Some require a lot more responsibility and technical prowess, while others are relatively simple roles to fulfill.
I decided to rank the 5 primary volleyball positions from easiest to hardest so you can get a better feel for how these roles work.
So if you’re having trouble deciding which position is right for you, this is a great place to start!
What Determines How Difficult A Position Is?
I think there’s two primary considerations that determine how difficult a position is overall.
Technical Skill Mastery
While everyone on the court needs to know how to set, only the setter will perfect this ability to the point where they’re lightyears ahead of everyone else.
Learning how to set is one thing, but learning how to set extremely well with consistency is a whole different thing.
Being able to time a B-quick attack as a middle blocker is also a technically very difficult skill to master in the sport of volleyball.
There are many skills like this in volleyball which are tough to learn but a lot harder to perfect.
Intangibles & Other Responsibilities
The second thing that makes a volleyball position hard is what I refer to as the intangibles.
A setter isn’t just responsible for physically setting the ball, but they also have to coordinate an entire offense and ensure each attacker knows exactly what they’re running at all times.
They also have to make sure these offensive plays make sense against the particular defensive configuration they’re up against.
They have to communicate constantly throughout every point and continually adjust their approach.
Outside hitters have to not only master the technique of spiking, but then be able to do it sometimes 3 times in a row in a single rally… only to be stuff blocked with the scores level at 23-23…
They then have a huge responsibility to side out and swing on the next ball with complete confidence in their ability, despite failing horribly 3 times in the previous point.
Talk about pressure!
A libero on the other hand really only has to make really good passes and do the best to dig the balls they can.
It’s, for the most part, relatively straight forward.
Let’s jump straight into my ordered list of the easiest to hardest volleyball positions.
As I see it, libero is a very straight forward position.
Granted, I’m about the furthest thing from ever being a libero, but hear me out…
The list of tasks a libero has to do on court is not a long one.
Half their job is being able to pass well. The other half is to dig the ball well.
Most liberos don’t serve the ball, so they literally just have to get really good at passing and defense.
Digging is in one sense the hardest skill in volleyball, but I think a large part of that is that it’s virtually impossible to dig a lot of balls that an elite level spiker has hit in your direction.
The simple reality is that if your blockers don’t do their job, there’s a good chance you’re going to get a volleyball to the face – it doesn’t matter how good your reaction time is.
The fact that liberos don’t have to spike or serve the ball (for the most part) makes it a fairly one dimensional position, in my opinion.
However there are many counterarguments as to why libero may be a tough position.
- It’s the hardest position to get a professional contract for and the lowest paid position.
- You’re tasked with the impossible job of defending completely undefendable spikes.
- You take more volleyballs to the face than anyone else.
While these things are true, the unidimensionality of the role still makes it the easiest position on my list.
4. Opposite Hitter
I’ve chosen opposite hitter as the second easiest position in volleyball (which sounds ridiculous to say aloud), mainly because it’s a fairly straightforward role.
Just stand at the net, be tall, and look pretty…
But in all seriousness, many of the most talented and highest paid volleyballers are opposites.
So how can it be considered easy?
The opposite has to serve, block well, hit well, defend, and also hit from the back court.
These guys are often the highest point scorers on their teams and most of them ooze with talent and athleticism.
The role of opposite is fairly similar to outside hitter, except that they don’t really have to pass the ball.
The fact that it’s just a slightly cruisier version of outside hitter is the main reason it’s fairly high on my list.
Oh and I played as an undersized right handed opposite at an international level tournament, so I fully appreciate the difficulty of the position!
3. Middle Blocker
Maybe I’m biased by having this position here, as a former middle blocker myself, but I think there’s good reason for it.
The first thing about the middle blocker position that makes it so difficult is how little time you have to react when blocking.
Block Reaction Speed
The middle blocker needs to attempt to block every single set, whether it goes to the outside or opposite, to the middle, or if the setter dumps the ball over the net themselves.
At the high level, offense is run extremely quickly, meaning the sets are quick and get pushed to the sticks far quicker than you can move.
As you watch the opposition pass the ball in to the setter, you have to get ready to react with lightning quickness and perfect footwork just to have a chance of getting into position to block the spiker.
Outsides and opposites can’t appreciate just how difficult this is as they only have to block one player standing right in front of them, for the most part.
The other reason middle blocker is a tough position is timing on offense.
Middles run quicker offenses than any other player on the court. B-quicks are particularly difficult to time when the pass is perfect, let alone when the pass is sloppy (see above clip).
Regardless of where the pass ends up, you need to run a perfectly timed offense and be prepared to hit from all kinds of awkward positions.
Middles also have to serve the ball.
The technical difficulty of timing as a middle blocker makes this one of the most difficult and underappreciated spots on the floor.
2. Outside Hitter
In my opinion, outside hitter is the most difficult offensive position in volleyball for several reasons.
The first reason is that it’s an extremely multidimensional position, requiring a wide range of skills to do properly.
Pass, Block, Spike, Dig, Serve
Most outside hitters play all the way around the court and don’t get replaced in the back/front court like middles or liberos.
They have to pass the ball extremely well, and be ready to immediately transition into offense.
Outsides tend to get set more balls than any other position on court (at most levels of the game) which requires them to be highly technically proficient at spiking.
They of course have to block and be willing to dig as well as hit back row balls and serve.
They don’t get a break!
Because of how involved this position is, outsides shoulder extra leadership responsibilities and are seen as a go-to attacker in many situations.
They must also communicate better than most other positions on court.
It’s rare to find an outside hitter who doesn’t have weaknesses in certain areas because there’s virtually no way any one human can master so many difficult skills!
There is little debate about what the hardest position in volleyball is…
It’s pretty widely accepted that the role of setter is about as difficult as it gets.
Setters have more responsibility on their shoulders than anyone else on the court.
They’re the glue that holds the back court and front court together.
If the setter is bad, the spiking is even worse.
Setting Is A Very Technically Difficult Skill
The physical act of setting a volleyball is a unique skill which is extremely difficult to master and arguably takes a lot more practice and repetition to get right than other skills.
When in the front court, setters also have to be able to block.
They also need to serve the ball well.
Setters Have To Carry Their Teams
Setters often have to chase down dodgy passes and still deliver something a hitter can use to win the point.
When something goes wrong, it’s often the setter who cops the blame.
Setters need to be in constant communication with each of the different attackers as they coordinate their team’s offense.
They must act like the team captain, even if they’re not.
So next time your setter doesn’t set you a perfect ball, instead of complaining, shake their hand and thank them for their services!