Volleyball Positions 101: Player Roles Explained


There are six positions and five player roles in volleyball, and each comes with its own physical and technical requirements. This goes far beyond height and jumping abilities, which is what most people assume are the defining factors for volleyball positions.

The five player roles and the six volleyball positions are the setter, the outside hitter, the opposite hitter, the middle blocker, and the libero. There are usually two middle blockers on the court, and that makes up six positions!

Volleyball Positions

There are a few so-called secret roles that we rarely see used in games, but we’ll go over those too in this article.

Since the differences between volleyball positions are so big and each role comes with a different set of physical requirements and in-game responsibilities, today, we’ll be breaking them down and simplifying them.

Read on to learn everything there is to know about all volleyball positions.

Diagram Of Volleyball Court With Positions

Diagram Of Volleyball Court With Positions

To simplify the positioning of the positions on the court (pun intended), we created this diagram. Volleyball positions are often referred to with numbers, so we’ll stick with the same mechanic to keep everything clear.

The middle position in the back is the sixth and final position of the volleyball clock, and you count the positions down clockwise.

  1. This is also known as the setter position in volleyball, but setters sometimes start out of position 2 as well (albeit rarely).
  2. This is the position of the opposite hitter, also known as the right hitter. Teams that start the setter on position 2 start the opposite hitter on position 1!
  3. This is the position of the middle blocker in the front line, also known as the forward middle blocker. The setter will often end up in this position during the game, but they don’t start out at that position.
  4. Outside hitters take this position.
  5. This position is also taken by an outside hitter (I’ll explain this later, once we get to the outside hitter role).
  6. Finally, we have the position taken by the libero. Liberos usually stay in this position throughout the entire game, and they almost exclusively operate out of the back line. Sometimes, the position is taken up by another middle blocker instead of a libero, but that depends on the team.

If you’d like to learn more about how each position rotates around the court, check out my complete guide to volleyball rotations!

Volleyball Positions Abbreviations

The above positions are often referred to using short hand abbreviations as shown below.

Middle BlockerMB
Outside HitterOH
Opposite HitterOPP
Defensive SpecialistDS

Let’s now take a look at each individual position and their responsibilities.

The Setter Position In Volleyball

Volleyball Positions Setter

The role of the volleyball setter is, in my humble opinion, the most demanding position in volleyball. The setter orchestrates the team’s offense, they pull all the strings, and every single ball goes through them.

The setter has to be aware of the situation on the court at all times, quickly spot the opposition’s weakness, and set the ball for the hitter in a position where they can expose those weaknesses.

For example, if a player on the other team can’t handle spikes, a good setter would always set the ball in a position from which their hitter would spike the ball at that player.

A good setter will also notice a player that blocks spikes easily and avoid that player. A really good setter will notice both players and feint a setting pass in front of the good blocker, but actually send a pass in front of the player who’s bad at blocking!

This sounds complicated, and it is – which is why being a setter is no easy feat. In order to be able to do that, three things stand above everything else.

Attributes of a Volleyball Setter

  • Reading the game – first of all, the setter has to be a knowledgeable player, capable of analyzing the opposing team, as well as their own players.
  • Aggression – secondly, the setter has to be assertive and aggressive. That’s why they’re often the captain of the team. Since volleyball is a high-paced sport, you don’t really have time to question your decisions; a setter has to have that natural leadership and self-confident quality, which is something you can’t learn, you either have it or you don’t.
  • Passing – finally, the setter is one of the two best players in the team when it comes to passing. The vast majority of the setter’s touches with the ball will be highly-accurate passes, and in order to accomplish that, they need to be the best passer on the team. Liberos are also great when it comes to this, so the two positions are comparable, but I’d argue that setters are better players in terms of passing. These three may be the three most important aspects of a setter’s game, but they’re not the only important things.
  • Height – setters don’t spike the ball (unless they somehow find themselves at the end of a third touch), but being a tall setter makes blocking much easier.
  • Speed and agility – setters typically have to run and turn a lot to catch a loose ball in order to set it. If you’re a quick and agile player, this isn’t a problem.
  • Consistency – volleyball games are often drawn out and you lose focus easily, but a good setter will consistently set good balls throughout the entire game!

> When you put all of this together, the setter’s position is comparable to the advanced midfielder position in soccer. Although it’s a bigger game (literally – it’s played with more players and a bigger playing field), the nature of the game is identical. That player pulls all the strings and is almost always responsible for the outcome of the attacking team.

Take a look at this short video of Bruno Rezende. He is highly regarded as one of the best setters of all time.

Mastering the Art of Setting | Bruno Rezende, the Setter Extraordinaire!

You’ll see that Bruno emulates everything talked about here. He’s tall, so he can block easily, he’s quick and agile and gets on the end of every ball, his passing is immaculate – he can pass from literally any position (no matter how uncomfortable or difficult it is), he’s aggressive with his passes and doesn’t hesitate at any point, and he knows exactly which one of his players he wants to set up!

Oh, and in case I didn’t mention it, he does it throughout the entire game, every single game!

Before we move on to opposite hitters, let me reveal a fun fact for you; in case you thought the setter’s job wasn’t complicated enough, know that setters use hand signals to communicate!

The Opposite Hitter Position in Volleyball

Volleyball Positions Opposite Hitter

Also known as simply the opposite in volleyball or just the right hitter, this player always finds themselves on the right side of the court

Although the jobs of both opposite and outside hitters are very similar, they’re not exactly the same, which is why many people wonder what is an opposite in volleyball and what’s their actual job.

The opposite hitter’s primary job is to spike the ball. This is something that they absolutely have to excel in, which is why height and jumping capabilities go a long way for this position.

It’s impossible to do this job without being a great jumper because opposite hitters have to spike the ball from the backline, which makes the job a whole lot more difficult!

Opposite Back Row Attack

Contrary to popular belief, opposite hitters don’t have to be great at serve reception because they rarely ever receive serves. They do, however, have to be good passers because they also assume the role of the ‘second setter’.

In the odd instance the setter makes the first touch with the ball and receives the serve (which is uncommon, but it still happens), the opposite hitter assumes the role of the setter by default. They have to send a good pass to set another player up!

The third and final job of an opposite hitter is to block incoming spikes. Once again, being tall and a good jumper helps a lot with this!

Attributes of a Volleyball Opposite Hitter

  • Height – since the majority of their job, be it spiking or blocking, revolves around jumping, being tall and having a long arm span is crucial.
  • Jumping – hitters need to be able to jump very high to spike balls from the backline.
  • Good passers – although they’re not comparable to setters, opposites sometimes have to set the ball, which requires a good passing range.
  • Left-handed players – although this rule is sometimes broken, most opposite hitters are left-handed players. This makes spiking much easier because they don’t have to cross their body when they attack the ball.

> Being an opposite is very similar to being an outside hitter, which is why we’ll cover that position next.

Read Also: Best Volleyball Opposite Hitters In The World

The Outside Hitter Position in Volleyball

Volleyball Positions Outside Hitter

The outside hitter is often called the left-side hitter or the left winger in volleyball, and their responsibilities are very similar to that of the opposite hitter, albeit with a few key differences.

Although they take part in defense just like any other player, the outside hitter is usually the best spiker on the court. If possible, the setter will set every ball up for them, knowing that they’ll spike it well and score.

A volleyball outside hitter doesn’t share defensive responsibilities with the opposite hitter. This role is much more confined to attacking, but in order to become a starting outside hitter, you truly need to be the best attacker in your team.

Therefore, we can single out a few key attributes of an outside hitter.

Attributes of a Volleyball Outside Hitter

  • Height and athleticism – since the vast majority of an outside hitter’s job is to spike balls, they need to be tall and strong, with a good jump in them. The higher you jump, the more of a height advantage you have against the opposing team, improving your chances of scoring, and the same can be said for strength. Stronger hitters spike the ball harder, which means they score more frequently.
  • Reliability and consistency – just how you expect the setter to set good balls throughout the game, you also expect the outside hitter to keep spiking throughout the game. This requires a lot of stamina and mental focus!
  • Offensive smarts – not all offensive situations require spiking. In some instances, it’s better to gently tip the ball over the block, and since this is a split-second decision, you need a smart outside hitter to make the right decision.
  • Passing quality – outside hitters are usually on the receiving end of a set, so they rarely take part in passing, but they’re often the target of service. If you want to pass the ball to the setter, you need a good passing player!

> The biggest difference between the opposite hitter and the outside hitter positions is passing.

Take a look at this video of Matt Anderson, who’s represented the United States Men’s Volleyball team on the international level, saying that it was difficult for him to switch from outside to opposite because of the stark difference in passing!

Matt Anderson shares his preference between playing as an Outside Hitter and as an Opposite.

Both the opposite and the outside hitter positions are best compared to winger positions in…whatever sport you want, really. Most sports have a comparable position with their main job being spearheading the attack, and that’s exactly what the outside and the opposite hitters do.

The Middle Blocker Position in Volleyball

Volleyball Positions Middle Blocker

I truly hope no middle blockers take offense at me saying that they’re usually the least technically developed players in the team! That’s because their job is, as the name suggests, mostly defense-oriented.

The middle blocker’s main job is to block incoming balls (duh), and they’re mainly playing in the middle (once again, duh), which is why they’re sometimes only called ‘the middle’.

Aside from leading the defensive line in every single block during a game, the middle blocker’s job sometimes includes spiking the ball, although setters always try to set the ball for the outside or opposite hitters. Middle blockers usually pass very little and have little to do with setting the game.

We can therefore identify a few key attributes of a middle blocker.

Attributes of a Volleyball Middle Blocker

  • Defensive powerhouse – the middle blocker has to block every single spike coming from the opposition. That’s their main purpose in the team, and to make a good middle blocker, you have to be good at blocking.
  • Height – middle blockers don’t have to be very strong, but they definitely need to be tall in order to block attacks. The taller you are, the higher your block is which improves the chances of a successful block!
  • Fast footwork and athleticism – middle blockers have to run back and forth quickly throughout the entire game, which requires a lot of stamina and agility. When it comes to those short runs, they’re perhaps the most active players on the court.
Middle Blocker Quick Attack

> Although the majority of their job entails defensive work, don’t mistake the middle blocker with the defensive specialist, which we’ll cover later.

The Libero Position in Volleyball

Volleyball Positions Libero

The libero is the defensive counterpart of the middle blocker. These two positions have a similar job, but liberos play in the back line instead of the front.

Their main job entails back line passing and serve reception, which is why they’re often known as the serve reception specialists.

A good libero will always try to get at the end of the opposing team’s spike

They’re very quick, agile, athletic, and they’re aware that they’re probably the best passers on the team, making them the most qualified player to defend against spikes.

A libero always aims their pass at the setter so they can set up a counterattack.

Attributes of a Volleyball Libero

  • Speed and agility – since they have to throw themselves around the back line, liberos have to be quick and agile players; they otherwise won’t get at the end of those spikes.
  • Digging and serve reception specialists – liberos are the best at serve receptions, and they’re also the best at digging. This doesn’t require a whole lot of strength, but it does require a high level of technical passing prowess.
  • Loud and assertive – liberos are the guys shouting “Mine!” all the time. They’re the defensive captains, in a way, and you’ll regularly see them push other players out of the way to get a ball. Similar to how setters command the attack, the defense is under the command of the libero.
  • Backup setter – if the second ball somehow ends in the back line, the libero turns into the setter at a moment’s notice. They’re great passers of the ball, and they’ll sometimes set from the back line. Liberos are, in short, the players you see constantly making those dramatic, last ditch saves!

Take a look at the stunning performances of Tomohiro Yamamoto, one of the best liberos of our time.

Tomohiro Yamamoto, the speediest volleyball libero in action.

Defensive Specialist (DS)

The defensive specialist is a defensive volleyball position, and it’s not a role you’ll see in every team; some teams simply don’t have a defensive specialist. The teams that use defensive specialists don’t use them often.

This position is very similar to the libero position, with one major difference being the jersey they wear and the fact they can get subbed in for any player in any position.

Coaches don’t put defensive specialists in the game often, but they’re great players for high pressure situations. If you’re nearing the end of the game and you’re fighting for the set with a tight scoreline, a coach will often put a defensive specialist in the game to hold the fort.

Defensive specialists are good at receiving serves and blocking, so they usually come in at the end of a tight game to replace a player who isn’t good at those things.

Attributes of a Volleyball Defensive Specialist

  • Defensively solid – these players are great at blocking and receiving serves.
  • Cool and collected – defensive specialists are subbed on in high-pressure situations, so they’re usually players who don’t crack under pressure!
  • Speed and agility – just like liberos, they often have to throw themselves around the back line to get to the ball, and you can only do this if you’re a quick and agile player.

> The closest thing to a defensive specialist in volleyball in comparison to other sports are defenders in soccer. When the game is reaching its end and coaches want to keep a tight lead (1-0, 2-1, etc.), they’ll often sub off an attacking player and sub on a defender to keep the ball out of the back of the net!

The Serve Specialist in Volleyball; the Rare 7th Volleyball Position

Although most people agree that there are only six different roles in a volleyball team (and I largely agree with that statement), some people argue that the serve specialist is a seventh volleyball position, so I thought we should cover that too.

As the name implies, serve specialists are incredible at serving the ball. They can be specialized in any of the aforementioned six roles, but what sets them apart is that they have the best serve in the team.

Coaches usually don’t want to use them (if anything, they want all their players to develop an incredible serve), but they’ll sometimes sub a serve specialist in just to ace the ball. The player will usually be substituted back out once they lose a point.

They’ll exploit a bad serve receiver on the other side of the court! To make the picture a little bit clearer, take a look at this video of Yurie Nabeya and how she aces her serves.

Attributes of a Volleyball Serve Specialist

Amazing serve – this is the only attribute that matters! Serve specialists are better at serving than anyone else in the team!

Need help deciding your volleyball position? Check out this article for some advice!

What About Beach Volleyball Positions?

Since beach volleyball is only played by two players, there are no set positions. Both you and the other players are playing all positions.

There’s much less blocking than in indoor volleyball, and the roles are altogether less rigid and defined in comparison to indoor volleyball. Both players have to defend, set, and attack, depending on the situations.

Volleyball Positions FAQ

What is the hardest volleyball position?

The role of the setter is often seen as the hardest because of the immense responsibility they have to create offensive opportunities for their team.

The setter really is the glue that holds the defense and offense together. They’re constantly communicating with passers, hitters, and the coaching staff to ensure everyone’s on the same page.

There isn’t a clear cut answer to this question, however as each position brings its own unique challenges.

Click here to check out my article where I ranked the positions from easiest to hardest.

What are the tallest and shortest volleyball positions?

Usually, the tallest position in volleyball is the middle blocker and the shortest position is the libero.

But this isn’t always the case. When I played as the middle blocker for the Australian U17 team, I was the shortest player on the team after the libero (if you count 6’5″ as short)!

It’s also quite common to have really tall opposite hitters who may even have a few cm on the middle blocker.

In almost all cases the libero will be one of the shortest players on the court.

What volleyball position wears a different shirt?

The libero wears a different colored jersey to the rest of the team.

The libero is only allowed to play in the back row and can’t spike the ball, so it helps the refs keep track of their position on the court.

What positions serve in volleyball?

All positions except for the libero are required to serve in volleyball.

Though it doesn’t usually happen, the libero is allowed to serve in one rotation under USA volleyball rules.

In Europe, the libero is not allowed to serve.

What are the best volleyball positions for tall players?

The best volleyball positions for tall players are middle blocker and opposite as they require a lot of blocking and less passing, so height is more important.

Opposites and middles are usually considerably taller than all other positions on the court, with the MB usually being the tallest.

What are the hitting positions in volleyball?

The primary hitting positions in volleyball are the outside hitter, opposite, and middle blocker.

The outside hitter receives slightly more opportunities to hit the ball compared to the rest… then the opposite, followed by the middle blocker.

Occasionally the setter may even hit the ball if they’re in the front court, especially if they’re left handed.

The primary hitting positions in volleyball are the outside hitter, opposite, and middle blocker.

The outside hitter receives slightly more opportunities to hit the ball compared to the rest… then the opposite, followed by the middle blocker.

Occasionally the setter may even hit the ball if they’re in the front court, especially if they’re left handed.
Only the libero is prohibited from hitting the ball.

What does OH & OPP mean in volleyball?

OH refers to the outside hitter position.

OPP refers to the opposite hitter.

What does MH refer to in volleyball?

Occasionally, people will refer to the middle blocker as a middle hitter and so MH means the same thing as MB.

What does DS stand for in volleyball?

DS stands for defensive specialist, a player used purely to defend a tight lead. They’re rarely used in games, though, so you won’t see them often.

What volleyball shoes should each position wear?

I’ve written extensively about which volleyball shoes are best for each position in this article.

ABOUT Harvey Meale

As a former international level volleyball player, I now spend my days working out and writing for Volleyball Vault. I look for ways to bring my wealth of experience and knowledge to create unique and insightful perspectives in my content.