Just yesterday I was hit with one of those comments that would’ve really stung as a junior.
“You know, you really should’ve played libero.”
Well, too little too late for me.
But if you’re still early in your volleyball journey, it’s worth taking a moment to ask yourself this simple question:
‘Which volleyball position is best for me?’ Because the truth is, if you want a good answer, it will take a little bit of work. In my experience, honing in on the position that’s best for you, individually, means breaking it down into these 3 questions:
Which position am I most passionate about?
What are my physical and technical strengths as a player? And
Are there any obstacles beyond my control?
My goal is to pack this post with all of the information I wish I’d known as a beginner.
The steps that can help you find (and stick with!) the volleyball position that will give you the best chance at success.
If you already know which position you want to play, but are wondering how to get there, I believe that the same process still applies. Try it out for yourself, then let me know what you think in the comments below.
*If you don’t have time to read the full article, no problem! I’m putting together a quick quiz that will spit out your answer in just a few minutes: this will be going live soon, so check this space in the next couple of days!
Remind Me: Which Volleyball Positions Can I Choose From?
If you’re still fresh to volleyball, I recommend taking 4 minutes to read my Volleyball Positions: Explained (In a Way That Actually Makes Sense!) article.
There, I go over the main positions of volleyball in detail, which skills are best for each position, and what physical qualities you typically find there.
I also list some of the world’s best players in each category (so you can go check out their highlights after you’re done!)
For a quick refresh, anyway, here are the five main positions I’ll be talking about:
#1 Outside Hitter (Receiver)
#2 Right Side Hitter (Opposite)
#3 Middle Blocker
*Already play a position, but want to know how or if you should make a change?
Leave a comment below telling me which position you play, why you want to change, and maybe I can help: I’ve been a part of many teams, and I’ve probably seen your situation before!
So, tell me already: what volleyball position should I play?
Step 1: Find your passion
There’s one big reason I signed my first pro contract as an outside hitter when all signs were pointing toward a career on the ground as libero:
I was so stubborn that I didn’t really have a choice.
Tip #1: Being passionate about your volleyball position will take you further than physical traits.
Put it this way: If you’re motivated to be a setter, you’ll put in the extra effort needed to earn your spot on the court, right?
This isn’t just a cliche.
It can be the difference between putting in a full year of effortful practice or wandering through each session, just itching for the ‘pack it up’ signal.
Unfortunately, I’ve seen too many players become discouraged and quit altogether for this very reason. “If you’re only playing in the middle because your coach put you there, it’ll be almost impossible to stay motivated.”
How can you develop the fine-detail skills needed to be a successful middle blocker when you’re dragging your feet through each training?
When you skip this first step--finding the position you are passionate about--you can put yourself in a position that’s destined to fail...
Forgive me, but I’ll share a quick story.
“My first Australian Youth Team selection camp.
After the final session, coaches would interview each player about their performance, future prospects, etc. It was a good way to conclude the camp and receive some valuable one-on-one feedback from some of the major coaches in the country.
I was a stubborn little ginger kid, growing up (I’m much more reasonable now (sweat-face emoji)). And I had been a pretty handy outside hitter in high school, I thought--our team winning 4 out of 6 National Championships, and I tallied a couple of MVPs along the way.
Anyway, at this first selection camp, I went in as a hitter. They ran through the usual physical testing:
Height, weight, vertical jump, speed and agility tests.
Let’s just say that on all accounts, I was measuring up to be a great libero.
In my end-of-camp interview, the coaches weren’t hesitating to point that out: they told me that they saw a future for me in the program as a libero, if I would consider switching.
In my young confidence I told them, politely, that, ‘I was a hitter, remember?’
I went on to explain that I hadn’t finished growing.
That I was still working on my vertical jump.
And that I would eventually touch higher than even the most famous Australian Volleyballer (in my mind, at least), Ben Hardy.
Spike Touch: An important measurement in volleyball that tells how high a player can reach at full extension while jumping as high as they can (a fetish for fans and some coaches, but don't worry: skill is still far more important for being a good player!).
I wish this was fiction, but that was my reasoning.
And surprisingly, the coaches didn’t laugh in my face. They just told me this meant I probably wouldn't be selected for the first Youth Team Tour (which was true) and wished me all the best.
Maybe not the happy ending you might hope for. But if I hadn’t been so sure that I wanted to play as an outside hitter back then, there’s no way I could’ve gone on to play professionally in that position.
What if you don’t know which position you like most?
Think about the skills of volleyball you enjoy;
Think of the players you admire mos; Then
Consider which position fits with your favorite skills and most admired players.
It may sound simplistic, but it’s a great way to get your subconscious mind talking to your conscious mind--and it works better than you may think!
Step 2: Identify your strengths
This is where being stubborn can come back to bite you. I was lucky in that I was a pretty good receiver from a young age, and I always enjoyed passing.
My strength lined up with what I enjoyed, so mastering it didn’t feel like hard work.
Here are a few strengths you’ll want to quiz yourself on:
Build (Height & Physical Strength)
There are plenty more, but this is a good start.
Now try this:
Identify 4 of these factors that you think are your biggest strengths.
Now try narrowing it down to 2…
With this final pairing, pick the one that you think is the most important thing in your game.
This could be the skill that’s worth basing your game on:
When people watch you play, this should be your most obvious strength, even if they’ve never seen you play before.
I know what you’re thinking: what if my skill is done in a number of positions?
This is how I would line up each position with the most important skill and attribute.
Outside Hitter (Receiver): Reception / Overall Strength
Setter: Setting / Agility Middle Blocker: Blocking / Height
Libero: Defense / Speed
Opposite: Attack / Athleticism
*If you’re reading this thinking: ‘No way. That’s not right.’ Leave a comment below telling me why.
Step 3: What’s holding you back? And can it be changed?
It’s important to be a little pragmatic, here--especially in the pursuit of your passion.
And honestly, there will always be an opportunity to play the position that you want if you're willing to pay the price.
If there are obstacles in your path, this can mean sacrificing one of two things:
And while I don't recommend going out and playing your favorite position at any price, I will say that some prices are more reasonable than others.
If you want to play setter, but the starting spot is locked in by a senior who will play out the rest of the year: you may need to wait a year.
If you want to play outside, but the only way to see the court is in the libero jersey, it may mean sacrificing court time so that you can practice as an outside.
These two examples are somewhat independent decisions.
Some team decisions, on the other hand, can be beyond your control.
If the coach puts you in the middle when you don’t want to play there--that’s an obstacle.
Of course, you may choose to sacrifice time by waiting it out until an opportunity to play another position arises.
Or you can find another team with an opening in your area: this would be a sacrifice of comfort.
Generally speaking, neither path is ideal, but I mention it for one big reason:
When you’re forced to play out of position, you can feel trapped. The truth is, there's always a path toward playing your ideal position, but it’s important to be honest about your situation.
Would it really be worth changing clubs, driving an extra 25 minutes each day and leaving your teammates just to play your favorite position?
If your answer is yes, then you know you’re serious and most obstacles will seem irrelevant.
But for most people, the answer is a confident 'no': and honestly, that’s the way it should be.
Unless you’re an obsessively competitive spirit (like I was), learning to play your second position may be the best choice you have--all things considered--for your current situation.
And when all's said and done, playing out of position may prove the challenge needed to take your game to the next level anyway!
Since you’ve stuck around this long into the article, I thought I’d give you guys one bonus tip that could really help develop your game faster than others who don’t follow it:
Choose one position and stick with it.
Even if that means choosing a position when you’re unsure, or settling for your second-choice position: I believe it’s better this way.
The best way to develop your game is to give yourself the chance to explore one position in detail.
To really hone in on a particular skill set, and practice perfecting it. You’ll never get there (sorry, not even Giba got there!), but giving yourself a steady focus for your energy can help you reach a new level in this perfectly challenging game of ours.
Knowing which volleyball position you should play will take a little time and experimentation.
While I do suggest sticking with one position early, I’d say that after two to three years you will have a better idea of whether or not it’s the right volleyball position for you.
If it’s not, don’t be afraid to change.
It's never too late: For inspiration, I’ll leave you with this link to video of Dutch National Team Setter-turned-Opposite, Nimir Adelaziz, scoring points in his new position as an attacker: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p1p_6r8yJtk
Enjoy, and good luck!