What’s the objective of defense in volleyball?

Previously, I introduced a debate related to set tightness. That came out of an FIVB Outside Hitter seminar I attended in 2015. It certainly generated some intense exchanges. What I want to talk about in this post is another idea Mark Lebedew brought up during the seminar. It might change the way you think about some aspects of what you do with your team.

Mark said the objective of defense is to score points.

Think about that for a second. Chances are up to now you thought the objective of defense is to keep the opposition from scoring a point.

The distinction is important. Mark told the story of the USA men several years ago when they made a decision to use their libero in 6 rather than in 5 to get more digs. It worked. They got loads of digs. Unfortunately, they scored fewer points in the process. Presumably it was because they didn’t have the pipe/bic available in the offense as effectively.

That’s one way of looking at things.

Another is to consider defensive positioning at a player level. In this case it’s the difference between simply digging the ball and putting up a ball that produces a legitimate attack. There are certain positions a player can be in defensively which increase the likelihood of producing settable digs, even though they might reduce the overall number of digs made.

Does that change how you think about your defensive system?

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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.


  1. Clayton Lucas says:

    You can only win a set / game if either your serve scores a point or you defend the opposition attack to generate a point scoring chance. So it is logical to to think that way. I suspect another popular thought is that the purpose of defence is to keep the ball off the floor (American men’s team as mentioned)

    Going to the game tonight USA v POL in Chicago. Will mention your post

    • John Forman John Forman says:

      You forgot to mention opponent errors among the ways you can score points. At certain levels that’s the single biggest source of a team’s points! 😉

      The point of the post, though, is that there’s a subtle difference between the idea of keeping your opposition from scoring and looking to increase the odds of you scoring in your own right. Yes, the latter necessarily requires that the ball be kept off the floor on your side. The problem is when you sacrifice the desired outcome (transition point) for more digs – as in the case of the USA men mentioned above.

Please share your own ideas and opinions.