Volleyball Positions and the Number of Players
In the late 19th century, the two popular American team sports of basketball and volleyball were both invented at Springfield College in Massachusetts. Volleyball was initially designed to be a less-strenuous sport for older people, although volleyball has evolved into a hard-hitting, competitive men's and women's sport in the NCAA, the Summer Olympics and a number of other international competitions.
Number of Volleyball Players
A volleyball team has six players. Competitive volleyball is traditionally divided into men's teams and women's teams, though recreational play can be coed. Two teams stand on opposite sides of a net in a volleyball court. Although the rules are extensive, the basic idea is a back-and-forth of the ball over the net, trying to keep it off the ground. Basic play consists of one team beginning a rally by serving the ball, which means tossing it in the air and hitting it with the palm or arm over the net. Then players hit the ball back and forth over the net, trying to score a point by grounding the ball on the opponent's court. Each team has three touches on its side during a rally.
Volleyball Rotational Positions
The six players stand in two rows facing the net in what are known as their rotational positions. The three players in the front row form the attack zone, and the three players in the back row form the defense zone. The back player on the left is called the server. She begins the rally to score a point.
After a team side outs and wins the right to serve, the team rotates clockwise.
Volleyball Playing Positions
After a serve, players are allowed to move from their rotational positions into their playing positions. These positions are also called zones. Covering the two sides of the court are the outside hitter and the right-side hitter, also known as the wing spikers. In between the wing spikers is the center or middle blocker. Other positions include the opposite hitter, the setter and the libero. The libero often plays left back position and is allowed to play backcourt only.
Libero - The defensive specialist and allowed to play backcourt only. Liberos are asked to make digs, thwarting spikes from the opposing team. A good dig allows the team to stay in system. That is, a normal response with a good set and spike – “in system.” Out of system is a term that describes when players scramble to return the ball over the net. The libero position is typically in the back left – on the left side of the court. The libero also wears a different colored jersey.
Middle Blocker - Height matters because the potency of a spike is diminished if they cannot hit through the wall of hands. According to expert coaches at USA Volleyball, the goal of the middle blocker is to create a wall of hands on the other side of the net when a hitter attempts to strike the ball.
Middle Hitter - The middle blocker is sometimes called the middle hitter.
Outside Hitter - Outside hitters jump and spike the ball set to them. The goal of outside hitting is to get the ball to the floor. Professional outside hitters talk about using the whole back third of the court to place the ball almost like a tennis server targets the whole court to keep the defender guessing. The obstacle is the wall of hands from the opposing team.
For example, in 2021 NCAA Women’s Volleyball Champion Wisconsin had two players, one 6 foot 8 inches and the other 6 foot 9 inches. Outside hitters often had to hit through the wall of hands they created. Height matters because the height of the net is 7 feet, 4 1/8 inches for women.
Setter - The setter runs the team’s offense. The setter runs the offense by choosing where to set the ball. A great set scores points. Most teams play with one setter in a 5-1 system, and a less common system uses a 6-2 system with two setters and requires more player rotation.
Why do players line up in different positions? The overlap, explained:
The NCAA rulebook explains player positioning in relation to other team members on the court:
- In the front or back row, the right-side player must have at least part of one foot closer to the right sideline than the feet of the middle player in the corresponding row, and the left-side player must have at least part of one foot closer to the left sideline than the feet of the middle player in the corresponding row.
- Each front-row player must have at least part of one foot closer to the center line than the feet of the corresponding back-row player.
The importance of the volleyball passer
At the heart of volleyball is passing. The passer enables the next player to strike the ball at their cleanest. Good passing wins.
Beach Volleyball and Other Types of Volleyball
The increasingly popular form of outdoor volleyball played on a sand court known as beach volleyball has different rules and is typically played by two players.
Since its invention, volleyball has been adapted around the world. There are variations in court size, rules and number of players. For instance, a version of volleyball in Asia has nine-man teams.
Usually, however, volleyball is played with even-number teams. Typically, recreational volleyball can be played with two, four or six players.
What is the reaction time of a typical volleyball back row defensive player against a spiked ball?
Scientific studies of volleyball players versus non-athletes show volleyball players have a faster reaction time: 347.50 ± 36.37 ms for volleyball players and 407.83 ± 52.56 ms for non-athletes.
reference: Zwierko, T., Osinski, W., Lubinski, W., Czepita, D., & Florkiewicz, B. (2010). Speed of visual sensorimotor processes and conductivity of visual pathway in volleyball players. Journal of Human Kinetics, 23, 21-27
And we reported that the average speed of an Olympic volleyball spike from men is roughly 70 to 80 mph.
We estimate a cross-court volleyball spiked toward the floor will travel 35 feet found by finding the triangle length of two sides 29 ft x 20 ft.
- The front court is 10 ft in length.
- The volleyball court width is 30 ft.
- The total length of a volleyball court is 60 ft.
Next, the height of a volleyball strike point by the outside hitter is estimated at 9 ft. So, the distance the volleyball travels from an outside hitter is found from the prior length estimate of 35 ft x and the 9 ft strike point, which is 36 ft.
A volleyball traveling at 70 mph is traveling at roughly 100 feet per second, so using 36 ft / 100 ft per second is 0.36 seconds.
The reaction time for volleyball players is about equal to the estimated reaction time a back row volleyball player has to dig a cross-court spiked ball from an outside hitter. We estimate the back row player has 360 ms to react and the scientifically estimated reaction time range is between 311 ms and 383 ms.
Mitali Ruths has been a professional writer since 2008. She received her M.D. from the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston and completed her pediatrics internship at Texas Children's Hospital. Ruths has worked as a magazine editor and contributed to several online publications.