How it Works: an in-depth volleyball review

Pass, set, hit. 

Volleyball is just that simple— for amateurs and casual players, maybe.

But for those who hope to play, study or coach at a higher level, let’s break it down.

Volleyball is one of the most-played sports on the planet – fifth to be exact – and has gained popularity by being a blend of different sports. The rules are relatively simple, making it easy for people of all ages to understand. 

Apart from that, according to volleycountry.com and various other publications, volleyball has generated a lot of fans because of how it can reduce stress and anxiety by capturing your concentration and taking your mind off of other things to focus on the sport. 

Corey Phelps, head coach of the Mavs volleyball team, preaches the same thing to his own team.

“When there are outside stresses weighing on them, it has an effect,” Phelps said. “We do all that we can to make sure that when we are in the gym, they are using that time as an escape from everything else.”

The rules, while being deemed “simple” by some, can get confusing. There is a service line behind which players must serve the ball. Touching or crossing it results in a fault. 

Same rules apply for the attack line, which is a line 10 feet from the net on both sides. However, jumping from behind the line and landing in front of it is a legal move for back row players. Additionally, the libero (the one in the different-colored shirt; we’ll get to her later) may not set the ball in front of the attack line, while still having teammates attacking from above the net. Again, they may jump from behind that line.

Other rules — such as failing to serve the ball over the net, touching the net, double touching, lifting, carrying or throwing the ball — are also illegal, but are more commonly known. Each team gets three contacts while they have possession of the ball, leaving room for some creative offensive sets. 

So, about that libero…

“That’s the question I get a lot. What’s the deal with the person with the different-colored uniform?” said Phelps.

The libero can play for two different players, and can serve for one of those two. It cannot go back-and-forth. The libero can only play in the back row, and their primary purpose is ball control and defense. 

Other positions include setter, outside hitter, opposite hitter, middle hitter, defensive specialist and serving specialist. That’s seven positions, but only six may be on the court at a time, so substitutions are necessary. 

Although the libero may seem like the most important player on the court due to the different colored jersey, the setter is the one who takes charge.

“They are the quarterback. They have to run the offense, understand how to steady the team when they are struggling as well as use their vision to identify blockers and isolate hitters,” Phelps said. “They run plays that can highlight our strengths and mask our weaknesses on offense.”

The offense runs through the setter. Ideally, the setter will have the second touch every time, passing it on the net and setting up hitters. This is called being “in-system.” If not, and the setter gets the first touch, the offense gets out of sorts, or “out-of-system.” To challenge the defense, a lot of teams will implement crossing patterns and different tempos to keep the defense guessing.

There are typically two types of defense at the collegiate level; perimeter and rotation. In a perimeter defense, at least three defenders are guarding the court lines (sidelines and end line). The person at the net covers tips, and the remaining two players double-block the net. This leaves room in the middle of the court for the offense to attack, but the players must communicate in order to step up or back to cover the open area.

Rotational defense is more common, and aims to cover more of a mix of swings and tips, requiring a lot more movement while still being comparable to a perimeter defense. 

However, in a rotation, the defense relies on the back row player covering the deep line shot, as the right back shifts up from behind the blockers to cover any short tips. This type of defense typically transitions well into offense because the setter is freed up and not responsible for digging the attack, unless it is a tip.

“At this level (Division II), most of the time perimeter (defense) works better than most. At the Division I level, it is 95% perimeter. At the high school level, you see rotations quite a bit more,” said Phelps.

While the offense and defense perform, there are six categories of statistics to be taken; attack, setting, serving, passing, defense and blocking. 

For attacks, the main stat is a kill. A kill is defined as an attack that directly leads to a point. Kills are made possible by sets, which lead to assists, or when a player passes, sets, or digs a ball to a teammate who gets a kill. 

When serving, there are two stats that rise above all; service aces and service errors. Service aces occur when the opposing team cannot return the serve, and service errors are called when the ball does not travel over the net, goes out of bounds or the server steps on the line. 

Passes are simple, think of football; if a player receives the serve, they are credited with a reception attempt, and if they cannot do anything with the serve, they are credited with a reception error. For blocking and defense, digs and blocks are counted and observed more. To record a dig, a player must keep an attacked ball in play. Blocks prevent digs from being possible because they return the attacked ball to the opposing side, resulting in a point.

Points, obviously, are the main goal for each team’s possession. The first team to 25 points wins. Unless the match goes to five sets, which changes the point goal and the first team to reach 15 will win. A team has to win by two or more points, and the game will continue until one team achieves that advantage. Most matches are played as a best-of-five series, meaning the first team to win three sets wins the match.

Considering a point is scored almost every minute and each game takes about an average of one hour to play, it is not surprising why so many people enjoy this game. 

Fun Fact: if a player or coach is deemed to be displaying unsportsmanlike conduct, they will be issued a yellow card, signifying their last warning. If the conduct continues, they will be awarded with a red card and the other team will be awarded a point.

In conclusion, volleyball is a simple, yet complex game where everyone is involved and communication is key. So that’s how it works. The game of volleyball is a fun, exhilarating game to be enjoyed by all. But now, you are an expert.

Header Photo: Volleyball was invented by William G. Morgan in 1895, under the name Mintonette. It did not become an Olympic sport until the Tokyo 1964 Games. (Dalton Grubb/The Reporter)

Write to Hayden Lee at hayden.lee@mnsu.edu

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