What is the best position to play in volleyball and why?

The best position for a player to play is the one that they will have the most success and enjoyment playing. What the most important position is on a volleyball team is a separate question.

First, volleyball is a sport. Sports are created to be enjoyed. If any player doesn’t enjoy playing, they shouldn’t and probably won’t be playing it for long. The sport of volleyball can require a lot of time, money, and effort to make happen. If the players aren’t enjoying themselves, it is a monumental waste.

Second, volleyball is a team sport. While it is critical for players to enjoy playing, their individual enjoyment and preference is not the sole deciding factor. They must fit into the team in a useful place. If they are not helping the team, the team will not want them as a player which may mean the player gets no opportunity to enjoy volleyball. Alternatively, the team benefits from having the best players playing with them, so making sure the individual players are having fun is critical for its success.

Third, what positions mean may vary from team to team and coach to coach. Some coaches fit players into traditional roles and rarely vary things. For example, the outside hitter is expected to play all 6 rotations, middles only play in the front row, right side hitters only play in the front row (and are left-handed), setters only play in the back row, and all front row players are expected to block. Other teams and coaches will adapt things based on the capabilities of the players. For example, hitters may play in front or back row depending on their capability, hitters may pin hit (switching between outside and right-side hitting even within a game), setter may set from the back and play middle hitter in the front row, and/or may only utilize 1-2 players to block in the front.

Fourth, having success playing is important to having fun in the sport, which means it is important to find a position that the player can excel in. The more they excel, the more fun they will have and the more teams will want them and benefit from having them. Certain positions benefit from having players with certain physical characteristics and personality traits.

Here is a chart that may help a player decide what position is best for them:

FactorsOHMHRSSetterDSLib
Helps to be
tall?
YY(1)YY(2)N(1)N
Helps to be
left-handed?
N(2)N(3)YYNN
Helps to be
right-handed?
YYN(4) NNN
Often plays
a lot?
YNNY(3)NY(4)
Lots of
moving?
Y(5)Y(6)NYN(5)N(5)
Lots of
diving?
NNNYYY
Lots of
hitting?
YYY(7)NNN
Lots of
blocking?
Y(8)Y(9)Y(10)??NN
Lots of
digging/
passing?
Y(11)NNN(6)YY
Lots of
setting?
NNY(12)Y(13)NY(14)
Lots of
recognition?
Y(15)YYN(7)N(8)Y(16)
Want to
stand out?
Y(17)NNNNY(18)

Legend:

  • OH = Outside Hitter
  • MH = Middle Hitter/Blocker
  • RS = Right-side Hitter/Opposite Hitter
  • DS = Defensive Specialists
  • Lib = Libero
  • Y = Yes
  • N = No
  • Y(1) = Needs to block a lot
  • Y(2) = If playing in the front row (4-2 or 5-1)
  • Y(3) = Yes in a 5-1
  • Y(4) = Yes if utilized a lot (e.g., replacing both middles)
  • Y(5) = Lots of hitting opportunities
  • Y(6) = Lots of blocking and moving to hit or even potentially hit
  • Y(7) = If set frequently. May depend on other hitting options.
  • Y(8) = Often less blocking than MH and RS
  • Y(9) = Blocks everywhere
  • Y(10) = Often blocking opponents’ outside hitter (i.e., top hitter)
  • Y(11) = Assuming playing back row
  • Y(12) = May set as back up when setter takes the 1st touch (i.e., out of system)
  • Y(13) = Ideally sets once per possession
  • Y(14) = May set as back up when out of system, but usually bump set
  • Y(15) = Often lots of playing time and hitting opportunity means lots of recognition opportunity
  • Y(16) = If a good digger
  • Y(17) = Stand out as they play a prestigious position with lots of opportunities
  • Y(18) = Automatically stands out with the contrasting jersey
  • N(1) = Helps to hit from the back
  • N(2) = Actually harder to be left-handed
  • N(3) = Maybe harder to be left-handed
  • N(4) = Maybe harder to be right-handed
  • N(5) = Not a lot of running and jumping, but lots of dives and sprints
  • N(6) = Will pass some but often less than other back row players
  • N(7) = Sadly assists are not recognized as much as hits. Often setter is only recognized when the set is off.
  • N(8) = Fewer opportunities (i.e., playing 3 or fewer rotations out of 6) means less recognition
  • ?? = Will not block if setting back row (e.g., 6-2), but will block if playing front row (e.g., 4-2, 5-1)

Ultimately, what is best for one player is not necessarily best for another player. What one player values is not necessarily what another player values. What one player excels at is not what another player may excel at.

Volleyball is a diverse sport that requires different skills to succeed: digging/passing, serving, setting, hitting, and blocking. Some positions require all or most of these skills. Some positions require a different set of skills. Height definitely helps in most positions, especially to play at higher levels, but shorter players can excel as defensive players (i.e., liberos and defensive specialists) and setters even at the highest level of play.

Left-handed players have an advantage hitting from the right side of the net as a right-side hitter, but are disadvantaged playing as an outside hitter. Left-handed players also are excellent as setters as they have an easier time dumping or hitting the ball from the setting position.

Does the player like helping other players succeed?

If not, then they should play something other than a setter or as a defensive player (libero or defensive specialist).

Setters are the ultimate assistant. They help their team by helping others succeed in getting a good attack. Often they don’t receive the praise as that usually goes to the hitter.

Defensive players are also helping others to succeed through digging and passing well, and sometimes acting as a backup setter. They do often get praise for amazing digs and great hustle plays.

Does the player like taking the opponent’s best shot without responding?

If not, then they should play something other than as a defensive player (libero or defensive player).

Defensive players are always on the defensive taking the hardest hits and best shots of the opponent.

Other players will often play the back row or on serve-receive where they have to receive a difficult hit or serve, so to some degree almost all positions will have to but it takes a special personality to be a full-time defensive player.

Does the player like being aggressive and attacking their opponent?

If not, then they should play a position other than as a hitter.

Hitters need to be aggressive enough to want to run, jump, and attack balls over and over. They must be able to handle missing hits and being blocked, and still come back for more.

Hitters also need to be aggressive to be effective blockers at the net. They need to move, jump and reach for blocks that they often don’t touch. They need to be willing to do that over and over.

Does the desired team have a need to be filled?

If the player has a team (e.g., school team) that they are really interested in playing for or seeing succeed, then they may want to see if they can help fill that team’s need.

In other words, if a team is a collection of players that need to fill a number of roles, and some of those players can or will only be able to fill certain roles, then a flexible player can help fill out those other roles even if it isn’t their preferred role.

For example, if a team needs a setter and a player can fill that role even though they prefer to play as a hitter, they can potentially have a bigger impact on the teams’ success and the overall enjoyment of everyone.

Does the player want to play at a higher level?

If a player is interested in playing at a higher level of competition (i.e., college or professional), then it is important that they find a position that aligns well with their interest and their physical abilities.

If a player is not interested in a position, it is probably pointless to pursue it. If the player is not enjoying it, they will not be motivated to put in the work necessary to excel and play at that next level.

If a player lacks the physical abilities for a particular position at the level they want, it similarly may not be worth pursuing it either.

For example, it is unlikely that a female player will be able to play in Div I college as a front-row player if they are under 5’10”. Of course, when the girl is 12 it is not clear how tall she ultimately will become. But when she is 17, it is clearer.

This is not to say that every 5’9″ player should become a libero early and stay there until college. Many colleges may choose to fill defensive player positions from extra hitter positions so that in a pinch they could play in the front row if needed. And, a player may be able to help their lower-level teams as a hitter while still developing the skills necessary to play as a defensive player in college.

Of course, there are cases of exceptional players who overcome physical limitations to play at higher levels, but they are the exception and not the rule.

Any other considerations?

If the player is looking at picking a position that will have the biggest impact on their team, check out the article on that.

The player might also consider choosing a position to play that they believe their coach will most likely be able to help them improve in playing. For example, if their coach played setter in college they can probably get great pointers on being a setter from them. If their coach has had success training effective hitters, they may want to learn hitting from that coach.

It is important to remember that players are not stuck in a particular position. They may feel that way and they may get pressured to play a particular role, but they should decide what they are interested in pursuing.

There are advantages to specializing in positions that will allow them to develop quicker in that one area of expertise. However, there are also advantages to playing lots of different positions to become a more well-rounded player and to find the position that they enjoy playing the most. Well-rounded and flexible players will fit easily onto most teams. Specialized players may be stars (as the full-time starter) or may not play on their team if there are other players with the same specialty ahead of them.

Ultimately, all players are volleyball players and at different times they may be called upon to do everything from serving, digging/passing, setting, hitting, and blocking. Playing different positions can strengthen their overall skillset and even bring fresh perspectives to them (e.g., a setter who was a hitter may be more aggressive about attacking themself).

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