What is rotational defense in volleyball? Explained for beginners.

Defense is essential in volleyball and can mean the difference between winning and losing a volleyball game. Teams often spend a lot of time perfecting their defense. 

 Rotational defense, also called man back defense, is a type of defense during which the four back players have to cover the end of the court. The whole team moves towards the ball. The goal is to cover both tips and swings so that you can defend against a lot of different types of attacks. There are two players standing close to the net and four players further down the field.

The players on the first row often try to block the ball. The middle digger has to make sure that he or she can keep the ball in the air if the block is not effective. The players are not spread out evenly over the court and this brings some risks with it. You are compensating for this by sending four players further down the court. This is a great defense if you want to counter fast.

This means that you switch from defense to attack in an instance. It leaves a part of the field open and therefore the middle digger has to make sure that he or she can catch the ball. The setter can pick up the ball if a tip is used. You are hoping that the attacker will just send the ball in a straight line instead of with a special effect or at the other side of the court.

Photo by Stephen Baker on Unsplash

This strategy is quite defensive as you have four players at the end of the court that can help to keep the ball in the air. This gives some flexibility to the defense as you can cover a large area of the field and can defend against tips and spikes. If two players block, the front row can be quite vulnerable as there are no other players in this location.

Therefore you use this strategy if you think that the attacker will send the ball further down the field. As you can see in the image below, the team is spread over the field so that they can catch the ball if the block doesn’t work. Only one block can make this type of defense safer as you have more players on the field to defend. If the attacking player can find an empty zone, it can be quite easy to score a point. 

You can use this defense when the ball is coming from the left, center or right so it is a very flexible way of defending that can be applied in almost all situations. This is where the rotational defense gets its name from as you rotate towards the ball.  This type of defense requires a lot of movement as the whole team is moving towards the ball.

This can lead to holes in the defense if the team is not working together.  It puts a lot of pressure on the attackers of the other team as they have to push the ball far away if they want to score a point. If the attacker is very precise, they can score a lot of points as rotational defense leaves some gaps open as everyone is standing close to where the ball is. For younger attackers, a rotational defense can be challenging as they are not able to push the ball in the empty part of the court.

Example of rotational defense. Made with Canva

 It is discussed in a more visual way in the video below. You can notice how the team is moving based on where the ball is. You try to move the whole team towards the ball. This can leave some holes further down the court. If the spiker is very good, he or she can take advantage of this by sending the ball this way. Therefore the team has to think about how skilled and precise the attack of the other team is. The coach can change the defensive strategy during the game if needed. You shouldn’t lose a lot of points in short succession as this indicates that your defense is not working well. 

You also have other ways to defend, next to the rotational defense. The two main ones are perimeter defense and middle up defense. During these types of defense, the players have to move less.

 For example in perimeter defense, the three defenders are standing close to the court lines (sideline and end line). The goal is to cover the outside of the court. If the ball falls between these three players, they have to agree who is going to get the ball.

Example of perimeter defense. Made with Canva

In middle-up defense, one defender (often the middle back or setter) has to move around behind the block. The other players are standing closer to the lines (sidelines and end lines). The middle back (or setter) has to run between them and cover a big part of the field. The other three players often keep standing close to the lines as the middle back (or setter) has to run around to catch the ball if it falls in the middle. You notice that the players are more spread out over the court than in rotational defense. 

Example of middle-up defense. Made in Canva

We can see that in these two strategies the players have to move less than in rotational defense. In perimeter defense and middle up defense, the three players at the second line just have to move to the outside of the court. In rotation defense, the whole team has to move around towards the ball. 

To conclude, we can state that rotational defense is a type of defense that is often used. The goal is to move the whole team towards the ball. This allows the team to defend against tips and spikes. It is also a great way to counterattack as you have a lot of players down the court that can pass the ball.

Therefore it is great to defend but the players have to move a lot so this can leave some holes in the defense if players haven’t played together that often or if they are tired. You have to make sure that you stay in your rotation. Therefore rotational defense is quite complex to execute but can be a great way to defend. A lot of newer teams begin with middle-up defense as it is very clear what everyone has to do. Once the team has some experience and everyone is able to communicate well, you can switch to a rotational defense.