I remember trying to learn the Positions on the court and thinking:
'Why would they make it so difficult?'
What are the court positions in volleyball? In volleyball, the court is divided into 6 distinct zones or positions which are labeled by number. 3 positions in the front row (2, 3 & 4) and 3 positions in the back row (1, 6 & 5). The positions of the court are useful to know for: Coaching strategy, rotation rules, team organization and basic volleyball knowledge.
This post will be Part 1 in ‘A Complete Guide to Volleyball Positions, Roles and Rotation’:
So stay tuned for further posts in this series, as we find ways to digest those complicated parts of volleyball into something that actually makes sense.
In this post, we’ll cover:
What the 6 volleyball Positions are;
Where people get confused;
Where each Position is located on court;
Which players tend to play in which Position or zone;
Why should you know the court positions in volleyball; and
We’ll introduce the idea of volleyball rotations.
I'll also give you my 3 simple tips that will help you remember the volleyball court Positions in a way that sticks.
So strap in, and let’s make sense of volleyball positions once and for all.
The First Mistake People Make With Positions
In my experience, there’s one mistake which can make the whole process more difficult than it needs to be.
The main confusion is language.
It sounds too simple to be true, but time and time again I hear people stumbling over one simple word:
That’s mostly because, in volleyball, this word is used to mean two things:
The zone or Position of the court, like middle back (Position 6); AND
The role or position that an individual player fills.
So right from the beginning, we’re going to clear that up:
So that you guys know for this article, we’re talking about Positions or zones of the court.
For clarity’s sake, I’ll use a capital Position when talking about zones of the court, and a lowercase position for the role filled by an individual player (libero, setter, etc.)
What are the 6 Positions in volleyball?
Would it be helpful to say: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 & 6?
Well, that’s the full list, and the next step is simply to know where each one is positioned.
Here is picture of the court with them listed neatly:
Don’t worry, we’ll be coming back to this again and again throughout the article.
If we are to break down the court by zones, this might help us remember the positions.
The first distinction to make is between the front and back rows:
Positions 2, 3 & 4 are all located in the front row.
Positions 1, 5 & 6 are all located in the back row.
(I’ll explain why I list them in this order later)
It’s also good to note that this means the Positions aren’t necessarily split evenly into 6 pieces.
The front row only covers 10ft of the court’s length, while the back row fills the remaining 20ft.
Don’t worry, players are allowed to move between the front row and back row freely, but it will make more sense why I say that some Positions are located in the front row when we talk a little bit more about volleyball rotation rules.
For now, the next thing to notice is that volleyball court Positions or zones are typically split into three even thirds.
This is actually a kind of imaginary distinction--there aren’t really any rules saying that Position 6 must be precisely in one third of the back row of the court.
When we talk about volleyball zones though, most teams will rely on this third-third-third split to help organize their defense.
So if you hear a coach tell you to stand in Position 6: just plant yourself somewhere in the back middle third of the court and you should be safe.
Tip #1: Learn to orient yourself
First thing’s first:
Descriptions like right-back are always as if you’re facing the net.
This is what it looks like in words:
Position 1: Back-right third
Position 2: Front-right third
Position 3: Front-middle third
Position 4: Front-left third
Position 5: Back-left third
Position 6: Back-middle third
And now again as a picture:
I can’t tell you enough how important it is to just keep reminding yourself of this image.
If you’re really game, print out that image above and stick it on the fridge: it may sound silly, but if you see it every day you’ll have a hard time forgetting where each position is.
Start with Position 1
The first position you should begin to know instantly is Position 1.
This is where the server will usually serve from, and it’s the best way to orient yourself.
When in doubt, remember that Position 1 is the right back corner of the court, and that it all starts from there…
Tip #2: Counting Counter-Clockwise
If that mouthful isn’t enough to remember, then maybe this will help:
The Position numbers actually move in the opposite direction to the team’s rotation.
This is one of the most confusing things about volleyball Positions: it feels like our volleyball ancestors were just trying to make things complicated on this one…
A simple way than thinking about that is to simply remember that Positions are counted Counter-clockwise:
So no matter which position you need to be in, you can always get there by counting from Position 1 in a counter-clockwise pattern.
It may not be the most efficient method when you need to count all the way around to Position 6, but it’s a tool that you can always fall back on when you really need to check yourself.
But there’s one more shortcut to remembering the Positions without memorizing that boring description list:
Tip #3: Learn which players go in which Position
This might sound like it’s complicating things:
If you’re having trouble just learning the positions on the court, how are you supposed to remember who stands where on top of it?
Well, this is all to do with creating a deeper memory pattern.
Realistically, anyone can learn 6 numbers arranged in a box formation without much effort.
The problem is that when it’s just numbers and shapes, you don’t always make a meaningful connection to the information.
So when it comes to crunch time and your coach is screaming to stand in Position 6, you don’t really have any deep understanding of where that is.
Learning the roles that stand in each Position is a great way to hack your memory and create a pattern that sticks.
When you know that the Left Side spiker is always hitting from Position 4, you’ll immediately associate ‘Position 4’ with ‘Left Side’.
And since you know that they’re attacking, that means it’s probably in the front row, too.
It may take a little bit of getting used to, but Tip #3 is all about learning the volleyball court positions in a way that makes sure you will never forget them.
Which roles play in each Position?
In volleyball, its common that individual players will spend most of their time on the court in just two of those six Positions.
One while they are in the front row.
Another while they’re in the back row.
The reason for this is simple:
For your team to be most effective, you want to give your players the opportunity to specialize in a specific Position.
Some players will learn to hit incredibly well from the left side of the court.
Others will be better spiking from the right side.
*While I recommend that all players can do both, to some extent, there’s certainly value in letting a player become most comfortable in one Position and really letting them excel at that specific skill.
So, how does it all break down?
Outside Hitters (receivers):
In front row - Position 4:
This allows them to attack from the left side of the court whenever possible. It also means that outside hitters will mostly be blocking in Position 4 of the court--when you flip the court, you can see that this means they will almost always be lined up on the opposing team’s right side hitter.
That will become important later if you read on for Volley-Pedia’s blocking and defensive systems tutorial.
In back row - Position 6
This is mostly relevant for defensive play, but in high level volleyball, it also introduces a new possibility:
The pipe attack.
In my opinion, one of the most exciting aspects of the sport, and in order to run it you’ll need your outside hitter running straight down the middle of the court in attack.
In Front Row - Position 2
Setters will spend the majority of their time in Position 2 of the court, even when they are supposed to be in the back row.
Because hands down the most common volleyball offense will use a setter that plays from Position 2 (the right front of the court) to set the ball.
In Back Row - Position 1
Defensively, the setter will cover the right back third of the court. Even though you would like them to take the second ball whenever possible, they still need to play defense!
Right Sides (opposites):
In Front Row - Position 2
You may have noticed that the right side will be playing in the same court Positions as the setter.
How’s that possible?
Well, in most traditional lineups, the setter and right side will be opposite each other.
That means that whenever the setter is in the front row, the right side will necessarily be in the back row, and vice versa.
For more about Volleyball Rotations, I’d really recommend reading this article here.
In Back Row - Position 1
Again, the right side will occupy the back right third of the court when in the back row.
While setters are mostly worried about playing defense in Position 1 and running in to set the ball, right side spikers have another thing to think about:
Hitting from the back row.
In fact, in top level volleyball, opposite spikers are some of the most effective attackers, even when they’re in the back row.
Check out this swing from Polish superstar, Bartosz Kurek, and you’ll see how dangerous players can be from Position 1 in the back row:
In Front Row - Position 3
Middle blockers are experts in… well, yes: blocking.
For that reason, you want them to be able to get up and block as many attackers as possible.
Naturally, having them begin in the middle of the front row allows them to read the play, and be involved in as many blocks as possible.
They also run an important part of a team’s offense--running quick balls from the middle of the court, and often drawing attention from the other team’s blockers so that the pin hitters only have one blocker to deal with.
In Back Row - Position 5
When the middle blocker rotates into the back row, they will usually stay there for just one rotation.
For the serve.
After that, the libero will usually take their place as a passing and defensive specialist.
When middles do need to play defense, they usually take the left back of the court.
Position 5 or 6