(Originally published in Inside HP magazine)
In volleyball, every point is hard earned, and every team is ready to take advantage of an opponent that has a period of inconsistent play. A libero that takes a few plays off will cost the team a game/match. The need to be on top of your game every moment of a contest can be daunting. There is no time for being distracted or tired. You must be good always.
The libero’s role is not limited to receiving serve, passing free balls and digging balls. A libero must have a presence, must lead and initiate, and must make others on the floor better.
You can make a huge impact in the game at the libero position if you can do the following.
Pass a large area of the court
Liberos who can pass most of the court can help take the pressure off the outside hitters who pass with them. Many teams will target weaker passers with float serves or aim short to make hitters work harder to get a full approach. You can negate their tactics by being aggressive and “stealing” those passes.
On float serves, a libero who can pass two-thirds of the court can allow your team to pass with only two players. Imagine all the advantages you can gain when you free one of your outside hitters of the responsibility of passing.
Bait the serving team
A server may tactically try to serve away from you or at a teammate who is struggling. You can use your own tactics and show them that you are willing to vacate a space and tempt them to change their serve. You can do this by moving out of your area and standing right next to a passer. On the service toss you can either move back to the open space or remain where you are and receive the serve that was meant for your teammate.
Of course, it is best to tell your intentions to your other passer prior to the serve so everyone is on the same page. To the server, the visual of your aggressive adjustment often puts doubt or confusion into their heads. They may opt to serve into the open space but will often take a lot of pace off the serve to direct it in another direction. In any case, you are now in control of the server instead of the server being in control of your team.
Pass every free ball
We want the best ball control player to make all the routine plays. This allows us to be very efficient since everyone else gets to do another job (i.e. set or hit). Liberos who can read and pass the short free ball are absolutely worth their weight in gold.
There is nothing more frustrating for a good blocking team than to stuff a ball and see it get covered and transitioned for a kill. The other positive is if you can consistently cover your hitters, they get more confident in challenging the block – a huge bonus!
Do a great job as the second setter
Years ago it was amazing to watch Brazilian libero Sergio run the offense after the setter digs the ball. It’s just like a regular setter in-system. Sergio had the remarkable ability of coming out of the backcourt, broad jumping into the attack zone like a back-row hitter and setting a fast offense...quicks included. He was also good with his platform in putting up a good set, so there is always a scoring swing in transition.
Now as a young libero, you may not be as athletic as Sergio, but you can still work on getting your feet to the ball and delivering a consistent set that your hitter can hit effectively. Just make sure that you know the defensive situation and if the ball is hit to the right side, you can make a break to the middle of the court so that you can best be ready to set.
Many liberos think their job is done after the first contact. The most engaged liberos are good at analyzing what’s going on in the game and figuring out what tactics the opponent is using for defense or attack.
Setters don’t always see what the block is doing so they may be running the wrong kind of offense. Liberos can help by noticing what is happening at the net. In a quick conversation with the setter, you can let him/her know that the opponent’s blocker is committing with your quick attacker or dedicating to the left side or protecting for the setter dump.
When you are on defense, you can also let your blockers know if they are putting the block in the right place or what areas your defensive teammates need to be responsible for. You also can help your team defend against the setter dump simply by identifying the front-row setter and where he/she likes to put the ball. As a libero, you need to think of yourself as a facilitator of teamwork and preparedness.