How to play back row defense in volleyball (1)

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.

Crucial steps to defend the ball

Step 1. Stay 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.

Staying Low While Defending The Ball Photo: @CEV

Step 2. Mantain the position

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.

Defence in volleyball Photo CEV(1)
Defense in volleyball Photo CEV(1)

Step 3. 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!

Step 4. Defend!

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!

What is the libero in volleyball Photo: @Corinna Seibert
Urban Toman defense Photo: @Corinna Seibert

Basic volleyball situations in back-row defense

Attacker in zone 4

When the attack comes from zone 4, the zone 5 player (mostly libero) must be positioned beside the block, behind the front zone 4 player. The balls zone 5 has to defend are all that are hit besides the block, but they must also be ready to take the tips in the middle of the court.

Zone 6 (outside hitter) has to be behind the block and needs to be ready to take the balls that are spiked deep or those that bounce out of the block. If there is a hole between the blockers, that defender must stand in between.

When the line is open, the player (setter and opposite) in zone 1 must be beside the block.

Attacker in zone 2 or 1

Positioning in defense is completely the same as when the attacker is in zone 4, only in a mirror image. If you don’t know the roles in volleyball, you should read our article about volleyball positions for a better understanding first.

Defense attack zone 4
Defense attack zone 2 or 1
When the attacker is in zone 2 or 1, Same rules apply.


What are the 3 defensive skills in volleyball?

3 Defensive skills you must develop are ball control, reaction time, and positioning. Having these is essential to be a great defensive specialist; therefore, you can make more defensive plays using either your forearm or fingers.

What is the defense person in volleyball called?

The defensive specialist in the volleyball court is called a Libero. You can notice them wearing a different jersey due to the FIVB rules. They play only in the back row and cannot serve or spike.

What is a pancake in volleyball?

Pancake defense or a dig in volleyball is used for the tips and rolls that are too far to reach with normal diving and digging. If the ball bounces short out of the net, sometimes a pancake can save the ball from touching the ground. Also, we advise wearing a quality pair of knee pads to protect knees while diving.
How to Play Back-Row Defense in Volleyball

How do you defend the ball?

To defend the ball, you have to position yourself correctly according to the position of the blockers. If there is a seem in between blockers, the player in zone 6, which is in the middle of the back-row, needs to stay in this seem of the block. At the same time, Defenders on the side need to be positioned beside the block.


We hope you got a good perspective on how to play volleyball defense in the back row. Remember, the most crucial thing is to position yourself in the correct position; that way, you can defend much more balls. Stay low, and be ready to run in case the ball bounces off the block. The last thing that is also important is to control the ball towards the middle of the court, so your team can run a successful play and score a point. Points scored after the defense, count double! Great defense can undoubtedly lift the spirit of the team. For more training tips and guides, check out our blog:  How to become a better volleyball player. Feel free to comment below to share your thoughts about volleyball defense!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top