How to Play Back-Row Defense in Volleyball

How to Play Back-Row Defense in Volleyball

Playing defense in volleyball is one of the MOST rewarding skills in the game. While attacking Is fun, there’s no sensation quite like digging a hard hit from your opponent!

Like all aspects of the game, being a good defender is essential to any player and position. (Libero especially) Being bad at defense makes you a weak link. Taking pride in being a good defender will ultimately aid you in your quest to be a great volleyball player.

Here are the steps to defending:

  1. Get low
  2. Shift your gaze
  3. Prepare to defend
  4. Defend

Get LOW.

First, you’re going to want to check out your defensive pose. Next, put your feet wider than shoulder width, put your knees right above your toes and shoulders in line with both. Your arms should be relaxed and in front of you. Engage your glutes. This should feel like a very easy position to either move forwards and backwards or side to side. We call this “base”.

Base position should rarely be left while you’re on defense in the backrow. Afterall, defense can be played after the opponents first, second or third contacts. Staying in this position will become habitual and easy to sustain for the duration of a rally. All of the movements you need to make while playing in the backrow start with being ready, and this position can get you anywhere fast and eliminate any extra and time consuming movements. Like having to get low because you’re standing up,

It should be noted that being caught off guard while on defense is a symptom of not being engaged. Forcing yourself to start in this position is a great way to train your brain that you’re always ready. Ready defenders are good defenders.

SHift your GAze

Maintaining a good body position is only the first half of the battle on defense. Being able to track the ball, players and their arm swing is where good defenders become great. Markedly, volleyball requires you to pay attention to many things at once. As you advance in your skills, you will notice that you spend less time tracking the path of the ball and more what your opponents are doing with their bodies. Use this scheme:

Ball – Setter – Ball – Hitter

Shift your focus as fast as possible from each sequential foci. Keep in mind that the ball gives the least amount of information on the court. In other words, as soon as you can read the direction of the next contact, put your focus onto the actual players. If I were speaking to myself on the court it would go something like this:

“The libero dug the ball high and off the net, that eliminates a tempo attack, and the ball is NOT coming directly back over the net”

shift your gaze to the setter.

“His/Her body position is behind the ball with his hands in front of him, because its a long set, it will be high in position 4”

shift focus to attacker

“The attacker is too early for the set, his arm is extended in front of him. He did not use his arms like he would if he were going to a full strength attack. He is going to tip the ball”

wait for the final touch on the ball

“finally, it IS a tip, I’m ready to move forward in case it comes to my zone.”

Notice how more of my time is reading the players rather than just following the path of the ball. As you progress using this sequence you will notice that it becomes easier and easier to “predict” or read where the ball is going and how to prepare yourself.

Prepare to defend

When you’re in your base position, you will eventually have to move. I recommend doing as little moving around the court as possible. In general, I find it easier to stick to one place, read well, and then move. This is because of how I prepare myself.

Once I know who is going to attack, I face my body to them. I want as much body facing them as possible. Consistently digs are much better when you take the ball within your body line. Set yourself up for success by facing your attacker and having both arms ready. I like to put my palms up with slightly bent arms; that way I can move quickly if I need to move side to side. Don’t count on your opponent hitting right to you every time!

Don’t sit back on your heels. Keep your weight forward and over your toes. Keep your eyes on the contact between the attacker and the ball.

You’re ready to make your move!


Obviously it’s best to use two hands, but remember volleyball is a game of speed! Use whatever means necessary to keep the ball in play. Sometimes you might have to dive, other times run and jump, sometimes with one hand, a pancake, a foot, etc.

Look into different defensive techniques like diving and sprawling. Stay tuned for more information on how I can help you learn to do it. Have fun, be creative and whatever you do, don’t give up!

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