Rotations 201: Rotation 3
Time for the third installment of our second-level course on Rotation Optimization. In previous posts, we looked at variations that coaches can use in Rotations 1 and 2. Today, we look at Rotation 3. The first two parts of this article series featured some of the top NCAA teams, but now we’ll draw inspiration from the international game. As an Assistant with the Canadian National Team, I had the chance to coach in the NORCECA Championship event, and not only did we use two different variations in Rotation 3, we saw some wrinkles from other teams as well.
Before we look at variations, let’s look at the most common alignment for Rotation 3, and some things that coaches want to get right.
Rotation 3 is a strong and flexible rotation for a few reasons. First, you have 3 attackers, and they all have an easy entry into their natural attacking positions. In Rotation 1, the opposite and outside are on their less natural sides of the court, or you have to stack on the left side and utilize slide entry footwork. In Rotation 2, the middle has a difficult entry that can be disrupted by the serve and pass. But in Rotation 3, the outside can easily attack on the left, the opposite can easily attack on the right, and the middle has a natural left to right entry that allows her to attack a variety of sets in front and even (as we’ll see later) behind the setter. Finally, for high-level teams that utilize a back row attack, the back row outside hitter is already passing in zone 6, allowing an easy approach to attack.
The setter release is not challenging; just remember that she can go all the way over to the back row outside passing in zone 6. Some setters stay too far to the left side of the court (our Canadian setter in this picture could even go a little farther without overlapping) and make their entry more difficult.
In addition to making the setter release easier by having her start as far to the right as possible, we like having both the middle and opposite starting on, or slightly behind, the attack line. A common mistake is to have the middle pushed up too close to the net to start. When that happens, her entry is more difficult, because she has to transition back off the net (often into the path of the serve) and then back on the net to hit again.
Let’s look at a few sideout plays with this standard alignment:
The next most common alignment is to pull back the opposite into the passing formation and slide the front row outside attacker out of the passing formation, With Team Canada, we used this variation, as we have two opposites with different strengths and weaknesses: one is a physical attacker who isn’t capable of receiving serve at this level, and one is a stronger passer but a less physical attacker. Having different options for our reception formation allows us to take advantage of the strengths and weaknesses of different players.
Here’s what this formation looks like:
Notice how the front row opposite is pulled back to pass and the front row outside is shifted out of the receiving formation. This also allows your libero to receive in zone 6. So if your opposite is at least comparable to your outside hitter (in this rotation, it’s the “OH-2” or “away outside” rather than the “OH-1” or “next-to outside”) as a passer, your reception should improve just by virtue of shifting your libero (who, in theory, is your strongest passer) into zone 6. At the high school level, you may play a team where the server is not capable of consistently serving the ball to zone 1. So even if the opposite is not a great passer, this can improve your passing, because the server can’t get the ball there! We know the majority of serves, even at the NCAA Division 1 level, go to zone 6, so it’s a serious benefit to have your libero passing in that zone.
The setter’s entry is a little more difficult now, because she still has to stay on the left side of the back row outside hitter. It’s not an impossible move, it just requires a little more effort and speed from the setter.
Let’s see a few sideout plays from this formation:
You can see that even when the opposite doesn’t pass the ball in this formation, she improves the team reception by allowing the libero to pass in zone 6.
In these two video clips, we see that Rotation 3 is a great rotation to feature your middle attacker. We see the middle attacking all along the net, and, in the final play, even attacking behind the setter. This can either be done immediately behind the setter (as in that clip), or as a full slide, in combination with the opposite coming into the middle for a crossing play. In the NORCECA Championships, we saw Cuba use that play effectively.
Unfortunately, it was effective against us! It’s difficult to rely on a crossing play consistently (it’s easily disrupted by the pass coming off the net), but if the opponent is unprepared, it can be a useful wrinkle.
Finally, let’s take a look at two of the top teams in the world using this rotation. First, let’s see the USA in their Nations League Final win over Brazil. They use the more common alignment of Rotation 3, with the opposite not passing, and use a variety of middle routes to not only open up their middles, but their left and right side attackers as well:
And finally, let’s see current world #1, China, who uses a passing opposite and incorporates some crossing wrinkles as well:
Alright, class dismissed! Remember to put your setters in good entry positions, use some middle attacks, and optimize your passing formation with either the outside or opposite passing. Most importantly, make sure you fit your reception formation to the specific strengths and weaknesses of your team. Use these National Team videos as inspiration, not necessarily the formula that must be followed.