Should you run a 6-2 offense?

If you’ve followed NCAA volleyball for a while, you likely saw the increase in the use of 6-2 offensive systems since the rules changed to allow 15 subs. We’re not talking the old definition of 6-2. That’s where everyone plays all the way around and the setters are attackers in the front row. That was the system Karch Kiraly played in at UCLA when he set and hit. You still sometimes see it in NCAA men’s volleyball. These days on the women’s side, though, 6-2 usually means swapping Opposites and Setters every three rotations. The 15 subs makes this possible.

Obviously, the idea behind this system is to always have three front row attackers. You usually also have a bigger block against the opposing outside hitter. The question, though, is whether that actually makes your team better in practice, not just in theory. To my mind, if you’re thinking about running a 6-2 instead of a 5-1 then there are some things you need to consider first.

Leadership – For many teams the setter is the leader on the court. Leadership is something you want to be consistent. By definition, swapping your leaders in and out every three rotations works against that. This may not be a big deal if the two setters have very similar personalities or the primary leader on the court comes from another position.

Set Consistency – Hitters tend to do best when the sets they get are a consistent tempo and rhythm. This is the challenge of the 6-2 offense. You need to have two setters who set very similarly so hitters aren’t constantly adjusting. Also, are your setters consistent and accurate back-setting? If not, you won’t get much added benefit from the extra hitter in those three rotations.

Defense – Let’s face it. Setters don’t always play the best defense. They tend to think about setting first. That can mean they cheat a bit, leave balls to others they should play, etc. Running a 6-2 means always having that little bit of softness in the back court defense. Importantly, it also means there is always a target for the opposing team to attack to take your offense out of system. Of course you may not be any better off with an OPP playing back there, though you could use a defensive specialist.

Blocking – How much of a benefit do you really get from a bigger blocker in Position 2? That’s supposed to be part of the reason for going with the 6-2. Does it actually hold up, though? Setters, despite their smaller stature, can be quite effective blockers. They may not get as many stuffs, but they can get useful touches. They also tend to be smart in terms of being able to position their block correctly. Then there is the question as to whether the opposition can actually take advantage of the smaller blocker, which simply isn’t the case at many levels.

Offense – Do you actually gain an advantage from having the extra front row attacker? If you have a good middle slide and/or back row attack, then you may find that there is no real extra benefit from always having three hitters across the net – especially if there is any set consistency issue, as discussed above.

The point of all this is that you actually should be looking for tangible evidence that one system is better than the other. It’s not enough to go on the theoretical. Find ways you can objectively measure the differences and get to it!

If you’re interested in exploring different offensive – and defensive -systems, there’s a good book on the subject.

John Forman
About the Author: John Forman
John currently coaches for an NCAA Division II women's team. This follows a stint as head coach for a women's professional team in Sweden. Prior to that he was the head coach for the University of Exeter Volleyball Club BUCS teams (roughly the UK version of the NCAA) while working toward a PhD. He previously coached in Division I of NCAA Women's Volleyball in the US, with additional experience at the Juniors club level, both coaching and managing, among numerous other volleyball adventures. Learn more on his bio page.

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