side role, you’ll have to learn to attack really, really well. That doesn’t mean you just have to know how to hit the ball. You must know when to use a hard hit like a spike, a tip, or a roll shot. You sure have to learn to put as much power possible in your hits, but you really have to be smart with them too.

Overall, you need good strength, agility, passing skills, blocking skills, serving skills, spiking skills, and the ability to read the court. A good left-side hitter can attack really well, but the best left-side hitters know when and where to attack. 

The Defensive Specialist

This may have forced you to ask, “Wait, isn’t the Libero supposed to be the defensive specialist? Aren’t they the same?”

The answer to that is yes and no. 

Yes, both the roles are all about defense, but there are differences between the two. The Defensive specialist is subbed in for a player that is weak defensively. And unlike a Libero, they count as a substitution. They can also play any position on the court. That means they are not restricted to the backcourt like the Libero.

Defensive specialists are only brought in when absolutely necessary since teams have a limited number of substitutions. Also, note that the defensive specialists do not wear a different color jersey like a Libero is required to.

Skills needed for the Defensive Specialist role

The defensive specialist requires much of the same as what the Libero role requires. You should practice your digging, passing the most as it is a major part of your role. Work on your communication skills, leadership, and reading of the game

As a defensive specialist, you may also find yourself playing in the frontcourt at times, so be sure to work on your blocking and attacking too.

What is Switching?

I am sure that you must be familiarised with the different positions and roles by now. And it is natural if you’re wondering, “how do players of a specialized role manage with all the rotation?”

The answer is that they SWITCH into it. The positions that you are rotated into have to be held only till the ball has been served into play. You should quickly run into your best positions as soon as the ball crosses the net. 

A crucial part of switching is timing it. Things tend to happen very quickly in a rally, and you only get a couple of seconds to get into position. So stay very alert and communicate with your teammates to avoid errors. If you switch too early, it will count as a violation. And if you switch too late, you may leave your defense unattended and concede a point.

Also, remember backcourt players cannot attack the ball above the net when they are in the frontcourt. They have to be behind the 10-foot line to attack the ball. I have seen too many new players forget about this rule and lose points in games. Don’t make the same mistake. Communicate with your teammates and keep your head in the game.

Conclusion

Knowing the different roles and positions in Volleyball is a must for anyone trying to be better. I hope I have been able to help you learn and understand this fantastic sport a bit more.

As a final piece of advice, I’ll say pick a role and practice it as much as you can. You will start developing your skills rapidly when you know what kind of player you want to be.

Try to keep it simple with your rotations and switching. It may seem tricky right now, but as you play more, it will become second nature in no time.

Remember to enjoy yourself because, in the end, that is what matters. Your best will only come out when you’re happy, having a good time.

If you still have some questions, I’ll be happy to answer them in the comments section.

Jonathan Roussel
Jonathan Roussel
Jonathan Roussel is a former Dallas Cowboys cheerleader and Indigo League champion. He now chases the dream to become a part-time Jedi Master like Gandalf. He means to reach his goals by sleeping 14 hours a day and eating pineapple pizzas.