General Volleyball Terms

We have organized these volleyball terms and descriptions for those of you who are interested in coaching volleyball. If you’re a new volleyball coach looking to expand your knowledge, this is one place to start. We have organized these volleyball terms and descriptions for those of you who are interested in coaching volleyball. If you’re a new volleyball coach looking to expand your knowledge, this is one place to start.

Pass

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.Set- 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.

Hit/attack/spike

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 interchangeable. 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.

Serve

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 3 main types of serves that are defined below.

Dig

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.

Block

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”.

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 in side the court on the side of the team that was attempting to hit it over.

Tool

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.

Joust

When players from opposing teams play the ball simultaneously, it is called a “joust”.

Cover

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.

Platform

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.

Sprawl/Dive

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.

Pancake

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.

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.

Down Ball

When a player who 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.

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.

Dump

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 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.

Tip

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.

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.

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 passers perspective. This serve is also referred to as a “Spike serve”.

Float Serve 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”.

Ace

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. This type of pass is often called a “shank”. An ace results in a point for the serving team.

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.

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”.

Rally

While the ball is in play it is said to be a “rally.”

Side-out

When a team is on serve receive and wins the rally, it is called a “side-out”.

Approach

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”.

Arm Swing

the movement a hitter or server’s arm makes to generate force before contacting the ball.

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”.

Kill

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.

Sideline

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.

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 with out stepping on this line to serve.

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.

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.

Antenna/pin

The thin, red and white striped poles that is 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.

Poles

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 sub sequentially played to the opposing team between the antennas.

Tight

When the ball is sent close to the net (approximately 0-2 feet) it is said to be “tight”.

Off

When the ball is sent away from the net (more than 5 feet or so), it is said to be “off”.

Inside

When the ball is sent more than 5 feet inside of the sidelines, it is said to be “inside”.

Outside

When the ball is sent outside of the sidelines, it is said to be “outside”.

Short

When the ball is sent over the net in front of a player, it is said to be “short”.

Deep

When the ball is sent over the net behind a player, it is said to be “deep”.

Line

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”.

Crosscourt/Angle

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”.

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”.

Press/Penetrate

The movement a blocker should make with their hands so that they are over on the opponents 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.

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.

Substitution

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.

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 6 “rotational home” positions. If a player begins the game as right back, there 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.

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.

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.

Game/Set

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 number of games won and are breaking the tie in the final game. That tie-breaker game is typically to 15 points.

Match

A match is a predetermined number of games, often best or 3 or 5 games.

Time-Out

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.

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.

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 6 boxes to enter the 6 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.

Volleyball Positions

Below is a list of all volleyball positions and an explanation of each.

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.

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 med to perfect situations and can move well along the net as well as get their hands over onto the opponents 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.

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.

Setter

The player in charge of the second ball is called the “setter”. They don’t necessarily play ever second ball but they are in charge of determining who will play the second ball. This player’s main job is 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).

Libero

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 back up setter. They are allowed to play for any/all of the 6 players on the court in the back-row. Depending on the league, 1 or 2 liberos may be designated at the beginning of the match and used in any game. If 2 liberos may play, then they may replace each other at any time but cannot play together at the same time.

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).

Serving Specialist

The player subbed in only to serve for their teammate is called a “serving specialist”. Once the opposing team side’s out, this player is subbed out (base this decision on the abilities of the players).

Left-Back

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.Middle-back- 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.Right-back- 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.

Left-Front

The front-row area on the left is called “left-front”. A player can be said to play “left-front” on defense or offense.

Middle-Front

The front-row area in the middle is called “middle-front”. A player can be said to play “middle-front” on defense or offense.

Right-Front

The front-row area on the right is called “right-front”. A player can be said to play “right-front” on defense or offense.

Wing-Defender

The right-back and left-back players are referred to as the “wing defenders”.

Wing-Blockers

The right-front and left-front players are referred to as the “wing blockers”.

Off-Blockers

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 3 players choose not to block, they should split the court evenly between the side lines and come off to between 5 and 8 ft off the net so as not to block the vision of the back-row players.

Volleyball Set Definitions

Below is a list of common volleyball set definitions.

4 or "Hut"

A high, front-row set to the left side of the court is often called a “4/Hut”. This is typically a 1st step set.

Go

A faster version of the hut listed above. This is a 2nd step set to the front row outside hitter (left side).

5

A high, front-row set to the right side of the court is often called a “5”. This is one type of “backset”. This is typically a 1st step set.

Red

A faster version of the "5". An overhead play that is typically ran as a 2nd step set.

2

A high, front-row set to the middle of the court is often called a “2”.

1/Quick

A lower, front-row set to the middle of the court is often called a “1/Quick”. This can be a 3rd or 4th step set.

Gap

A 3rd step set to the middle blocker. This is typically a fixed point set about 4 feet left of center. The purpose of the set is to attack the "gap" in between the middle blocker and then A2 blocker.

Back-Row Set

A high, set to or slightly in front of the 10 ft line is often called a “back-row set/attack”. Typically a team will have 3 different back-row sets each with a different name. Some teams add more options. If jumping, a player must take off from behind the 10 ft line to contact the ball.

Back-Row Set

A high, set to or slightly in front of the 10 ft line is often called a “back-row set/attack”. Typically a team will have 3 different back-row sets each with a different name. Some teams add more options. If jumping, a player must take off from behind the 10 ft line to contact the ball.

Back-Row Set

A high, set to or slightly in front of the 10 ft line is often called a “back-row set/attack”. Typically a team will have 3 different back-row sets each with a different name. Some teams add more options. If jumping, a player must take off from behind the 10 ft line to contact the ball.

Pipe

A set to or slightly in front of the 10 ft line to the middle of the court is often called a “pipe”. Typically this ball is set to the back-row outside hitter.

Bic

A faster version of the pipe. This can be a 2nd step, 2.5 step or 3rd step set.

Fixed Point Set

A set that always has the same target point is called a “Fixed Set”. This means that no matter where the pass takes the setter, the target for the set remains the same for the hitter and setter. As the pass moves the setter, she must change the height, speed and distance of the set to make it land in the fixed target location.

Floating Point Set

A set with a different target point on the floor depending on the pass is called a “floating point set”. This means that depending on where the pass takes the setter, the target for the set changes for the hitter and setter. For example, a Quick can be a Fixed Point Set 2 feet from the setter so the height of this set would look exactly the same no matter where the pass takes the setter but would land in a different spot.

Serve/Receive & Overlap

Below are a few terms explaining serve receive formations and overlap rules.

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 that allows players to be in the best possible place to play the serve and run an offense based on their abilities.*When developing a rotation formation, the following are possible considerations:

Can I get my best passer in the middle of the floor?

Are my front-row outside hitters free to hit, or do I make them pass?

Do I give my best hitters easy access to where they hit best?

Do I allow for an easy setter entry?

Can I incorporate a “Plan B” in case I have a player in trouble (passing or hitting)?

Front Row / Back-Row

Here's a general overview of how the overlap rules work in volleyball.

Players must be in front of (or behind) ONLY their respective back-row (or front-row) counterpart. So left-front must be in front of left-back, middle-front in front of middle-back, etc. Left side positions have no front/behind concerns relative to middle or right side positions.

Adjacent (side to side): Players in the front-row must be positioned correctly ONLY with respect to their adjacent counterparts in the front-row, as must players in the back-row. So left-front must be to the left of middle-front, middle-front must be in between left-front and right-front, and right-front to the right of middle-front.

Back-row players must be positioned correctly with respect to their adjacent counterparts in the back-row as well. Front-row players have no adjacency concerns relative to back-row players and vice versa.

Volleyball Systems - Offense

Below are the most common offensive systems in volleyball.

5-1

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 “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.

6-2

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 get 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.

4-2

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 benefits to this system is that setters have 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.

6-3

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.

6-6

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.

Volleyball Systems - Defense

Below are some of the most common defensive systems in volleyball. Defensive systems should be determined based on the ability of your players and where balls land at your level of play.

Middle-Middle Defense

This defensive system has middle-back play half way between the end line and the 10 ft line and half way 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 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.

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.

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.

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.