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.

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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.

    2 replies to "Picking your libero"

    • Kelly Daniels

      I have this dilemma with my team after our first tournament this past weekend. One athlete on my club team played for me in HS last season. The other athlete is from last year’s team. Both are freshmen on a 16s team.
      My HS athlete comes from another club who’s qualified for an Open level program. The other athlete played on a team that played open, but never qualified open. Her team ends up in American division from a ‘trickle down bid.’ Do you think I should take that into consideration? Also since the my HS athlete played for me in HS, should I be concerned about perceptions. She’s being assigned Libero because she plays for the club owner’s HS program and I and I was her coach on the JV team as a freshmen. BTW…The other athlete also played JV for her HS team.

      Just thinking out loud, but wanted your thoughts on the subject since this article you published hits at the heart of my dilemma.

      Koach Kelly
      Maverick Volleyball
      16 Elite Smack

      • John Forman

        Hi Kelly – First, in my opinion, last season is last season. I wouldn’t weigh it much, if at all, in this year’s considerations. This is even more the case for young players like these. Too much can change from year to year. The only exception I might make is if there’s some kind of behavioral issue that could crop up, but even then I’d need to see evidence this season that this is/could be a problem.

        With respect to the high school aspect, again I also wouldn’t give it much weight with respect to the club team. Different environment. Though you could use stuff from the high school season to influence player developmental priorities.

        It sounds like you could potentially have favoritism questions either way – play your own player more or play the club director’s kid more. The only real way around that is to have some clear objective measures you use to determine playing time.

Please share your own ideas and opinions.