One of the regular challenges of working with youngsters new to the sport is teaching them volleyball rotations and volleyball court positioning. In this post I will provide some tips and ideas to hopefully make it a bit easier.

Before getting into rotation and positions, though, let’s make sure everyone knows the overlap rules. A lot of people get that wrong – including coaches.

Teaching the Structure: Thinking in terms of variations and cues

How you start teaching volleyball rotations and positioning depends on your offensive system. If it’s a basic 6-6 where the player in one particular spot is always the setter (e.g. Position 3), it’s easy. Every rotation is the same, so there’s only one variation to teach. You just have to spin the players around the court so they know their responsibility in each position.

For a 6-3 with the setter in one of two locations (usually Position 2 or Position 3), then you only have two variations to teach. You can use cues to reinforce which one of them you’re in. For example, “Setter in 2” or “Setter in 3”. That reminds the kids of the variation. They just have to then work out what that means for them based on their position in the rotation.

A 4-2 expands on this to bring it up to three variations. Again, you can use the same type of cuing as reinforcement.

Now, going from a front row setter system like the 4-2 to a back row setter system like the 6-2 may seem like a big shift. There’s no doubt the player positioning and transitions are more complex. The thing is, though, you can follow the same progression of 6-6 to 6-3 to 4-2. Just do with with setting out of the back row.

If you’ve already done the 4-2 and 6-2 offenses, then the 5-1 is straightforward. Yes, it’s 6 different variations, but they simply repeat the two sets from the 2-setter systems. By the time you’re at this stage the kids should have the structure pretty well figured out. It’ll just be about each specific player understanding their responsibility.

Teaching the Responsibilities

The players will probably pick up the structures fairly easily. There aren’t that many to remember, after all. The bigger issue is understanding what that means for them in any given rotation. This is especially true when the players’ positions in the rotation change.

Ultimately, learning this stuff has to be done on court. To save yourself a bunch of practice time, though, give the kids some video homework. Share clips of the structure you’ll be using that clearly show positioning and transitions (if any). That way, when you’re ready to work on it in practice you can jump right to working through things in live play – or some close approximation.

Again, think in terms of cues here. The easiest way for kids to understand were they are in the rotation – and their positioning from there – is in reference to their teammates. That means it’s probably best for you to teach them to think in terms of who they’re next to, and then to have one or more reference points you can cue.

What do I mean by that?

Think about a 5-1 rotation. The setter is a good reference point. If you say “Setter in 1”, then your opposite knows they are in Position 4 and everyone else can work things out from there. So for whatever system you’re running, think about the player or players you can make the reference point(s), then cue based on their location.

A coach working with their team on volleyball rotations and positioning
Using the science to teach volleyball rotations and positioning

I want to bring in some of the skill acquisition science at this point. That might sound a little strange to you, but I’ll explain.

One of the themes of skill acquisition is that learning happens best when the individual is challenged by changing demands. The videos I share here are a good reference if you want to learn about this further. So too is my post on blocked vs. random (or variable) training.

The upshot of the science is that it’s probably not best to just put the kids in a single rotation and repeat it over and over again, which is probably how most people tend to do it. Better for their long-term recall – meaning when you have to do it in your next match – is to mix things up. Do a couple of reps in one rotation, then move on to another – not necessarily in order. This forces the kids to have to think about where they go next. It’s that thinking and recall which will stimulate learning more than being told every time where to go.

What I would do to teach volleyball rotations and volleyball court positioning

Once you’ve established what you want in each rotation, time to crack on. I would probably first do short runs through each rotation to further lock in what the players should be doing. Run a few rallies in each in order. I won’t expect things to be perfect before moving on. It would take took long.

From there I would do something where I mix up the rotations, and not just do them in order again. You could do 1-3-5-2-4-6 or 1-4-2-5-3-6. You could even use dice to determine the next rotation. That would make it random – though maybe you wouldn’t want to repeat the same rotation back-to-back. Regardless, the idea is to force them to have to think about where they’re going.

Remember to use your cues and reference points to help them figure it out.

Of course you have to think about subs and over lineup variations. Ultimately, you want any player to be able to be able to know what to do no matter where they get put in the rotation.

They’ll pick it up

Kids often pick things up quicker/better than coaches give them credit for. Start simple and build up as they get it. Focus on the ideas of variations, cues, and reference points to help guide them along (and guiding is what you’re doing). Plan to repeat this variable rotation work multiple times, though you don’t have to make it overt rotation training. You can integrate it with other things.

And a big advantage to this randomized rotation work is that you’ll have an adaptable team. They’ll be so used to operating out of any rotation that you’ll be able to start them in any rotation you like and know they’ll be OK.

Volleyball rotations and volleybal court positioning can be complicated for new players. If you accept they probably won’t nail it all from one session, and regularly integrate their work into your practices, however, your team will have them down in no time.

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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.

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