99 Volleyball Terms Coaches and Players Should Know
We have organized these volleyball terms and descriptions for those of you who are interested in coaching and playing volleyball. If you’re a new volleyball coach looking to expand your knowledge, this is one place to start.
1. Outside Hitter
The player that plays on the left side of the court in the front and back-row is called the “outside hitter” or “left-side hitter." This player’s main job is to attack and pass. Typically this player is best at terminating the ball and will receive 60% or more of the sets in a match. They should be trained in hitting in less-than-perfect situations as bad passes should be set to this player to attack. If this player will play back-row as well, they will also need to be a strong serve receive passer, server, and defender.
2. Middle Blocker
The player that plays in the middle of the court in the front-row is called the “middle blocker." This player’s main job is to attack and block. Typically this player hits well in medium to perfect situations and can move well along the net, as well as get their hands over onto the opponent's side of the net while they are blocking. This player is often replaced by the libero in the back-row but this decision should be based on the abilities of the players on the team.
3. Opposite/Right Side
The player that plays on the right side of the court in the front-row and back-row and is not setting is called the “opposite.” This player’s main job is to attack and block and is less involved in play at lower levels because of the difficulty of back setting to them. This player will be blocking on 60% or more of the plays since the opposing outside hitters will receive the majority of sets.
The player in charge of the second ball is called the “setter." They don’t necessarily play every second ball but they are in charge of determining who will play the second ball. This player’s main job is to set a “hit-able” ball for their teammates and allow the hitters to do the work to score. They most often play on the right side of the court either in the front-row, back-row, or both (again, this decision should be based on the abilities of the players on the team).
The player who wears a different color jersey and only plays in the back-row (typically middle-back) is called the “libero." This player’s main job is to serve receive pass, play defense and step in as the backup setter. They are allowed to play for any/all of the six players on the court in the back-row. Depending on the league, one or two liberos may be designated at the beginning of the match and used in any game. If two liberos may play, then they may replace each other at any time but cannot play together at the same time.
6. Defensive Specialist (DS)
The player that subs in for another player just to play back-row is called a “defensive specialist." This player’s main job is to play defense and pass on serve receive. They can be subbed in at any time but typically are subbed in before their teammate serves to serve in their place or after their teammate serves to start on serve receive (base this decision on the abilities of the players).
7. Serving Specialist
The player subbed in only to serve for their teammate is called a “serving specialist." Once the opposing team sides out, this player is subbed out (base this decision on the abilities of the players).
The back-row area on the left is called “left-back." A player can be said to play “left-back” on defense or serve receive. Alternatively, the back-row area in the middle is called “middle-back." A player can be said to play “middle-back” on defense or serve receive. And finally, the back-row area on the right is called “right-back." A player can be said to play “right-back” on defense or serve receive.
The front-row area on the left is called “left-front." A player can be said to play “left-front” on defense or offense.
The front-row area in the middle is called “middle-front." A player can be said to play “middle-front” on defense or offense.
The front-row area on the right is called “right-front." A player can be said to play “right-front” on defense or offense.
The right-back and left-back players are referred to as the “wing defenders."
The right-front and left-front players are referred to as the “wing blockers." The right-front and left-front players are also called “pins,” especially when referring to them as attackers.
The player or players that don’t block on a particular play are called the “off-blockers." They should move to 10×10 (10 ft off the net and 10 ft into the court) to defend against the tip. If all three players choose not to block, they should split the court evenly between the sidelines and come off to between 5 and 8 ft off the net so as not to block the vision of the back-row players.
The first contact after a serve is considered a “pass." The player who passes the ball is called the “passer." Usually, a pass is made with a player’s forearms but can also be made overhead with two open hands.
The second contact (after a pass or dig) is considered a “set." The player who sets is called the “setter." Usually, a set is made with two hands overhead. A bump set is made with a player’s forearms. A player can also set the ball over the net on the first, second, or third contact with the same motion.
Typically the third contact when a player uses one open hand and swings at the ball to send it over the net is called a “hit/attack/spike." The player who hits the ball is called the “hitter/attacker/spiker." These three terms are used interchangeably. The whole hand is loosely cupped in the shape of the ball and the entire hand (palm and fingers) should contact the ball. In some situations, a player may choose to attack on the second contact instead of the third.
The first contact that starts every rally is called a “serve." The player who serves is called the “server." Usually, a server uses one, open hand to swing overhead and send the ball over the net from behind the end line. Less experienced players may serve underhand with one closed fist. Sometimes younger age groups are allowed to serve from within the court so be sure to check local league rules. There are three main types of serves that are defined below.
The first contact made after an attacker from the other team sends the ball over to the defensive team is said to be a “dig." Digs can be made with the forearms, open or closed hands, or any other part of the body. The first contact made after an attacker from the other team sends the ball over to the defensive team is said to be a “dig." Digs can be made with the forearms, open or closed hands, or any other part of the body.
This move/contact is made by a player at the net to prevent the ball from coming over when an opposing player is sending the ball over the net. This move is made with two extended arms with open hands above their head. This contact does not count as one of the three contacts a team is allowed to make. The same player that blocks the ball may contact the ball again as the first of their team’s three contacts. When two players block at the same time it is called a “double block." When three players block at the same time it is called a “triple block."
21. Stuff Block
When a defensive team stops the ball from crossing the net as an opposing player tries to send it over. The ball then falls back to the floor inside the court on the side of the team that was attempting to hit it over.
The ball is deflected by a blocker but falls to the floor either outside the court on either side, or onto the court on the same side as the blocker. This earns a point for the attacker’s team.
When players from opposing teams play the ball simultaneously, it is called a “joust."
The attack is blocked back onto the attacker’s side but a member of the same team digs the ball and the rally continues. A textbook rally would follow this pattern of contacts: Serve, pass, set, hit, dig, set, hit, dig, etc. with the possibility of having a stuff block, covered block, or deflection as well.
Refers to the forearms when they are put together by holding both hands together to create one larger surface for the ball to bounce off of.
When a team can run their offensive from a perfect pass (or dig) situation.
When a team is running their offensive from a poor pass (or dig) situation.
Volleyball transition occurs when your team is on defense and digs a ball that stays on your side in a rally, now your team "transitions" to being on the offense.
When a player lands on the floor with their body in an attempt to save the ball with their arm or arms before it hits the floor, it is called a “sprawl” or “dive." This is considered an emergency move.
When a player lands on the floor with their body in an attempt to save the ball with one open hand on the floor to allow the ball to bounce off of it is called a “pancake." This is considered an emergency move.
31. Overhead Dig
When a player digs a ball using both hands above their forehead. The general posture would be similar to setting, but without the concern of being called for a double.
32. Free Ball
When a team sends the ball over the net to their opponents with their forearms they are said to be giving a “free ball." Considered an easier play for the defensive team.
33. Down Ball
When a player is standing on the floor and swinging with an open hand to hit the ball over the net, it is usually called a “down ball." Traditionally a “down ball” means the blockers at the net should not jump and instead stay down on the floor when an opposing player is sending the ball over the net.
34. Roll Shot
When a player slows down the speed of their arm swing while attacking to send the ball shorter in the court and in front of the defenders, it is called a “roll shot." The arm still makes the same motion as a full-speed attack and the whole hand makes contact with the ball.
When a setter sends the ball over the net on their team’s second contact instead of setting a player on their own team to hit it over the net it is called a “dump” or “setter attack." A setter can do so by tipping or hitting the ball over with one open hand or setting it over with two open hands. They may do so while standing on the floor or jumping in the air.
When a player uses one open hand to send the ball over the net it is called a “tip." The player uses the pads of their fingers to contact the ball and control the direction it is sent. Tips are usually sent short in the court but can also be sent deep. A tip is in contrast to swinging the arm to hit the ball over the net.
37. Float Serve
A serve in which the ball does not spin is considered a “float serve." This serve often changes direction and floats in unexpected trajectories.
38. Jump Serve
A serve in which the server approaches and jumps to hit the ball while in the air to send the ball over the net with spin with the top of the ball rotating down towards the floor from the passer's perspective. This serve is also referred to as a “spike serve."
39. Float Serve
A serve in which the server approaches and jumps to hit the ball while in the air to send the ball over the net with no spin is called a “jump float serve."
A serve that is un-returnable in which it either hits the floor or a controlled second contact cannot be made off of the pass. An ace results in a point for the serving team.
41. Under-Hand Serve
A serve that is sent over by keeping the serving arm down and hitting the stationary ball in the opposite hand with a fist. This serve is often taught to beginner players.
42. Over Pass
The pass by the team receiving the serve that is sent immediately back over the net to the serving team on accident is called an “overpass."
While the ball is in play it is said to be a “rally."
When a team is on serve receive and wins the rally, it is called a “side-out."
The footwork an attacker uses to time the set, gain momentum, and jump before contacting the ball to hit it over the net is called an “approach."
46. Arm Swing
The movement a hitter or server’s arm makes to generate force before contacting the ball is called the "arm swing."
47. Hitting Error
When a player hits the ball either into the net or the antenna, or outside of the court or antenna, it is called an “attack/hitting error."
An attack that is un-returnable in which it either hits the floor, or a controlled second contact cannot be made off of the dig. This type of dig is often called a “shank." A kill results in a point for the attacking team.
The two lines that run the length of the court are called “sidelines." They are a total of 60 feet long and line up with the antennas that designate the side boundaries of the court. A server must serve from between these lines.
50. End Line
The two lines that run the width of the court are called “end lines." They are each 30 ft long and designate the end boundary of the court. At most levels, a server must contact the ball without stepping on this line to serve.
51. Center Line
The line that runs the width of the court under the net is called the “center line." This line is also 30 ft long and designates the floor boundary between the two teams. Be sure to inquire locally regarding this line as rules regarding crossing or stepping on this line can vary.
52. 10 ft (3m) line
The line that runs the width of the court 10 ft from the net is called the “10 ft line." This line designates the boundary for jumping to attack for back-row players as well as the boundary for Liberos setting overhead to an attacker.
The thin, red and white striped poles that are attached to both sides of the net at the sidelines are called the “antennas." These designate a vertical boundary of play that extends up to the ceiling of the gym. The ball is considered out if it touches the antenna or the net between the antenna and the pole as well as if the ball travels across the net over or outside of the antenna.
The metal structures used to hold and tighten the net are called “poles”. There are many different companies that manufacture net systems and different types of poles. There should always be a pad around the poles for players’ safety. In most leagues, it is legal for players to run past a pole to play a ball but the ball must travel back to their side outside of the antenna, and then subsequentially played to the opposing team between the antennas.
When the ball is sent close to the net (approximately 0-2 feet) it is said to be “tight."
When the ball is sent away from the net (more than 5 feet or so), it is said to be “off."
When the ball is sent more than 5 feet inside of the sidelines, it is said to be “inside."
When the ball is sent outside of the sidelines, it is said to be “outside."
When the ball is sent over the net in front of a player, it is said to be “short."
When the ball is sent over the net behind a player, it is said to be “deep."
When the ball travels down the same sideline from one team to the other it is said to be hit down the “line." This term can also be used to designate the defender that is near the same line the attacker is closest to. They are said to be the “line defender."
When the ball travels from one sideline to the other from one team to the opposing team it is said to be hit “crosscourt/angle." This term can also be used to designate the defender that is near the opposite line the attacker is closest to. They are said to be the “crosscourt/angle defender."
63. Let Serve
When the serve hits the net and continues over to the receiving team, it is a live ball and called a “let serve."
The movement a blocker should make with their hands so that they are over on the opponent's side of the net. This creates an angle that the attack will reflect off of and land back on the attacker’s side of the court.
65. Call the Ball
Communication is key in this team sport. Players should make an early call to indicate they will play it. Common phrases used are “I go” or “mine." Players should also call names of players and sets during play, as well as other useful information like “short," “deep," “inside," etc.
When one player is replaced by another during a game, this is called a “substitution." Depending on the league, the number of substitutions is limited per game. Once a player on the bench crosses in front of the 10 ft line, they have entered the substitution zone and must be subbed in. Players are to wait, one inside the court and one outside the court, in front of the 10 ft line until signaled by the bookkeeper to switch.
67. Rotation Home
As a team rotates so that each player serves once in the same order as the original line-up, the player’s “rotation home” changes. Each player will sequentially play in all six “rotational home” positions. If a player begins the game as right-back, their rotational home will be “right-back” until they rotate and then their “rotational home” will then be “middle-back," then “left-back," then “left-front," then “middle-front," then “right-front," then “right-back” again, and so on and so forth.
68. Base Defense
The defensive spot on the floor that a player stands at and then possibly moves from depending on who is set on the opposing team is called “base defense." Coaches determine the “base defense” they want their players to use based on the defensive strategy they want to use. This decision should be based on the opponent’s tendencies and the abilities of the defensive team.
69. Serve Receive
When a team is being served at, they are said to be on “serve receive." Players are required to remain in their rotation home before the serve until the server contacts the ball. This requires teams to create serve receive formations to account for this rule and still put players in the best possible place to play the serve and run an offense. Specific details for serve receive formations are described in a subsequent section.
Depending on the league or tournament, a “game” or “set” is to a predetermined amount of points. Games must be won by two points unless a predetermined point cap is in place. Typically games are to 25 points unless teams are tied in the number of games won and are breaking the tie in the final game. That tie-breaker game is typically to 15 points.
A match is a predetermined number of games, often best of three or five games.
A coach, player, or referee can call a stoppage in play for a variety of reasons. The stoppage is referred to as a “time-out." They are often 60 seconds in length unless it is an injury timeout.
73. Libero Entry
A libero does not enter as a sub does. Instead, the player may enter for any back-row player at any time by crossing into the court through the sideline behind the 10 ft line while the other player exits the court the same way but not necessarily at the exact same time.
74. Line-up Sheet
The official sheet used by a coach to enter their line-up for each game. Usually, there will be a rectangle with six boxes to enter the six starting players and an additional, detached one for the libero’s number. The roman numerals in each box designate the position in which each player will begin and the order in which they will serve.
75. Set Name - GO
A “Go” is an in-system, fast-paced 2nd-step tempo set to the outside hitter on the left side of the court. “2nd-step” means the attacker is on the second step of her approach as the setter is setting the ball.
76. Set Name - HUT
A “Hut” is a high out-of-system, 1st-step (or slower) tempo set to the outside hitter on the left side of the court. “1st-step” means the attacker is on the first step of her approach as the setter (or another player) is setting or bump setting the ball. This is a higher, slower set.
77. Set Name - RED
A “Red” is an in-system, fast-paced 2nd-step tempo set to the opposite hitter on the right side of the court.
78. Set Name - 5
A “5” is a high out-of-system, 1st-step (or slower) tempo set to the opposite hitter on the right side of the court.
79. Set Name - GAP / 31
A “Gap” or a “31” is an in-system, 3rd or 4th-step tempo set to the middle attacker in the area between the left sideline and the middle of the court. “3rd-step” means the attacker is on the third step of her approach as the setter is setting the ball. “4th-step” means the attacker is on her fourth step.
80. Set Name - 1 / QUICK
A “1” or a “Quick” attack is an in-system, 3rd or 4th-step tempo set to the middle attacker directly in front of the setter. Different teams run this play at different tempos. A 3rd-step quick attack is slower than a 4th-step quick attack. Each tempo has its own pros and cons, which you can see in our “Set tempo” video series on GMS+.
81. Set Name - BACK-1
A “Back-1” is an in-system, 3rd or 4th-step tempo set to the middle attacker directly behind the setter.
82. Set Name - 2
A “2” is a higher 2nd-step tempo set to an attacker in the middle of the court.
This attack can be set to a middle blocker, or to an outside hitter, or opposite during a combination play.
83. Set Name - SLIDE
A “Slide” is a 2nd, heading into 3rd-step tempo back set to the middle attacker jumping off of one foot on the right side of the court. The tempo changes slightly depending on where the setter is when she is contacting the ball. Learn about slide timing in our “Set tempo” video series on GMS+.
84. Set Name - PIPE
A “Pipe” is an in-system, 2nd or 3rd-step tempo set to a back row attacker in the middle of the court. An in-system pipe is a 3rd-step set. An out-of-system pipe is a 1st-step or 2nd-step set.
85. Set Name - D
A “D” is a 2nd-step tempo set to a back-row attacker on the right side of the court. An in-system D is a 3rd-step set. An out-of-system D is a 1st-step or 2nd-step set.
86. SETTER DUMP
A “Setter Dump” is a one-handed, 2nd-contact attack by a front-row setter attempting to score a kill instead of setting that second contact to one of the available attackers.
A “Setover” is a set by a front-row or back row setter on the 2nd-contact that goes over the net, attempting to score a kill by landing the setover in an empty part of the opponent’s court.
This is one of the two most popular offensive systems used in volleyball. The “5” indicates that five players are hitters at some point in the game and the “1” player is the setter. The setter typically plays right-front and right-back and remains the setter for the length of the game. The main benefit of this system is the consistency from the setting position.
This is one of the two most popular offensive systems used in volleyball. The “6” indicates that six players are hitters at some point in the game and “2” players are setters at some point in the game. This system can be run with or without subs. The setter typically plays right-back and remains the setter while she is in the back-row.
A 6-2 with subs, has the setter subbed out for a hitter when she rotates into the front-row and the hitter rotating to the back-row is subbed out for the second setter. The main benefits of this system are having three front-row hitters at all times, simpler server receive formations (you do three different ones and repeat rather than six and then repeat), and more players getting a substantial amount of playing time.
A 6-2 without subs would mean that when the setter rotates to the front-row she is now a hitter and the hitter that rotates to the back-row at that same time becomes the setter. The main benefit to this system is that players that can set, hit and pass well can contribute in all areas for the team.
The “4” indicates that four players are hitters at some point in the game and “2” players are setters at some point in the game. The setter typically plays right-front or middle-front and remains the setter while she is in the front-row. When the setter rotates to the back-row she is now a passer and the player that rotates to the front-row at that same time becomes the setter. The main benefit to this system is that setters have an easy entry on serve receive and defense, the setter can legally dump at all times, and players that can both set and pass well can contribute in both areas for the team.
The “6” indicates that six players are hitters at some point in the game and “3” players are setters at some point in the game. The three setters are staggered in every other position in the lineup. The setter typically plays right-front or middle-front on defense and remains the setter for two rotations. When the setter rotates to the back-row she is now a passer and the player that rotates to middle-front at that same time becomes the setter. The main benefit to this system is that players that can set, hit, and pass well can contribute in all areas for the team.
The first “6” indicates that six players are hitters at some point in the game and “6” players are setters at some point in the game. The setter typically plays right-front or middle-front and remains the setter for one rotation. When the setter rotates from that position she is now a hitter and the player that rotates to either right-front or middle-front at that same time becomes the setter. The main benefit to this system is that players learn and practice all 5 skills of the game. In addition, players that can set, hit, and pass well can contribute in all areas for the team.
93. Middle-Middle Defense
This defensive system has middle-back play halfway between the end line and the 10 ft line and halfway between the sidelines. The player stays there and turns to face the attacker. Base defense for the wing defenders is 2×2 (two steps in from the sideline and two steps back from the 10 ft line). The wing defenders may stay there or move from their base defense depending on what gets set and what they see. If the outside hitter of the opposing team shows that they are swinging and can not hit 12-15 feet down the sideline, then the right-back would back up and move to be arm distance from the sideline. Off-blockers play defense 10 ft into the court and 10 ft off the net.
94. Rotation Defense
This defensive system has the line defender move up to the 10 ft line to play for the tip. Middle-back then rotates over toward the line defender that is covering the tip. The other back-row defender rotates over towards the middle of the court. The off-blocker pulls off to behind the 10 ft line to defend a sharp cross-court swing. If the outside hitter is attacking on the opposing team, right back moves up for the tip. Middle-back rotates to the right, left-back rotates to the right as well and left-front comes off to left-back to defend.Perimeter- This defensive system has each player move backwards to their respective sideline or end line to play defense. Middle-back stands on the end line in the middle of the court, left-back stands on the left sideline, etc. Off blockers pull off the net to the 10 ft line.
95. Middle-Up Defense
This defensive system has middle-back move up to the 10 ft line and left-back and right-back move back towards their respective corners to play defense. Off-blockers pull off the net to the 10 ft line.
96. Perimeter Defense
Defensive players start on the sidelines and end-line. The theory behind this system is it's easier to move toward the center of the court than away from the center of the court. This system has the potential to move defenders away from where balls land most (in the middle of the court) so we don't recommend it for most levels.
A term that is typically used to describe an egregious passing error in serve receive.
98. Dime or Nail
A term that is typically used to describe a perfect pass in serve receive.
A term that is used to describe a stuff block.