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The Libero Position in Volleyball

AN INTRODUCTION TO THE LIBERO POSITION - WHAT THEY DO, THE RULES, AND MORE!


The libero in volleyball is a specialized position that can only play in the back row. They are commonly called "defensive specialists" or "ball-control specialists" as they manage a lot of passing and digging responsibilities.


The reasoning behind adding the libero position to the sport, which was first introduced in 1998, was to better the ball-control phase of the game. Better ball control allows for more options offensively and will result in more long, exciting rallies which of course fans enjoy. Note that the libero position is only utilized in the indoor game.


WHY DOES THE LIBERO WHERE A DIFFERENT COLOR UNIFORM?


It's very common for someone who is new to the sport of volleyball to ask "who is the player wearing a different color uniform?". The libero is indeed the only player on the court that wears a different color

jersey (shown wearing a blue jersey rather than the rest of the athletes in white).


The different color jersey makes it easy for the referee to track the athlete as they are entering and exiting the court. It's important that they are able to do this because the libero can enter and exit the court on their own and without it counting towards a team's official substitution limit.


PASSING, DIGGING, OR BOTH?


Ideally, your libero is great at passing in serve-receive AND digging when on defense. If you have a libero who is great at both of these skills, consider yourself lucky! It's fairly common to have liberos in your gym that are really good at one of the two skills, but medium or not so great at the other. Coaches will typically prioritize a passing libero over a really good defensive libero, but we will save that for a different conversation.


RULES ABOUT THE LIBERO YOU NEED TO KNOW


For the average volleyball fan, or for a new volleyball coach, it's important to understand the basic rules of the libero position.

  • As mentioned earlier, the libero can "exchange" with a back-row player without it counting as an official substitution. This exchange happens in between rallies. You will see the libero running on/off the court, typically for the back-row middle blocker.

  • Only the player who took part in the original libero exchange can replace the libero. For example, if the libero exchanges with a back-row middle blocker, only that middle blocker can exchange again with the libero (typically when that middle is back in the front row). Once this round-trip exchange happens, the libero can exchange with the second middle blocker and the cycle continues.

  • A libero is not allowed to complete an attack (from anywhere on the court) if the ball is completely above the top of the net during contact. They can, however, attack so long as the ball is not entirely above the net during contact. This is not a play that you will see very often, but it does happen from time to time.

  • Liberos are not allowed to block. They are back-row specialists and don't play in the front row.

  • It is permissible for a libero to replace the player in the serving position. In other words, liberos can serve or not serve depending on abilities, strategy, etc.

  • It is illegal for a front-row player to attack a ball that was "set" overhead (with hands) if the libero is in front of the 3-meter line. A libero will use a "bump set" when in front of the 3-meter line, and typically a traditional "hand set" when behind the 3-meter line.

  • A coach can only designate one libero per set, but changing liberos in-between sets is permissible.

These are the most important, and most noticeable rules that will enable a beginner, or a fan, to understand what's going on.

Volleyball Training Tools

AN EXAMPLE OF THE MOST LIKELY LIBERO EXCHANGES THROUGHOUT A MATCH


Step 1: Once the referee confirms the starting lineup (the six non-libero players), the down ref will signal to the libero that they can enter the match for the back row middle blocker (we will call this athlete MB1).


Step 2: When the libero eventually rotates to the front row, they will exchange out for MB1 and MB1 will play through the front row. Because the libero and MB1 have completed a full exchange, it's now permissible for the libero to exchange with another player.


Step 3: Now that there's a new back-row middle (MB2), the libero can exchange with them and once again play through the back-row. Once the libero gets back to the front-row, they will complete the full exchange with MB2 and the cycle continues.


ADDITIONAL LIBERO CONSIDERATIONS

  • Liberos are not required to enter the match.

  • Liberos can serve in one rotation. This is a tactical decision typically based on serving abilities. If one of your middle blockers is a poor server, it is permissible for the libero to serve in their place.

  • In today's game, the majority of liberos will set when the setter digs the first ball. For example, if the opposing outside hitter attacks the ball down the line and the defending setter digs it (1st contact), the libero would then take the 2nd contact and the attacker would take the 3rd contact.

THE VALUE OF LIBEROS


The libero, both in men's and women's volleyball, has become one of the most impactful positions on the court. In men's volleyball, passing is one of the premier skills, and having your libero take as many tough serves as possible is a big deal.


In the women's game, passing AND digging are considered premier skills. If you have a libero who can perform both of these skills, their impact on your team's performance will be substantial.


WONDERING WHERE TO PUT YOUR LIBERO ON DEFENSE?


If you would like to learn more about where liberos should play on the court, specifically left back or middle back, read this article.



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