Tag Archive for defensive systems

Picking your libero

A coach thinking about team selection asked the following question about deciding which player should be the libero.

How do you decipher who would be your libero and who would be the defensive specialist?

Serve receive

First and foremost, you need to rate and rank your libero candidates by serve reception ability. I don’t mean you have to prioritize that, necessarily. You do, however, have to know how they all stack up. Reception, after all, is a big part of the libero’s job.

By the way, it’s best to rate players based on game passes. The scores you get from passes made in a scrimmage are a better indication of match performance than scores from a passing drill. A lot of elements contribute to this.

Now for the defensive considerations.

As a starting point, you may want to consider how you want to play defense. Do you play your libero in Position 5 or Position 6? If you know where you’ll place your libero, the decision process if fairly straightforward. You are looking for the best person to play that spot. It’s that simple.

Broadly speaking, you want someone mobile with good reading skills to play in Position 6. They tend to have more side-to-side responsibility and may have to chase balls down off the back of the court. In Position 5 you’re usually looking for someone quick and aggressive moving into the court. They have responsibility for setter dumps and tips, and when they do defend hit balls their area of responsibility is usually more narrow.

The above is how things usually go for a standard perimeter defense. Your system might vary from that, though, so think about each position’s requirements.

If you are more flexible with how you use your players, then the thinking is a bit different. Here you want to find the best available player, and then put them in the position that works best.

What’s your priority?

You’ve rated and ranked your libero prospects by their passing skills. You’ve also looked at who plays best in your defensive system, or ranked your players on their defense. Now you need to combine the two factors.

If your best defender is also your best passer, life it good. Easy decision. On to the next one!

If, however, you have a different top passer than top defender, you have a decision to make. Do you prioritize passing or defense higher? This should probably be based on which side of the game you think your libero will have the biggest impact. How you use them likely will factor into your evaluation here. Also, the abilities of the other players around them factor in here.

Think of the decision like this. Are you more comfortable with your libero being strong in serve reception, but weaker in defense? Or are you more comfortable if your libero is a strong defender, but not so strong in passing? And at what point does the weakness in the secondary skill become too big?

My own thinking

Personally, I will probably favor serve receive over defense when making a libero choice. I say that because it’s usually harder to hide a poor passer than a poor defender. Getting stuck in a rotation because your libero can’t pass the ball is worse than missing a few digs.

That doesn’t mean, though, that I’m only going to decide based on passing. If Player A has an average pass rating of 2.20 and Player B has a rating of 2.10, but is a much better defender, I’ll probably go with Player B. The small difference in passing quality is outweighed by the large difference in defensive capacity.

Don’t forget personality

Keep in mind the libero is going to be on the court most of the time. You want them to have the type of personality that contributes to and/or supports the mentality you expect from your team overall. You might have a player who doesn’t come in tops in passing or defense, but who makes the team better on the court. If that’s the case, you probably need to make them the libero. Don’t leave this part out of your decision-making.

Where do attacks go?

A reader asked the following question related to where they should place their libero for defense.

Are there any statistical studies of the number of touches by position among defenders, particularly at the high school level? In other words, if the libero is the best defender and ball handler, then it makes sense that the coach would want to put her in position to handle as many balls as possible. I have my own opinion from watching games, but has anyone actually studied the number of balls handled by the left back vs. middle back position?

I don’t personally know of any broad statistical studies of where attacks go for high school players. Most of that sort of stuff I’ve seen was done for a particular team. Think scouting report type stuff. I think this heat map probably is a good indication, though.

I think generally speaking the lower the level the more balls end up in the middle of the court. As attackers become more capable, you see the frequency of balls going away from the middle increase. I don’t have any figures to back that up, though. Maybe a reader does and will share them in the comments below.

General patterns aside, you have to consider your own defensive strategy here. If you tell your blockers to take line – thus funneling balls cross-court – then chances are more balls will go cross. If you block cross, then you expect more balls to go line. That factors into your positioning decision. The general information takes you only so far.

And there are other factors involved as well.

High school block and defense

This is the time of year when many coaches are problem-solving with there teams. Here’s one of them via a recent email.

Hi, I coach a varsity high school team. We are not very good at blocking. I am wondering if there are drill to work specific timing, and/or what defense would you suggests for weak blockers?

There are a couple of elements involved here. Let me try to address each.

Not good at blocking

Saying you’re not very good at blocking is a little too broad. That could mean we’re a short team, or it could mean we have technical problems. The request for a drill to work on timing tends to suggest the latter is what this coach is worried about. Since I can’t really help a coach with a short team, I’ll talk training ideas.

Unfortunately, timing isn’t a mechanical issue. You can’t break it down into positioning or movement patterns. It’s basically a decision based on judgement of the hitter’s attack. As such, there isn’t a drill to fix it. Players have to develop timing by blocking against hitters, and any drill or game where that happens will do.

The real issue is feedback, which is where coaching comes in. You have to first make the blocker understand they are not jumping on time, and then work with them on reading the cues to improve that timing. For the former, video is a very good tool. Set up your camera (a tablet will do) and either record them or use one of the video delay apps.

Recognition of block mistiming might be enough to fixed the problem, but if it isn’t you have to train your blockers how to judge the timing. That means knowing the hitter’s hitting power, seeing how far they are off the net, and reading the play to know if the hitter is likely to attack aggressively or use a shot.

Defense behind a poor block

The point of back row defense is to have players where the ball is most likely going. It’s a probability game, plain and simple. Yes, there are read based adjustments, but those are based on starting points and general areas of responsibility. This basic idea does not change based on block quality.

What does change, however, is placement of defenders. The block takes away a certain part of the court – or at least it’s meant to do that. The defense then is positioned around it in the areas attacks are likely to go. If your block is ineffective, though, you need to shift your defenders.

So that leaves us with a question: At your level of play, if there were no block, where would the hitters most likely hit the ball?

Answer that question and you have the answer to how to arrange your defense.

Libero in 5 or 6?

A question that most volleyball coaches have to answer at one time or another – oftentimes on a regular basis – is whether we will use our libero to play in Zone 5 or Zone 6. That generally is meant to be addressing the case of the libero playing back row for the two middles. It is part, however, of a broader question of how to maximize your back court, both offensively and defensively.

There are three primary considerations involved in answering this question.

Back row attack
Generally speaking, if you want your back row OH to be an attacking option then you probably want to position them in 6. Because that usually (but not always) involves them taking up a deeper position, it means they are better able to get a good approach for their attack. It also provides a bit more attacking flexibility, especially when working in combination with a front row quick attack (e.g. running the bic or back row quick). Having them playing in 5 limits things.

Second ball setter out-of-system
In the situation where the setter has to take the first ball, who takes the second? I wrote about the setter-out setting question previously. If the player in 5 is expected to take the second ball then you have to think about whether a back row attack is desirable in your scheme. If so, then having your OH setting isn’t desirable. There is also the question as to who’s going to set better ball to the front row players, which is more of a personnel question than a system one.

Best digger
The other consideration has to do with how you’re setting up your defense. Will most balls tend to go to 6 or to 5 in your system. Is there a meaningful difference in the digging ability of your OHs vs. your libero? If so, you may want to favor one or the other defending in the zone where more balls go. But keep in mind the question of the purpose of defense.

Different situations, different schemes
When I was coaching the Exeter women in my second year we played a system where we left one MB in and only used the libero on the other with both playing in 6. My reasons were because I had OHs who were strong reacting forward into the court (good for playing in 5), but not strong moving laterally (needed in 6), and we didn’t use them much for attacking back row as the MB and setter or OPP could all take those swings. When I was at Svedala our OHs played in 6 for attacking reasons.

The bottom line is that you need to think about your team and your players and go with what maximizes the effectiveness of the personnel.

How do I make my team strong in defense?

The following question hit my email inbox yesterday:

I would like to make my team a strong defensive team. Are there any drills to help with that?

First, let me restate something I posted in the You don’t need a new drill post. It’s not really much about the drills, or games, you use. Yes, they need to include the skill or tactic or whatever you want to work on. Beyond that, though, it’s about where you focus your coaching – how you provide feedback and where you have your players concentrating their efforts.

Now to the question of developing a strong defense. I think you have to address this from multiple perspectives.

A team’s first line of defense is at the net. It’s blocking ability, or lack thereof, goes a long way in determining how effective the players in the back court can be in digging opposing attacks. Obviously, at the lower levels this isn’t a major factor because of player heights and/or weak hitting. Once you advance beyond that, though, blocking is important (see How important is blocking?). There are technical elements to blocking (footwork, swing vs. non-swing, hand penetration) which need to be developed. Doing this is a matter of teaching the techniques and focusing on them in your feedback while having the blockers working against hitters. There are also blocking strategies that need to be determined, which ties in with the next section.

Defensive System
Integrated with the blocking issue is the overall defensive system we’re employing. This is how we position our players to cover the court when the other team is attacking. The general idea is the have players in position to defend the areas of the court most likely to be hit. A good resource for learning about different types of defensive systems and strategies is the book Volleyball Systems & Strategies. Once you’ve decided on a system, it becomes a matter of putting the team in situations where they face an attack and your feedback is focused on their positioning.

On the technical side of things, good defense requires players who can control balls hit at them. Having the perfect defensive system or strategy in place doesn’t mean anything if the defenders are shanking the ball all over the place. This very often gets training by having a coach banging balls at players, but there is a read element to good digging which can only be developed by putting defenders up against live hitters. Either way, it’s a matter of focusing your feedback on what you specifically want the players working on at the moment.

Attitude, intensity, etc.
The last element of defense is the mental part – being ready, being relentless, being fully committed. These are things which don’t necessarily have to be worked on in a game-like fashion – or in some cases even in a volleyball context. That said, it makes sense to have things be as close to realistic as you can make them for optimal transfer to match performance. Again, it all comes down to the focal point of your feedback.

So the first question you have to answer when looking to making your team better on defense is which of the above areas you need to most work on. Establish your priorities, pick drills or games which include that facet of the game, and focus both your and your player’s attentions there.

Who takes the second ball on a setter dig?

A volleyball coach posed a decision they are making with respect to where to position their libero. In this case it is considered from the perspective of who takes the second ball if the setter plays the first.

I am toying with the idea of moving the Libero to middle back. This way my outside/ds can hand set the ball to a hitter while in front of the attack line. Has anyone made the switch who would like to report on their level of success with this? My biggest hesitation is the statistical fact that most outside hitters hit the ball cross court most of the time. Therefore, having the Libero in that position (left back) seems to make the most sense. Just weighing which would serve the team better.

If I were speaking to this coach on the subject, I would ask a few of questions.

  1. How many first balls do you expect the setter to take?
  2. How many of those setter digs end up in front of the 3m line?
  3. Are your OHs’ hands much better than your libero’s bump set?
  4. How much difference is there in the digging ability of your libero and your OHs?

Another consideration in here is the defensive strengths of the players involved. By that I mean certain types of players are more oriented toward playing forward. That tends to suit playing defense in 5. Other types of players are better moving laterally. This suits playing in 6 when in a standard perimeter defense system.

And of course there’s the question of offense. Would having the setter taking the second ball negatively impact the team’s ability to score in transition?

Book Review: Volleyball Systems & Strategies

Volleyball Systems and Strategies is a book put together by USA Volleyball. It’s based on the work done in its Coaching Accreditation Program (CAP) – the US version of Volleyball England’s coaching certification sequence. It is a very comprehensive look at the next level of volleyball above that of individual skill. That’s how a team plays as a unit. To that end I think it has the potential to be very useful for new and developing coaches. It’s also useful for anyone thinking about how they can maximize the performance of their team given the types of players they have.

There are six primary sections to the book.

  1. Serve, Transition, and Serve Receive looks at the types of serves (float, jump topspin, etc.) and team serve receive patterns.
  2. Defensive Systems describes ways a team can set up in terms of both floor defense positioning and blocking.
  3. Defensive Strategies looks at different ways the systems above may be employed based on the strengths and weaknesses of your team and/or your opponent.
  4. Offensive Systems focuses on different offense configurations, such as the 5-1 or 6-2.
  5. Offensive Strategies discusses ways to employ an offensive system to put your team’s attackers at the advantage.
  6. Systems, Strategies, and the Team concentrates on developing good training plans and handling the team before, during, and after matches.

Each section of the book comprises chapters focused on one aspect of the bigger subject. These chapters generally feature five elements.

  • An initial description of the system or strategy
  • Personnel requirements
  • Advantages and disadvantages
  • Options for implementation
  • Coaching points

The final chapter of each section (except the last) lists drills to work on the system or strategy covered. There are as many as 20 drills listed. That’s plenty to work with.

There’s a companion DVD with the book. It covers the primary topics listed above, excepting #6. It also shows some of the drills included. Call it about an hour in length.

There’s a lot of material inĀ Volleyball Systems and Strategies. I think it’s pretty safe to say that if the reader can grasp it all they will be well on their way to being able to find the right systems and strategies for any team they coach, regardless of competitive level.

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