Are You Starting?

Picture this…the volleyball team is huddled before the start of the set. The coach comes into the huddle and says, “Here’s the line-up…” As she reads off the names of the athletes starting the set, the huddle is filled with silent fist pumps from the starters, and groans of disappointment from the non-starters. What if I told you that there is… NO… starting line-up in volleyball.

ESPN sports analysts and parents who love basketball have tainted the mindset of our youth volleyball players. In basketball the best players are always the first five to be on the court. This is not the case in volleyball. There are many outside factors that a coach needs to consider when deciding the starting line-up. The good thing is they have several tricks up their sleeves when it comes to who plays where on the court.

Things to consider:

  • Did we win serve or receive on the coin toss?
    • Younger teams typically what to win the serve, in the coin toss, so their best most consistent server can serve first. With serving being a strength and passing being a weakness, a coach for a younger team is hoping to get a run of points early in the game so the other team cannot catch up. Older more advanced teams typically want to choose the chance to receive the ball first. In rally scoring the receiving team is more likely to score than the serving team. This gives your team the best chance to score the first point. Then the coach may have his best server in right front so that she can rotate back and serve first.
  • Who is the other team’s best hitter, best blocker, and weakest blocker?
    • Coaches want to match up their best blocker with the other team’s best hitter. They are also trying to match up their strongest hitter against the other team’s smallest blocker. Usually this requires a coach to watch previous matches or game film on a team to see what the tendencies are of the other coach’s starting line-up.
  • Coaches must spread out their strongest players.
    • See the image below for a better reference. Typically, a coach wants to have his best setter sandwiched between the best outside hitter and the best middle hitter. In the diagram below you can see that the setter is starting right back, the O1 (strongest outside hitter) is in the right front, and M1 (strongest middle hitter) is in middle back. The opposite, or OPP, is usually a very strong hitter also.
    • So, if your best middle is starting middle back and the libero typically comes in for the middles in the backrow, that means the best middle is on the bench at the beginning of the set.

  • Who do the setters connect with the best, and who is the best passer?
    • A two-setter offense, such as a 6-2 or 4-2, may mean that one setter connects with a certain middle better than the other. The coach may set up the line-up to allow that setter and middle to be in the front row together more often. This throws out the strategy listed above of a M1, or O1.
    • A coach never wants to get stuck with multiple weak passers passing against a strong server. A coach may rotate the players, in the starting line-up, to avoid a situation where the weakest passer is passing against the best jump server in the gym.
  • Which line-up won the last set?
    • Sometimes you can have your worst players on the floor, but for some reason they are winning. Volleyball is a momentum-based sport. The athletes on the floor may be carrying the team because they are pumped up, supporting one another, and creating a positive playing environment. A coach probably won’t change the line-up for the next set because the current line-up is winning. Usually the statistically analysis of the game will show who the best players are, but stats cannot show you who carries the team’s momentum.

As you can see, there are many factors that help a coach determine who plays when and where. Make sure you son or daughter knows that groans of disappointment are not appropriate when the coach reads the starting line-up for a set. Each athlete should move into their current role and give 100%. If he or she is on the bench, that bench better be the loudest most supportive bench. If her teammate stuff blocks the other team’s best hitter, she should be jumping up and down in excitement for her teammate. The moral of the story is… don’t waste your energy trying to know what is going on in the coach’s brain. Roll with his or her strategy and win every time you touch the ball.