top of page
  • Writer's pictureGold Medal Squared

Learning The 6-2 Offensive System in Volleyball With 2 Substitutions

One of the most common offensive systems used in NCAA Women’s Volleyball and high school girl's volleyball is the 6-2 system with 2 substitutions, though there has been a slight shift in recent years of teams reverting to a 5-1 system with the increased offensive responsibility in the opposite role as more opposites become effective attacking from the backcourt.

Volleyball never stands still as a sport in terms of creativity; as soon as one system becomes effective, coaches are always looking for new ways to outmaneuver their opposition. Many coaches love finding ways to cause their opponents problems yet still find the best solution to optimize their own teams’ output; the 1%’s that give their team the extra point required to win a match. This is summed up quite nicely in the book Wooden on Leadership, which states “Success Breeds Satisfaction, Satisfaction Breeds Failure” – If you are not always looking to learn and seek improvement then your team will be left behind.

So, what is the ‘6-2 Offensive System with 2 substitutions’, and what makes it so appealing to so many coaches?

What is the “6-2 Offensive System with 2 substitutions?”

With the ‘6-2 Offensive System with 2 substitutions’, the right-side players are assigned very specific roles on the court. The system requires four right side players:

  • 2 setters (S1 & S2)

  • 2 opposites (OP1 & OP2)

This system gives the coach the opportunity to utilize two players with strong offensive skills on the right side of the court and 2 strong setters. It also ensures that there are always three front-court attackers available at all times throughout the match.

As shown in the GMS+ Video, this system works by having the setter S1 starting in the backcourt and the opposite player (OP1) starting in the frontcourt. S2 and OP2 are not on the court at this time. S1 plays as a backcourt setter while OP1 plays as a right-side front-court attacker. After 3 rotations, S1 will then rotate into the front row and OP1 will rotate into the serving position in the back row. At this point, two substitutions are made. S2 comes into the match and replaces OP1 in the front row. OP2 comes into the match and replaces S1 in the front row. S2 is now the setter and OP2 the right side front court hitter, thus maintaining 3 front row attackers. The substitutions will then be reversed after three more rotations when OP2 rotates back into the back row and this pattern of substitutions continues for the duration of the set (provided that the maximum number of substitutions permitted is not exceeded).

This system maintains three front-row attackers at all times by reversing the substitutions every time a setter rotates into the front row and an opposite rotates into the back row.

Introduction to a 6-2 Offense with Subs

6-2, 2 sub System summary:

Teams start off with a specialist setter in the back row and a specialist opposite attacker in the front row.

  • As the setter rotates to the frontcourt, she is replaced by a front-row opposite.

  • As the opposite rotates to a backcourt position, she is replaced by a back-row setter.

  • The substitutions are reversed every 3 rotations when setters and opposites switch between frontcourt and backcourt.

Advantages of the “6-2 System with 2 substitutions”

Specialization is a key factor in why this system can be effective for a team. Players are able to commit themselves to a specific role within the team and thus be able to focus on developing the skillset required for that role. Setters can focus on putting up hittable balls for the attackers, and the attackers can focus on the elements of attacking such as power, shot selection, vision, etc. Athletes have fewer skills to focus on in training leading to increased repetitions which should increase their chances of becoming competent in the fundamentals and decision-making processes required in their position (though some repetitions should still be practiced in all skills in case of injury or other reason causes the team to need to switch systems).

The team will also have a dedicated strong right-side attacker and blocker in the front row for all six rotations. This allows the setters to distribute the ball effectively across the net and cause problems for opposition blockers and defenders. Teams using this system will be able to run a faster set to an aggressive opposite attacker that has to be honored by the opposition blockers. This will increase the chances of having 1-vs-1 attacker-vs-blocker situations (provided that the passing unit is solid). It should increase the chances of winning the side out battle, increase pressure on the opposition to find ways to stop the team’s offense.

The system also gives more opportunities to use several specialist athletes and increases the number of players getting valuable playing time, which is especially important for teams with younger players when playing time should be more evenly distributed. Practice situations are great for developing skills, but when it comes to game decision-making, nothing can replace being in a match.

The system can also utilize stronger connections between specific opposites and setters. For example, if you have a left-handed and a right-handed opposite, one setter may be better at pushing the ball across to the right shoulder of the right-handed opposite, then this system allows you to pair these players together for optimum results.

Advantages of a 6-2 Offense with Subs

Advantages summary:

  • All players have specialized roles and positions.

  • Stronger dedicated right-side attacker and blocker in the front row at all times throughout the entire match.

  • Ability to set to three front-row attackers at any time and have a more balanced offensive attack.

  • Setters don't have to block and play in the front row (this is especially helpful for undersized setters).

  • Teams are able to give more players playing time during matches.

  • Teams can establish and use strong links between specific setters and opposites.

Disadvantages of the “6-2 System with 2 substitutions”

With all systems of play, there are some pitfalls that you will want to limit the effect of or at least be aware of. When setters are constantly coming in and out of a lineup, how does this affect the team’s rhythm? Is your team struggling to stay focused and connected with all the changes that are taking place around them?

Similarly, how are the setters and opposites affected by constantly coming into and out of the game? They play for three rotations then sit out for three rotations and are then expected to return to court and perform perfectly straight away.

Another potential problem could be that although opposite players will have the same setter for their 3 front court rotations, the other attackers (middle and left side) will have a mix of both setters. They will need to form connections with two setters who might possibly have quite different styles. This is why it can be vital to have all players understand the system that the team wants to run. You might even try to limit the individualism for athletes in the beginning if you are struggling to implement the system just to try to find some initial rhythm. This might help to strengthen any weak connections by reducing variance and then the team can focus on increasing the effectiveness of individuals.

The above potential problem increases the importance of each attacker getting enough practice reps with each of your teams' setters so that everyone is comfortable with each other when they are playing together on the court during a match.

In rotations 1 and 4, the standard serve-receive formation has the outside hitter hitting a red, and the opposite hitting a go (learn more about set names here). This system takes your outside hitter (possibly the strongest attacker on your team) and moves her from the left to the right in 33% of your serve-receive formations.

Once again, the above situation might require additional practice time to get your outside hitters comfortable on the right side of the net, and your opposites comfortable on the left side of the net.

On many teams, the setter plays a vital role in leading the team. They are the link between the defense/serve reception unit and the offense. They have to understand the game plan of the coach and be able to execute it. They learn to read and predict patterns in the opposition’s play as the game progresses and react accordingly. If setters are switching in and out of the game are they still able to lead the team effectively or read the opposition as well? Are other players then stepping into leadership roles, or is the team just left with a void?

With this system, the opposite player will not be given the opportunity to serve. Many coaches view the service as the first opportunity to be aggressive. By not allowing one of the more attacking-focused players to go after the ball from the service line you might be missing a chance to put the opposition under pressure? (However, if you do have a particularly strong serving opposite, you can allow her to serve while keeping the setter (the player across from the opposite) in the front row while this opposite serves.)

One other important consideration when thinking about adopting this system (particularly with younger players) is the question of ‘Too Early Specialization’. If players are assigned specialist roles early on in their careers then they risk not fully developing as ‘all-round’ volleyball players. They will have practiced certain skills more than others and so will have developed a deficit in other areas of the game and possibly less of an understanding of the game as a whole. Whilst specialization may be desirable at the top end of the sport, it is more important for those athletes starting out or in the formative years of their volleyball careers to learn how to perform each skill. Younger players, in particular, change physically as well as mentally as they grow.

Disadvantages summary:

  • Middle blockers & outside attackers need to form more than one setter-attacker connection.

  • Setting rhythm and momentum can change after substitutions occur.

  • If the setter is a leader on the court, is team momentum affected by substituting them off?

  • Opposites do not typically serve – are you missing a potential weapon?

  • Risk of players not developing an ‘all-round’ understanding of the game.

What type of team might benefit from running the “6-2 System with 2 substitutions?”

For a squad with great depth, this system provides an opportunity for coaches to use the abilities of all of their athletes. If a squad has 2 strong opposites who really struggle with the defensive aspect of the game, they can focus on their strengths (attack/block) and worry less about the defensive side of their game (though make sure they still work on their defense a bit in training, athletes should still be able to execute all of the fundamental skills). If they are capable of attacking a variety of different balls or have different dominant hands, they are also adding in more variables to the team’s offense which gives the opposition more problems to deal with.

This System only works for teams who play in competitions that permit a large number of substitutions (such as high school volleyball, US Junior Club volleyball, and NCAA women's volleyball) where teams have the ability to reverse the substitutions multiple times in a set. For teams playing under FIVB international rules (such as the NCAA men’s competition), a maximum of six substitutions per set is allowed so it would not be possible to reverse these substitutions more than once in a set.

In the NCAA men’s game (and other competition under FIVB rules), this ‘substitution + reverse substitution’ play can be used for a short term momentum swing but in this case, it isn’t a true ‘6-2 with 2 substitutions’ system but more of a hybrid system. If a team is trailing in a set, with both scores in the 20’s, and their opposite player is backcourt, then it might make sense to make this move if they have another strong opposite and setter on the bench to increase the frontcourt attacking options, provided that it won’t be detrimental to the team’s rhythm of course. This will likely result in a stronger block, and the setter will be able to spread the offense more effectively, with the added bonus of having a new attacker in the game who has not been on the court yet so the opposition might not have a game plan tailored to this attacker. In a game of narrow margins, this might just swing a game in your team’s favor.

If a team with a front-row setter does not use the slide attack effectively (or at all) or the opposition is just not truly honoring the slide because it is not scoring, then it might prove more effective to have 3 frontcourt attackers instead. Even if the front-row opposite doesn’t get set as much as the outside attackers, having three attackers in the frontcourt increases the number of possible attack options that the opposition block will have to consider and should therefore create more 1-vs-1 opportunities for the hitters.

For many junior clubs, this system is effective as it offers the ability to give more players on the roster game opportunities though as mentioned above, it could stifle their overall development. With a lot of money being invested in Club Volleyball, some coaches might feel under pressure to make use of every opportunity to give players as much playing experience as possible. This system is one way of ensuring that at least nine athletes (2 setters, 2 opposites, two outside hitters, two middle blockers, and one libero) get meaningful playing time during a match.

The University of Nebraska running a 6-2 Offense with Subs

Team style summary:

  • Teams with strong squad depth.

  • Teams playing in competitions where 12 or more substitutions per set are permitted.

  • Teams that need a turnaround in a game but are limited by the number of substitutions allowed.

  • Teams that struggle with slide attacks or drawing middle blockers.

Further your knowledge:

To see this system in action, sign up for our GMS+ account where we walk you through the rotations and the role changes of each of the positions. From there you can observe how the University of Nebraska Women’s Volleyball Program has used this system in the past. With Coach John Cook’s experience and attention to detail, what you are seeing is a coach looking at the strengths of each of the student-athletes individually and selecting a system that enables them to operate efficiently as a team in offense.

When you watch the video above, take time to notice why this system is effective for the Nebraska program:

  • What differences do you notice when looking at the 2 types of opposite attackers in the video?

  • How often does the opposition middle blocker close to the pin hitters?

  • When is the system forcing the blockers to make decisions?

Check out the video and let us know your thoughts.

bottom of page