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Volleyball Rotation and Substitutions

In This Lesson We’ll Cover:

  1. The basics of rotation in volleyball
  2. Rotational rules
  3. The basics of substitutions in volleyball
  4. Substitution rules and protocols
  5. Opposites in volleyball
  • Rotation
  • Side Out
  • Ten Foot Line
  • Substitution

Rotation Basics

Rotation is the rule in volleyball that states that players will rotate in a clockwise fashion when their team sides out. Rotational strategy is essentially the art of aligning players on a team so that each player is in a position on the court that allows them to do their job for the team.

Side Out: Regaining the serve. In volleyball, teams take turns serving based on who won the last point. A team will continue to serve until they lose a point, at which time the opposing team will have achieved a “side out”. Then that team that won the point will serve

In our previous lesson, we discussed the positions on a volleyball team and a brief introduction to their jobs. Now let’s talk logistics about how these players work their way around the court.

A players job is largely tied to a specific spot on the court. For example, the hitting positions are located in the front row. There are six spots on a team’s side of the court numbered (1-6).

The positions on the volleyball court are numbered 1-6

Each position will have a player who is assigned to it. The numbers assigned to the spots do not change but as the game progresses and teams side out and rotate, different players will be assigned to these positions.

An issue that teams face in the sport of volleyball is that players rotate when their team sides out, displacing one player into the front row and another into the back row each rotation.

When a team regains the serve they will move one position in a clockwise rotation. So a player who was assigned the 5 position on the court, will move into the front row to the assigned 4 position after the team sides out. This is commonly where coaches will make substitutions because most front row players do not play back row, though there are exceptions.

Rotation seems like a simple concept, but it creates one of the main challenges of the game. Players cannot simply be in any place on the court. When the ball is served, players must be within the boundaries of the player(s) to the side(s) of them as well as to the player in front or behind them. This means that every player on the team has to be in their assigned spots until the ball is served.

Once the served ball crosses the plane of the net (aka enters the opposing team’s side of the court), players can be anywhere on the court. This goes for players on both teams.

The only stipulation here is that back row players are not allowed to jump and hit a ball in front of the ten foot line, they are also not allowed to block. If either of these happen, it is an automatic point for the opposing team.

Ten Foot Line: The line that sections off about 1/3 of the volleyball court. The ten foot line is ten feet from the net and runs parallel to it. It separates the front and back row.

This creates issues when a defensive player rotates into the front row, and let’s say is not a competent hitter. Defensive specialists specialize in defense.. This seems redundant, but there is probably someone on their team that is better at the offensive part of the game. Volleyball teams want to have the best players in their correct positions and things can go wrong quickly for a team who doesn’t.

So let’s say somehow things go wrong for a team and they end up with a DS in the front row (this does happen sometimes despite a coach’s best efforts). The defensive specialist becomes one of three people on the court allowed to attack from in front of the ten foot line, a strategically beneficial location. This puts a team at a huge disadvantage when trying to score points offensively because they don’t have their best players hitting.

So how do coaches solve this problem in normal circumstances? Well, we make substitutions to the players in the game with players on the bench. Let’s talk more about how this works and a basic strategy team’s use.

Substitutions In Volleyball

Substitution: A substitution in volleyball is where a player is taken out of the lineup or rotation, and replaced by another player. Substitutions are commonly called “subs” by players and coaches in the sport.

Volleyball Substitutions Rules:

  • A team will have a set number of substitutions which will vary depending which governing authority is being used.
  • Players must be substituted between points, once the service whistle is blown a team can no longer sub out players.
  • Players must be substituted in a designated substitution area .
  • Once a player is placed in a rotation they may only be subbed in and out for that position.
  • Up to three players may be substituted for the same position.
  • The libero, who is a defensive player, will have their own separate rules for subs. A liberos substitutions are not counted towards the team’s maximum allowed substitutions.

We’ve discussed that the number of substitutions in a volleyball game is going to vary depending on where you are playing and what level you are playing at. There are several governing bodies on the planet for volleyball.

Governing Bodies And Their Allotted Substitutions


The most common governing body internationally is the FIVB (International Federation of Volleyball) which allows 6 substitutions per set.


Teams are allowed 12 substitutions during a game when the governing body is USAV (United States of America Volleyball). USAV covers the United States national team functions and club activities both for minors and college players.


Finally we have NCAA rules who handle all collegiate games, these games have 15 substitutions per set.

Substitutions In An Official Game Scenario

As you’ve gathered from our rules on substitutions, there is a process to subbing out players. When a coach would like to make a substitution to their lineup, they may do so between points no matter what team is serving. Typically a coach will make substitutions after a side out because the players at that point rotate out of the front or back row.

A Right Side Hitter Lines Up To Substitute For A Setter.

A coach will signal to a player on their bench to enter the game, that player will run up to the ten foot line signaling the referee that they wish to enter the game. While this is taking place, the player on the court who is being removed from the game will run up and touch the palm of their hand to player’s they are substituting for (this was the procedure before corona virus and new rules will likely follow the pandemic) and await permission to switch.

Now it is up to the referees and the book keeper. The book keeper, in addition to other information, keeps track of all substitutions in a game and is responsible for keeping an accurate account of the rotations on both sides of the net. They also keep a tab of how many substitutions each team has used and will tell a coach when they are close to running out.

We Will Discuss The Complicated Job Of Keeping Book In Volleyball In Future Lessons.

The referee will communicate with the book keeper to ensure they have the time they need to record the data, then they will tell the players they are able to switch.

The Players Wait For The Reffing Staff To Record And Allow The Substitution.

At this point in time the players are free to swap. The substituted player is now assigned to the rotation of the player who left the court. Typically players are subbed out by the same players most games. A player will typically know when they are supposed to be subbed in or out because most teams make the same substitutions at the same rotation every game.

The Right Side Hitter Enters The Game And The Setter Will Cheer On Their Team From The Bench.

Beginning Game Line Ups

A coach will start a lineup and each court position will be assigned to a player. The team will serve until they lose a point, at which time the opposing team will rotate one position clockwise, and the player who rotated from the 2 position into the 1 position (right back) will serve.

A Coach Will Turn In A Line Up Sheet Like This One At The Beginning Of Every Set. This Assigns Players On Their Team To Their Starting Positions. Notice the 6 Positions On The Court.

Opposites In Volleyball

Rotation creates what we call opposites. Opposites in volleyball are players assigned to positions who rotate from back row to front at the same time. For example, positions 1 and 4, 2 and 5, 3 and 6, are opposite of each other.

The player who was assigned to position 2 before their team sided out will move into the back row at the same time that the player previously assigned position 5 moves into the front row.

When a coach sets up a lineup in a game, they will put like players as opposites of each other. This is because as one rotates into the front row they will be replaced by a same skilled player who has just rotated in the back row, OR that player is substituted for a same skilled player. Therefor all six positions are filled by a player who’s job specializes in that spot on the court.

A good example of a set of opposites are right side hitters and setters. Right side hitters are typically opposite of a setter when a coach makes a lineup. Setters will set from the back row and right side hitters will hit in the front row.

So when the hitter and setter, who are opposite of each other, rotate from the 2 and 5 position (see below) they are no longer in the spots they should be.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Setters-And-Right-Side-Hitters-Switch-WITH-words-1024x1024.png

As these players rotate, the coach will send players to replace them. A different setter on the team will replace the right side hitter who was on the court. And a different right side hitter will replace the setter. (The concepts in this lesson adhere to a 6-2 lineup which is pretty standard. We will eventually cover different lineups.) Lining up opposites in a rotation is an essential part of a coaches strategy.

Key Takeaways:

  1. Players rotate after they side out.
  2. Back row players may not jump and attack a ball in front of the ten foot line.
  3. Players substitute in and out of the game to ensure the positions are filled by the most capable and specialized players.
  4. Teams have a maximum number of substitutions per set.
  5. Coaches utilize opposites as a way of beating the challenges of rotation.

In this lesson our coach discusses the basics of rotation, substitutions and opposites in the sport of volleyball. This article is designed to provide a basic knowledge of the rules and procedures that go along with these three concepts.