In Volleyball, How is the Server Determined?
Updated: Jan 20, 2019
If you’re still relatively new to volleyball, figuring out who the next server is can be a mystery.
Don’t worry though:
Once you know this one simple rule, you and your team will never be confused about who is up to serve.
In volleyball, how is the server determined, then? The next server on your team is determined by your volleyball team’s rotation. This will not change for the whole set. All you really need to do is remember who is standing next to you, and your team will never be confused about the serving rotation.
The rule I’m about to teach you is incredibly simple, but there are a couple of things you’ll need to know so that it actually makes sense.
Here’s what I’ll cover in this post, so that by the end of it you always know how to determine who the next server in volleyball will be:
Where players serve from in volleyball;
When your team should rotate;
Which way do you rotate to serve.
How to decide which player serves first; and
How you can tell who the next server will be.
Once you know all of these points, you’ll be a natural and can help guide your team through the rotation without falling into chaos!
How is the server determined in volleyball?
#1: Knowing where the server will serve from
In volleyball, the serving player will always be the player that is standing in position 1.
Don’t worry if you’re not totally comfortable with the court positions yet, you can still figure out who the next server is without knowing them all.
If you'd like a simple way to understand the court positions in volleyball, I'd really recommend taking a minute to read our post, 'Volleyball Court Positions [3 Simple Tips So You Never Forget Them]'
For this guide, you really only need to know one position though:
When you are facing the net, this represents the right back third of the court.
When your team is up to serve, whoever has rotated into that position will be the next server--so if it’s you, be ready!
#2: When should your team rotate in volleyball?
Even if you’re not completely comfortable with the whole rotation thing in volleyball, it’s good to know that your team only rotates when you win the point from an opponent’s serve.
That sounds more complicated than it is.
Put it this way: if your team is serving, you can relax, because your team will NOT be rotating the next point.
If the other team is serving, you should be ready. When the rally is over, think about which team scored the point.
If your team scored the point, it’s time to rotate all six players.
If your team lost the point, you can simply stay where you are and be ready to try and win the next one!
#3: Which direction do teams rotate in volleyball?
So we know where the server in volleyball serves from.
We know when to rotate in volleyball (after winning a point after receiving the service).
Now we need to know which way to move.
In volleyball, you will always rotate clockwise around the court.
Just to clarify, that means that players in the back row will move to their left (or forward) and players in the front row will move to their right (or backward) when facing the net.
*Just to confuse you, the Position numbers on the volleyball court actually move anti-clockwise. For this reason, as you rotate around the court, your court position number will actually be moving downward (from position 3 to 2 to 1, etc.). Strange, right?!
Once you begin to play more often, rotating clockwise will just begin to feel natural, and you won’t need to think about it.
Playing with a solid team structure, so that players stay in their zone before the rally begins, is also a good way to make sure that the rotation goes smoothly.
#4: How do you decide which player serves first in volleyball?
Depending on the level of volleyball, you may simply be able to organize your team how you like at the beginning of each set, or you will need to submit a rotation sheet.
Don’t worry, it isn’t anything like filing taxes.
It’s just a small slip of paper with a simple representation of the court. There are six boxes representing the positions on the court, and you will write in the numbers of the players that you want to start in each position.
High Level Strategy: In international level volleyball, this can be an incredibly in-depth tactic. While the top teams are mostly focused on their own strengths and rotation, it’s also important to consider your opponent. Hours of video are put into to determining which rotation can give your team a slight edge over the opposition, and so submitting the right rotation can be an important strategic move at the higher levels of volleyball.
For most teams, it’s a good idea to try and have your best server serving first.
As you know, in volleyball you play each set to 25 points. But depending on how the game is played, not every player will serve the same number of times.
By putting your best server first, you will give them a better chance to serve more than once in each game--potentially giving your team a slight edge over the competition.
How do you put your best server first?
There are two scenarios:
When your team is serving first, you should place your best server in Position 1 to begin the match.
When your team is receiving serve first, you should place your best server in Position 2.
Position 2 is the right front third of the court, usually where you want your setter to be standing.
(Just as a reminder: -------------------->>)
Why in Position 2 and not Position 1?
Remember, after you win a point from the opposing team’s serve, your team has to rotate.
This way, after your team wins its first point, the next person to serve will be the player in Position 2:
If you’ve set things up correctly, this will be your best server.
#5: How to determine the next server: One simple trick
Okay, so you’ve made it this far. You know where to start, and who your first server will be, now there’s one simple trick that can keep your team in the right rotation and make it easy to determine the next server.
Remember the player that is standing one Position clockwise from you.
When you start each set, take a look at the players next to you. Then think about which way your team rotates: clockwise, right?
All you need to do is remember who that player is, and follow them.
When that player is serving, you know that you will be the next player to serve.
After you serve, the person who is following you will know that they are up next.
If each player on your team can follow this one simple rule, you’ll never have to wonder who the next server is again.
Other ways to determine who the server is in volleyball
While this trick is great when people are paying attention, sometimes players simply drop the ball.
Don’t worry--it happens even at the highest levels of volleyball (and it’s not at all embarrassing).
When you are playing in a league that keeps score on a scoresheet, determining the right server is incredibly easy.
On the scoresheet, a complete record of the match is being kept at all times.
They track how many points each team has, which players are on the court and on the bench, but they also keep an eye on who is the next server.
So when you and your team really don’t know who is up to serve, the best thing you can do is to ask the scorer.
To do this:
Your on court captain needs to get the attention of the second referee.
They will ask to ‘check the next server’.
The second referee will signal to the head referee that the game should be paused.
Then, the scorer will check the scoresheet and tell your team the number of the player that is next to serve.
What if your team is in the wrong rotation?
Actually, this is the great thing about asking the scorer to ‘check next server’.
You won’t be penalized!
Even if your team has been standing in the wrong rotation for the last 15 points, they cannot penalize you for it if you fix the rotation after you ‘check server’.
If you do find yourself in the wrong, simply make sure that the player that is listed on the scoresheet as next server goes back to serve. Then shift everyone on court clockwise until they are standing next to the players that they should be.
So if you’re not sure who the next server is, don’t be afraid to ask the scorer!
It’s much better that you ask to check your rotation, than it is for the referee to call your team ‘out of rotation’. You will lose the point automatically, and it can take a long time for the error to be corrected.
In volleyball, the server is determined entirely by the rotation of each team.
When you’re in Position 1 and your team is serving, you’re up. Keep an eye on the player that is standing one position clockwise from you, and you will have a better idea of when it will be your turn to serve next.
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