Sometimes I forget that parts of this wonderful game can seem intimidating, confusing or just plain technical.
Especially when you aren’t familiar with the lingo.
So I thought I’d take a moment to explain one phrase you’re bound to come across in the volleyball world: The 6-2 offense.
‘What is a 6-2 rotation in volleyball?’ Simply put, it’s a strategy that allows one team to keep 3 attackers in the front row by using substitute players. Normally, the right side (opposite) hitter will spend 50% of their time in the back row, right? Well, a 6-2 rotation allows one new attacker to enter the court in the front row: a tactic used to maintain an offensive advantage for the next three rotations.
Of course, there’s a little more to it than that.
In this post, I’ll tell you the most important things to know about the 6-2 rotation in volleyball. Things like:
What the numbers mean;
Why you should use it;
How it works;
When you should use it; and
Who benefits most (Attention: short setters may want to read this one!)
After that, I’ll go a little more in-depth and tell you how (in my experience) a 6-2 offense can really boost team morale.
But first, you’re probably wondering:
What do the numbers mean?
As you know, only six players can be on the court at the same time.
In volleyball strategy, coaches often use shorthand to describe the skeleton of their offense. It’s a way to explain the structure of your team, without wasting time on exactly which players are doing what.
"A 6-2 rotation, then, is a reference to
The Number of hitters (6) - Number of setters (2)
in the line-up or rotation."
Of course, it’s impossible to have 6 hitters and 2 setters on the court at the same time, right?
With substitutions, however, it’s possible to think of all these players as being in the same line-up or rotation.
Just like the libero can be a part of the ‘starting line-up’ without actually being on the court, players on the bench will be thought of as included in the 6-2 offense.
*Curious to know more about the libero position? I spent some time answering the 6 Most Common Questions About the Libero Position here: If you have 4 minutes to spare, check it out.
The numbers above describe the strategy that a coach will use to run his or her offense. Depending on a team’s strengths and weaknesses, different rotations and line-ups will be implemented.
So when you hear coaches, players or fans talking about a 6-2, 5-1, 4-1, or 4-2 offense: now you’ll know how many hitters and setters they plan on using in the rotation!
*Does your team run a 6-2 rotation? Leave a comment below telling me if you think it’s a good or bad thing for your team’s strategy!
Why should you use a 6-2 rotation?
Generally speaking, the 6-2 rotation is an offensive strategy.
The major benefit: it gives you the freedom to keep three attacking players in the front row.
International Level: At the highest levels of international volleyball,
particularly on the men’s indoor scene, right side attackers are just as
effective from the back row as in the front row. These 6ft7+ lean jumping
machines can contact the ball above the antenna:
Thanks @vtnklmdc movies for the great video!
For them, a backrow attack means hitting the ball halfway into the front
row, anyway! For that reason, the 6-2 substitution is not as common.
When your setter rotates into the front court, the right side attacker will move into the back row, right?
Unless they are comfortable scoring points from behind the 10 foot line, your setter is more likely to use the left-side spiker and middle blocker in these rotations:
This limits your offense, making it easier for the other team to block and defend.
By using a 6-2 rotation, you will be able to introduce a new attacker into the front row: giving your team the best opportunity to score during the next 3 rotations.
*Stay posted for my in-depth article exploring volleyball rotations.
How does it work?
To run a successful 6-2 rotation, you’ll need three things:
Two good setters and two good right side hitters.
Substitution rules to pull it off.
Some awareness of your team rotations.
It may sound appealing to simply throw any player in the setting position, so that you can gain this awesome offensive advantage.
But think about it: Which is better?
Attacking an inconsistent set in the front row? Or running your offense with two hitters from a reliable, good setter?
In my opinion, letting your hitters attack with a setter that they feel comfortable with is always more important.
*If you think it’s always better to use 3 front row attackers, regardless of
the setter’s consistency, leave a comment telling me why!
For this reason, you should really only run a 6-2 rotation if you have two setters that your hitters can practice with.
#2: Substitution rules.
Depending on the rules of your specific competition or league, some rules may limit how many substitutes you’re allowed to use in any given game (or set).
For NCAA college volleyball, it goes by division:
Division I volleyball goes by the FIVB standard which allows 6 substitutes per set.
Divisions II & III maintain a friendlier format which lets a team substitute 12 times per set.
In high school and middle school volleyball, USAV rules and regulations go with the 12 substitutions per set ruling.
This allows for more players to become involved in the game, and encourages the coach to introduce bench players more often.
The main thing to know about volleyball substitution rules is this:
“15.6.1: A player from the starting line-up may leave the game, but only once in a set, and re-enter, but only once in a set, and only to his/her previous position in the line-up.”
- USAV Rules & Interpretations, 2017-19
What does that mean?
Say you have two setters on your team: Jenny (your starting setter) and Jessica (your substitute setter).
When you run a 6-2 rotation, Jenny can only leave the court once, and she can only come back onto the court once per set.
This is where some understanding of your team rotation will come in handy.
#3: Understanding your team rotation.
Sticking with our Jenny and Jessica example, let’s add two new players into the mix:
Meet Emma and Alexa, your starting and substitute right sides.
In volleyball, the setter and right side hitter stand opposite each other in the rotation, right?
So when Jenny rotates into the front court, Emma will naturally rotate into the back court. At this point, it’s time to run your 6-2 substitution.
Call Jessica and Alexa from the bench to come down to the substitution zone. If you play in a league with number paddles, give Jessica the number of Emma, and Alexa will get the number of Jenny.
This is probably the most common mistake with the 6-2 rotation:
Your setter should replace your back-row right side attacker; AND
Your right side should replace your front-row setter.
DO NOT substitute your setters directly: That will take away all the advantage of the 6-2 rotation!
When Jessica replaces Emma, she will become the team’s setter, running the offense from the back row.
As Alexa replaces Jenny, she will become the right side hitter in the front row.
See how this strategy can give you 3 front row attackers when you would normally be stuck with a setter in the front row? Pretty neat, right?
When should you use your 6-2 rotation in volleyball?
Remember that your players can (usually) only be substituted in and out once per set.
This means you probably won’t be able to substitute every time Jenny enters the front court.
Fun Fact: In the average set of volleyball, your setter will rotate into the
front court two to three times before a team reaches 25 points.
That means you need to be a little strategic with your timing.
If you plan on bringing Jenny and Emma back for the final points of the set, you’ll want to make sure you make the substitution early enough in the set. Certainly before one team reach 19-20 points.
Another opportunity to play the 6-2 substitute is when your team is struggling to side-out.
By introducing two players fresh from the bench, your team can receive a fresh burst of energy and find a way to score that may seem unexpected:
I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve seen substitute players come on the court to give a match-changing performance!
Bonus: Who benefits most from a 6-2 volleyball rotation?
Well, one advantage of the 6-2 offense is that small setters don’t need to play in the front court.
For any smaller setters reading this, you may be thinking: that’s terrible! But let me explain--and try to change your mind.
Your coach knows that running a 6-2 offense means that her setters won’t be blocking as often.
Now imagine that the only reason you don’t see the court is because your coach is worried about your blocking skills (or, more realistically, your block height!)?
Well, by removing that obstacle, suddenly your pathway to the court becomes a lot clearer!
Even at the highest levels I've seen, teams and coaches often use the 6-2 rotation to make sure that their most talented setters can get out on the court--no matter how tall they are.
Three things that I personally like about 6-2 rotations
#1: Nine players get to see some action:
Playing a 6-2 offense can give substitute players an opportunity to prove themselves out on the court. And honestly, there are so many chances to try it out.
In my experience, these are the two most common:
When your team is winning by a big margin (7 or more points late in the game).
And when you team is losing by a large margin (7 or more points).
When you get to the highest levels, my opinion on this changes slightly.
But for middle school, high school and even college volleyball, both scenarios are a winner for the 6-2 substitution.
When you’re winning, two players get a chance to play in a winning position. What a great chance to show your skills without endgame pressure getting the better of you!
When you’re losing, on the other hand, the benefits of a 6-2 sub can be twofold:
Firstly, it gives your starters a moment to recollect their thoughts and calm down on the bench.
Secondly, it’s a free opportunity to try and turn the game around!
Who knows? Maybe your substitute players will rise to the challenge, giving your team a much needed boost in momentum and spirit.
#2: Maintain a higher practice level:
When your team implements the 6-2 rotation on a regular basis, coaches are signaling two things to their players:
They trust their bench as a solution to problems during the match: AND
More than one player in each position has a chance of playing in EVERY game.
As a player, there’s nothing worse than finding yourself halfway through the season knowing that you will never see the court.
Maybe the player ahead of you really is the next Earvin N’Gapeth--you might not even be doing anything wrong.
Teams that keep a 6-2 offense up their sleeve are often more motivated to stay engaged during each and every practice session.
Two setters get a chance to play most weekends, and the same goes for the right sides.
Do you think this could inspire some healthy rivalries in practice?
Some of the best teams I’ve been a part of have enjoyed a healthy dose of practice rivalry: it boosts your team atmosphere, often lifting the quality of volleyball that goes on in your gym.
#3: Boost setter-opposite connection:
This is a fun one, but I think it’s worth mentioning.
If you’ve ever played on a team that uses the 6-2 rotation, you’ll know that the subs usually come in pairs.
Jessica and Alexa always play together.
And Jenny and Emma know each other’s games inside out.
This tight-knit connection (maybe to the annoyance of outside hitters and middles) is actually really important.
"When Jessica and Alexa are in practice trying to earn a spot on the court, they are working together. This is a totally different approach to improving yourself as a player, and it’s a much more accurate reflection of how good volleyball is actually played."
This is a team sport. And when you can find ways to foster growth and development in harmony, rather than individually, your whole team can benefit.
Final Breakdown: Pros and Cons of the 6-2 Rotation
#1: Gain an offensive advantage.
#2: Include more players from your team in the line-up.
#3: Boost team morale and practice quality.
#1: You need two good setters!
#2: Substitution rules might limit how well you can run it.
At the very least, the 6-2 offense is a great tool to have in your team’s strategic belt.
As a player, it’s useful to learn all aspects of the game you love. Even if offensive strategies seem like the realm of coaches and fans, I believe that knowing the theory behind it can always make you a better player.
Did I miss anything?
Leave a comment below letting me know if you still have any questions, or if you found this resource useful!
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