I was asked by a reader what type of defense I use with my team, and my thoughts on the subject.

Generally speaking, my starting point is the perimeter defense. This is a structure where the back row defenders play toward the edges of the court. That’s where most of the hard attacked balls go when there’s a decent block. Some also call this a middle-back defense. I start there because it’s something most players have played and understand well.

From there, though, I think about things in two ways.

Personnel

There are certain player requirements to play a perimeter defense (or any other, for that matter). For example, the defender in 6 needs to be a good reader and able to move well laterally. Not every player is suited to that role. For example, I had an Exeter player who was very aggressive in attacking the ball played in front of her. She did not, however, move laterally well. That mandated she play defense in 5 rather than 6.

You’re also thinking about things like your block and potential back row attack. When I coached at Brown in the libero’s early days, we didn’t do much by way of back row attacking. We generally played our OHs in 5 and our Libero in 6. The idea there was that the OHs were basically specialists in digging cross-court balls. We made a change, though, because our block channeled balls cross-court and we wanted our best digger – our libero – in position to play them.

Opposition

Sometimes you want to change things up to better defend against certain teams or types of attacks. The rotation defense in which the defender in 1 one covers tips, and the defender in 6 rotates toward the line, can be used to defend against teams that play a lot of shots. We did this at Exeter against weaker teams at times. At Brown we actually used a type of rotation defense against teams that liked to attack line to have a better digger in that position. At Svedala we looked to use a rotation defense when we had our smaller second string setter playing to have more line defense when she was front row.

Of course you have to consider all the implications. Using a rotation defense tends to get your front row OH out of having to play balls way into the court – which makes it hard for them to then attack. At the same time, though, it likely means your setter having to play more first balls.

The bottom line

At the end of the day you want to put your players in the positions they are best suited to play within the context of a general block-defensive philosophy related to what you expect to see from the teams you play. Consider how you view the objective of defense and position your players accordingly.

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John Forman
John Forman

John is currently the Men's & Women's Head Volleyball Coach at Medaille College, as well as Global Director for Volleyball for Nation Academy (formerly Charleston Academy). His previous experience includes the college and university level in the US and UK, professional coaching in Sweden, and both coaching and club management at the Juniors level. Learn more on his bio page.

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