When I first started researching this question, I thought the answer would be simple:
It’s a good thing I dug a little deeper.
Can the libero be captain in volleyball? The international and USAV federations have different answers to this question. FIVB regulations are very clear: ‘liberos cannot be either the team or game captain’. USAV, on the other hand, have modified this rule to allow liberos the chance to serve as team captain, floor captain or both.
Having played most of my career outside of the U.S., I was always under the impression that the libero couldn’t be team captain--then again, in women’s college volleyball, the libero is also allowed to serve!
I should’ve seen this coming.
And while the rulebook is pretty clear about who can and cannot be captain, this post will talk about:
How does it work when a libero is team captain?
Can a libero be captain, even if they don’t start on the court?
What’s the difference between a team and floor captain?
Is it a good idea to have the libero be your team captain? And
Some other fun facts about liberos.
Very briefly though…
What is a libero?
For those of you who play or are interested in the libero position, I’d really recommend reading our Complete Guide to the Libero Position. Seriously, we spent 15 hours putting together everything we could possibly think of about the libero position, and packing it with some useful trivia knowledge along the way to tell your friends.
But, if you need a summarized version, the libero is a specialized position in volleyball, designated by a different colored jersey.
While many new volleyball spectators might think this signifies the captain, it’s actually a tool for the referees to know who is playing as libero for each team.
This becomes important when you understand that liberos are and are not allowed to do some things which other volleyball players can.
It's not that they can't do them physically, but that it's illegal for them to make those actions.
And when it comes to international volleyball, as ruled by the FIVB, this list also includes serving as team captain.
Here it is as officially stated in the latest FIVB rulebook:
Section 5: TEAM LEADERS
Both the team captain and the coach are responsible for the conduct and discipline of their team members.
The Liberos cannot be either team or game captain.
In another section, they go on to clarify:
When the team captain is not on the court, the coach or the team captain must assign another player on the court, but not the Libero, to assume the role of game captain.
Why is the FIVB so hard on liberos?
They're not, really.
The libero position itself is a relatively new innovation.
It was designed to give teams an opportunity to keep a ‘defensive’ specialist in the back row rotations:
The big picture idea was that this would increase the number of defensive plays, extend rallies, and make volleyball a better game for spectators and players alike.
And I’d say it has worked pretty well.
But their ban on liberos serving as team captains is something of a mystery.
One reason could be that, since the libero is continually rotating on and off the court, it would be a hassle to designate a floor captain each time the libero leaves the court.
Of course, this interpretation doesn’t quite stand up to the criticism that:
Well, if a middle can be a captain, why can’t a libero?
If any of you have a better insight into this issue, leave a comment below. While the ruling is perfectly clear, why liberos cannot be captains in international volleyball is still a little hazy to me.
The USAV Libero
On the other hand, the USAV ruling on libero players is far more generous.
Not only can they serve in one position, but they are allowed to serve as team captain, game captain or both.
How does it work when a libero is team captain?
Since the FIVB offers no opportunities for the libero to be captain, we’ll be talking about leagues which rely on the USAV rules and regulations.
When the libero is team captain, this means that they’ll perform all regular duties of the captaincy position.
From completing the coin toss to speaking with the referee during disputes and calling in-game timeouts.
Since the libero comes on and off the court throughout the match, a floor captain will be designated for when he or she leaves the court.
Unless this floor captain is also substituted, they will keep all the leadership privileges whenever the libero is off court:
The referee doesn’t need to acknowledge the new captain each time the libero leaves the court!
What’s the difference between a floor captain and a team captain in volleyball?
While in many situations this role will be filled by the same person, there are cases where the team captain won’t be on the court.
Let’s break it down, though:
Team Captain: The player nominated by a team’s coach or players to represent the team as captain during competition. This role is marked on the player roster, and it can also involve other in-tournament duties like attending meeting and accepting awards on behalf of the team.
Floor Captain: This is the player that will accept leadership responsibilities while on the court. As I mentioned, in many circumstances your team captain will also be a valuable player and starter. However, when your team captain is not on the court, another player must be designated as the floor captain.
Should you have your libero serve as team captain?
Since the libero only plays in the back row, and it constantly coming in and out of the court, you might wonder if it’s a good idea to have this player in the leadership position.
In my experience, this will completely depend on the player, their personality, and the team dynamic.
If your libero is a natural leader, coming in and out of the court can be a positive.
It allows them to take a step back from the game, assess how things are going, and it also gives them the opportunity to be in constant communication with the coaching staff and bench.
Since the libero won’t have a large offensive impact on your team’s success, filling a leadership position can also help them to take some of the load off other players with a bigger load of skills and contacts.
Of course, it goes without saying that this decision will be completely unique to each team.
I would only say that, if you’re playing under USAV rules, if your team’s leader happens to be a libero, there’s nothing wrong with giving him or her the captain’s title.
Okay, so liberos can be captains in USAV, but not in FIVB:
What other restrictions do liberos face?
Another technical ruling in volleyball has to do with the libero’s setting restrictions.
It can lead to some confusion, with people asking: ‘Can the libero set front row?’
A better question would be, ‘Can the libero set from inside the front row?’
To which the answer is no.
Well, again--there’s a technicality worth pointing out here.
First of all, the rule is about liberos finger setting teammates from inside the 10ft line.
This is illegal if the attacker (spiker) then completes an attack from above the height of the net:
In almost all levels of volleyball… that’s probably what is going to happen.
This also goes for when the setter is front row.
If the libero steps inside the 10 foot line to receive a freeball with their fingers, and the setter than tips that ball over the net, your team will also lose the point.
It sounds a bit technical and confusing, but here’s some context that will help us to understand this rule in a way that actually makes sense.
Why are there specific rules about the libero setting in front row?
Like I said earlier, the libero is pretty new thing in volleyball.
And when it was introduced, teams and coaches were quick to take every opportunity available to them with this new weapon.
One solution was actually quite ingenious:
Teams figured out that if you played your setter in a libero jersey, hypothetically, you could always have a back row setter.
With a few adjustments and substitutions, this would also mean having a full front row offense at all times: the advantage of running a 6-2 rotation in our modern game.
Of course, it wasn’t long before the officials caught on to this new trick, and brought in a rule designed to stop teams from implementing this strategy.
According to the FIVB:
‘A player may not complete an attack hit when the ball is entirely higher than the top of the net, if the ball is coming from an overhand finger pass by a Libero in his/her front zone.’
And the USAV rulebook follows this same wording.
The idea is that even if you were to put your setter in as a libero, it wouldn’t be an advantage for your team, anyway.
Can the libero be your team captain? In summary:
Yes and no.
Depending on the league and competition that you play, the libero may or may not be able to serve as team captain.
If your specific league plays with a different variation than the rules stated above, leave a comment telling us about it.
And if you're looking for a more Complete Guide to the Libero Position, don't forget: we've got you covered. You can read that right here: Volley-Pedia's Complete Guide to the Libero Position.