Understanding Volleyball Rotation

Female vollyball players
Matt Henry Gunther / Getty Images

In traditional indoor volleyball, there are six players on the court at a time for each team. Each occupies a location on the court, but that location changes when the players are required to rotate.

Locations on the Court

Volleyball Positions
Andrew St. Clair

Each player starts in a specific location, which is aptly named by its placement on the court. The front-row players are the left front, middle front and right front. The back-row players are the left back, middle back and right back.

These locations are not to be confused with the position you play: setter, middle blocker, outside hitter, opposite, or libero. The locations are your starting positions, meaning that is where you start before the ball is served. Each player, with the exception of the libero, rotates to each position on the court, both front row and back row.

Front-row players play at the net and are responsible for blocking and hitting, while back-row players play deep in the court and are responsible for digging and defense. Back-row players (with the exception of the libero) can attack the ball as long as they take off for their jump behind the 10-foot line.

Understanding Rotation

Each time a team wins a side out or gets possession of the serve, the new serving team rotates clockwise. Each player rotates one spot—the left front rotates to the middle front position, the middle front rotates to the right-front position, the right front rotates to the right-back position and so on. The new right back serves the ball.

If you are a middle blocker and you start the match in the left-front position, you can move to the middle position just after the serve is contacted. If you switch to your position before the ball is served, you will get called for an overlap or for being out of position, giving a point to the other team.

Volleyball players always need to be mindful of their position on the court and make sure they are in the right place in relation to their teammates.

Avoiding the Overlap

In the six-person game, each player must keep track of where they are in relation to the players around them. When a player leaves before the ball is served or is in the wrong position in relation to her teammates, it is called an overlap.

To comply with the rules, left- and right-side players need to be wary of the players directly ahead and behind them in the rotation. For example, the left back needs to make sure that she is behind the left front and to the left of the middle back. A good rule of thumb is to think of it as an "L" shape. Similarly, the right back needs to make sure she is to the right of the middle back and behind the right front. An upside-down "L" shape also applies to the left front and right front.

Middle-front and middle-back players have to be mindful of the players on both sides of them and directly behind them. A middle front has to be to the right of the left front, to the left of the right front and in front of the middle back. Think of this as a "T" shape.

These rules apply before the ball is put in play both for the serving team and the receiving team. Many different formations can be used to receive serve as long as these rules are followed. If a team does not follow these rules, they will be called for an overlap and the other team scores a point.

Understanding the Lineup

There are five positions to play in volleyball and each position is mirrored in the front and back row. For instance, in the rotation in the diagram, the outside hitters play opposite each other—one is in the left front and the other is in the right back. If the team starts the game here, this is rotation one. A coach can start each game in any rotation as long as the players remain in the same spot in relation to each other.

When one outside hitter goes to the back row to serve, the other outside hitter comes from the back row to the front. This way there is always an outside hitter, a middle blocker, and either a setter or an opposite in the front court at all times.

The two middle blockers in the diagram start at middle front and middle back. The setter is in the left back and the opposite is in the right front position. As the game goes on and the players rotate, the player's positions in relation to the others stay the same. Barring a substitution, the setter will always be flanked by the same middle blocker and outside hitter the entire game.