There are three main offensive strategies used by volleyball teams. These depend on the type of players that are on the court. In a 4-2 system: there are 4 attackers and 2 setters. The 2 setters have to give an assist to the attackers. This is mainly used by junior teams as it is quite easy to know what everyone has to do. It can make it more predictable though. Therefore more advanced teams use 5-1 or 6-2 systems. In these systems, five or six players are attacking. This makes the attacks more complex and harder to defend. It is also more difficult for the players that have to execute the attack as they have to pay a lot of attention to where they have to stand and what they can do. Volleyball teams have to rotate over the court every time they score a point when the other team was serving.
We have discussed the 4-2 rotation before here. This system is quite simple because the goal is every time the same. The players have to go to their starting position after they have rotated over the field. Once they are allowed (when the ball of the serve is over the net), the setter has to go to the front right position (just behind the net). This makes it quite easy as there are only two instances per full rotation where the setter has to run from the left side to the right side of the court (see image below). S is the setter, M is the middle blocker and O is the outside hitter. The setters have to give an assist to the middle blocker or outside hitters. If the setter on the front row is occupied, there is still a backup setter on the back row.
5-1 rotation: used by professional teams
Most professional teams use this rotation. The setter moves from the front row to the back row during the rotation. If the setter is standing in the back row during the rotation, he or she can’t just move to the front row as this would break the rules. Therefore the setter has to stay behind (or in front) the other attacker in front (or behind) them.
When the setter is in the back row, the setter might have to help defend. The challenge is that there is only one setter. If this player has to defend and is not able to pass the ball from the front line, another player has to jump in and provide support. This is often done by the libero.
What is great about this type of attack is that everyone knows who the setter is and they can focus on this person during each attack. The setter can pass to five other players so there are a lot of different attacks possible. This variety makes it harder to defend to as the defenders don’t know where the ball will come from. Volleyball can be played very fast and if you can attack from an unexpected angle, you can score a lot of points.
This strategy is used by a lot of professional teams (including the USA Olympic team) as it allows one setter to determine the offensive strategy. It is a great balance between attacking and defending as you need players with both skills on the court at the same time. The libero can replace the middle blocker when this player is in the last row. This adds more defensive power to the team. As discussed before, the libero might have to replace the setter so this player can be involved in attacks as well in this strategy. You need a great libero to pull this off.
The system is also quite clear as there is only one setter so the team doesn’t have to run around too much to find a good attacking position.
6-2 rotation: complex but leads to diversity in the attacks
There are only six players on the court per team. How can you have 6 attackers and 2 setters? The answer is by using substitutions. The problem with this system is that substitutions are limited per match so you might need to switch from a 6-2 rotation to a 4-2 rotation later in the match. It is mainly used if there are two great setters on the team and the coach wants to use them both during the match. One of the setters can sit on the bench during parts of the rotation, creating a 5-1 system that makes it easier to attack than the 4-2 system.
Having to substitute so often can take the flow away from a team. When players are in a great rhythm, they can lose it because one player has to set on the bench. As the saying goes: ‘never replace a winning team’. 6-2 rotations can lead to a lot of confusion as the players that are coming of the bench might be distracted. It is quite hard to enter a game when you have been out of it for a while.
The 6-2 rotation has a lot of drawbacks and not a lot of teams run it. The main advantage is that you can use both setters and this can lead to creative attacks. Sometimes this is needed to break the defense. The substitutions can also confuse the defending team, making it easier to attack. The team that runs a 6-2 strategy needs to play together really well and this is often done by teams that have played together for years. Some coaches really like this system as you can be flexible and add more variety to the game. I find it too confusing and don’t like it that much.
To conclude, the three main offensive strategies in volleyball are 4-2 (4 attackers and 2 setters); 5-1 (5 attackers and 1 setter), and 6-2 (6 attackers and 2 setters). 4–2 is mainly used by newer teams as it is quite easy to run this rotation. It can make attacks too predictable as you only have four attackers. Professional teams use 5 or 6 attackers to be able to be more creative and add diversity to the attacks. These systems are harder to run as each player has to pay attention and follow the rotation or the team will get a remark from the referee.