I came across this question in a Facebook group.

Is a true 6-2 (where setters play all-around) easier for 14’s (and below) to learn and execute or is a modified 6-2 (where setters do not play front row (as right sides) easier?

Let me put forward a progression I think makes sense.

The 6-6 starting point

In the early stages of development you don’t really want specialized positions. At that point you’re best off having everyone play all positions. This is what the 6-6 accomplishes. You pick a position, for example Position 2 or 3, and designate that as the setting position. When a player is in that position they are the setter. Nice and simple.

Next step, the 6-3

At some point it makes sense to start specializing setters, at least a little. The 6-3 system does that. Three players are designated as setters, though they still continue to hit. You put those three in non-adjacent positions in your rotation, for example Positions 1-3-5. When one of those players are in Position 2 or 3 they set. Otherwise they’re a hitter.

This system is a way to start developing setters while also starting to teach position switching. It’s an easy switch, though – just one spot. You could potentially do similar position switching elsewhere to teach it there as well.

Moving to a 2-setter system

The next step is to more fully specialize setters. In the 4-2 system you have two of them. The straight 4-2 places the setter in Position 3, while the International 4-2 locates the setter in Position 2. These systems continue to keep switching for the setter pretty simple. At most a player has to go from being in Position 4 over to Position 2.

The the decision between the standard and International versions of the 4-2 is an interesting one. The International version is easier for young setters in that they only have to set forward, and it can bring in the development of a quick offense in the middle. In order for players to learn to back set, though, the offense needs to include slides or sets to Position 1/2. The standard 4-2 is perhaps better for spreading the offense out, and obviously incorporates back sets naturally, but is more limiting in terms of developing middle hitters.

Stepping it up to 6-2

The next jump in setter development is to introduce penetration from the back row during play. That happens in the 6-2 offense. Since there is also position switching, players tend to have the biggest struggle figuring things out when moving to this system.

The wrinkle with the 6-2 is that it actually brings back the potential for setters to be hitters too. In fact, under FIVB rules, where substitutions are limited, that’s a requirement.

Putting the two together

The 5-1 system is basically half 4-2 and half 6-2. When the setter is front row, it’s like a 4-2 system. When the setter is back row it’s basically the 6-2. The difference is that in the 5-1 the setter is the setter for all six rotations.

You can legitimately ask the question whether there is any real value going from 4-2 to 6-2 rather than just going to 5-1. After all, you’re introducing penetration in both situations. You have to consider other things to really make the right decision, which I outline in this post.

Additional considerations

At the end of the day you need to look at your team and factor in the situation you’re in. If you’re in a competitive environment where the expectation is that you play to win all the time, you have to pick the offensive system that maximizes that probability (keeping in mind that sometimes you want to sacrifice in the short-term for better performance down the road).

If you’re in a developmental environment, you need to focus on the system that will help your players move best along their growth path. This is something I specifically addressed in this post.

For younger players – especially those still growing where final physical capability remains unclear – I strongly favor less specialization. For more physically mature players it’s a different story, though even there it’s worth still giving players the opportunity to work on all the skills.

Answering the question

I suppose I should probably answer the question that started this all off. 🙂

It is always easier to only play one position over 3 rotations than to play one position for 3, then another for 3. That’s just the simple case.

I would also say, however, that it’s easier to play the 3 front row rotations without switching. By that I mean it’s more like the 6-6 where the player hits in the front row out of wherever they are in the rotation. That offers the advantage of leaving hitter specialization for later in their development.

What might be the best approach is to start with a substitution based 6-2 – what the questioner calls “modified” – while the players are learning the switches and the penetration. Once they have that down, you can either then leave them in all the way around as hitters in a 6-2, or you can shift to a 5-1 offense.

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John Forman
John Forman

John is currently the Talent Strategy Manager (oversees the national teams) and Indoor Performance Director for Volleyball England, as well as Global Director for Volleyball for Nation Academy. His volleyball coaching experience includes all three NCAA divisions, plus Junior College, in the US; university and club teams in the UK; professional coaching in Sweden; and both coaching and club management at the Juniors level. He's also been a visiting coach at national team, professional club, and juniors programs in several countries. Learn more on his bio page.

Please share your own ideas and opinions.