What is the most important position on a volleyball team?

Arguably, the most important positions/roles on a volleyball team as far as their overall impact on a team’s success are:

  1. Setter
  2. Libero
  3. Hitter
  4. Defensive Specialist

The setter is probably the most important role on a team as they are designed to take the 2nd contact on almost all positions during the game. A poor setter will limit or eliminate the opportunity for the hitters to help the team on offense. In other words, without a competent setter, there is little value to having an amazing hitter. If the setting role is split between 2 setters, then arguably they are half as important as in a 1 setter system. Still, teams that only have 1 competent setter are in a very tenuous position and may find their season decimated if the setter has to miss critical matches.

The libero is probably the second most important role on the team as they are designed to handle most of the 1st contacts for the team, including the hardest hits from the opponent. An outstanding libero can save balls that would otherwise have been lost and turn a barely saved ball into a good pass for an effective attack. The rules also allow them to play in the back row for almost the whole game (if they replace 2 opposite players like both middles) which allows them to have a huge impact on the game touching more than 2x the opponent hits than any of their teammates that need to rotate to the front.

Hitters are probably the third most important role on the team as they are designed to handle the 3rd and final touch for the team in an effort to score the ball. Effective hits may themselves score or may force the opponent to return a weak hit which can again be turned into another opportunity to attack. Hitters are also able to contribute by blocking at the net, and in some cases from hitting from the back row.

Arguably, the most important hitter on most teams is the outside hitter as they tend to get to set the most often (both in-system and out-of-system). They also are asked to play the back row which allows them to pass and hit back-row attacks as well.

Middles can make a tremendous contribution to a team’s success by hitting at a high percentage (i.e., high hitting percentage) and blocking all across the net. If they are able to play and contribute in the back row, they could easily be as or more effective than any outside hitter. Middle hitters typically have the highest hitting percentage on the team (often far higher than outside hitters). E.g., In 2019 NCAA Div I Women’s volleyball, out of the top 100 players by hitting percentage, 94 were middle hitters, 3 were outsides (#54 was the highest), 2 were right-side/opposite hitters (#73 was the highest), and 1 was a setter (#77).

Right-side/opposites hitters can also make a tremendous contribution to a team’s success by hitting well and blocking against the opponent’s outside hitter. They may also contribute as the team’s backup setter in certain situations. An effective right-side hitter can be set effectively in and out-of-system if the team is determined to set them often. That said, right-side hitters are often limited to playing in the front row and teams naturally feed the ball in out-of-system situations to the outside hitter which will limit the right-side hitter’s opportunity to help the team.

In theory, a defensive specialist can impact a team’s success like a libero but they are limited to playing roughly half as often as a libero can play as they need to rotate to the front eventually. This limits their ability to help the team as much as some of the other positions.

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