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Correct positioning key to volleyball defense

This is an excerpt from Coaching Volleyball Technical and Tactical Skills eBook by American Sport Education Program.

When on defense, having all your players in the correct position on the court no matter what defensive system the team is playing allows a team to be successful. If the players are in the correct position it means the court is balanced, which increases their opportunity for touching a ball. Players who know where to be on the court, and why, in each situation that arises will pay off for your team because they will be in a good position to block balls back into the opposing team's court or dig them up to transition quickly to offense.

Watch Out!

The following circumstances may distract your athletes:

  • Playing in a certain place on the court out of habit
  • Not understanding the team defensive concepts
  • Being intimidated by a strong hitter or team
  • Overplaying their position and trying to take balls away from teammates
  • Being afraid to go to the floor after playing a ball up
  • Not going for a ball because they might collide with a teammate

Acquiring the Appropriate Knowledge

When positioning defensively as a team, your athletes must understand the following:


You and your athletes need to know several main rules when positioning defensively as a team:

  • Rules about the first contact
  • Rules about overlapping
  • Rules about screening the server
  • Rules about illegal hits
  • Rules about the ball hitting the line
  • Rules about simultaneous contact
  • Rules about the libero setting an attacker
  • Rules about touching the net
  • Rules about the center line
  • Rules about the net antennas
  • Rules about the back-row attacker

Strengths and Weaknesses of Opponents

You and your players must account for the opposing team's strengths and weaknesses to know how to gain the best advantage when positioning defensively as a team. Teach your players to consider the following about your opponents:

  • Does the attacker give away her intentions? If the attacker tends to look in the direction she is going to hit the ball, your players can read this and determine the direction of the hit. Then they move into that area and are ready to block or dig the ball.
  • To what area of the court does the attacker typically hit the ball? Most attackers feel comfortable hitting the ball to a certain area of the court. At most levels of play, attackers typically hit most balls crosscourt, so you should play the percentages unless attackers have shown they are capable of attacking line shots with consistency. Keep track of where the attacker typically hits the ball, and work to block those shots or put a defensive player in the area to dig it up.
  • Does the attacker hit only one type of set or hit from one area of the net? Maybe the outside hitter can hit only high sets or the middle attacker hits only quick sets in front of the setter and never goes behind the hitter to hit a slide.
  • What attacker does the setter set to most often? Most setters have a favorite hitter they like to set in each rotation no matter what the situation is. The closer the score, the more likely they will set the hitter they feel comfortable with and have the most confidence in.


In addition to being aware of the opposing team's strengths and weaknesses, you and your players need to have knowledge about your own team's ability. In terms of positioning defensively as a team, coaches and players should be aware of the following:

  • How well do your players “read” the situation? Have them train in gamelike situations as much as possible so they will learn to block and dig against live hitters. Help them learn what to look at and how they can then anticipate where to correctly position themselves on the court to successfully play the ball coming over the net.
  • How well do your players move on defense? Spend some time training players to get in a ready position, read the hitter, move quickly to where they anticipate the ball is going to be hit, and get stopped and ready to play the ball hit at them. The players should lean into the ball and step forward toward the target area at the net after they dig the ball up. A player should always keep her head in front of her feet when playing defense, and she should rarely step back after making a defensive play. Rather, as mentioned, she should be moving forward to cover her hitter.
  • Do all the players know their angle of pursuit from each position? Your players must be expected to move in any direction within a 120-degree range to dig a ball (see figure 6.1). Players cannot be expected to cover 180 degrees effectively and be equally ready to move to the left or to the right. The player closest to the ball goes in front to attempt to play the ball, and the player farthest from where the ball is coming goes behind. This is a great method for covering the area in the seams between two defensive players. Place the players in their positions on the court for each possible attack, and have them identify their range of coverage with their teammates.
  • How well can your players see their teammates? Players should be able to see their teammates when in their defensive positions or at least be aware of where they are. If they can't see other players or don't know where their teammates are on the court, they will not be able to correctly play up a ball hit into the seams.

Figure 6.1

Decision-Making Guidelines

When deciding the best way to gain an advantage when positioning defensively as a team, you and your players should be sure to consider the previous information. Also, consider the following guidelines:

  • It is 42 feet (12.8 m) from one corner of the court diagonally to the other corner. Players need to be balanced around the court, with the deep crosscourt player making sure the deep corner is covered. This player should also have the rest of her teammates in view and would be the last possible person to play the ball before it lands in the corner because it will have gone past all the other players. Many attackers will aim to hit the ball into the deep corner when they are in trouble.
  • It can be beneficial for your team if you study your opponents, specifically the attackers, on video or during the warm-up to determine where they are most likely to hit the ball. You can even keep an attack chart during the match to see where each hitter hits in each rotation and plan your defensive strategy around this.
  • Players need to be aware of their positions on the court in relation to the sidelines and end line. This will help them let a ball go that is going to land out of bounds and know not to play it up. Players should position themselves just inside the court lines so that any ball coming toward them over their waist is out unless it was touched on the block by a teammate.
  • Players need to start in a base defensive position on the court. The blockers in the front row should be somewhere in front of the attacker they expect to hit in their area or zone of the net. The back-row players should have the court balanced, with the middle back in the deep back middle of the court (or up on the attack line); the left- and right-back players should be 15 feet (4.6 m) back from the net and 7 feet (2.1 m) inside the sidelines facing the middle of the court. If the middle back is up at the attack line, 9 feet, 10 inches (3 m), the right and left-back players should be back about 20 feet (6.1 m) from the net.
More Excerpts From Coaching Volleyball Technical and Tactical Skills eBook