Defensive Specialist in Volleyball

What is a Defensive Specialist in volleyball?

We already learned about attackers and setters in volleyball games, but the one role is still pending to be discussed that is DS (Defensive Specialist). It is the least important role in volleyball, but teams still have DS during tournaments. Although this player is an optional one, having it might benefit your team. Being a DS for 3 years, I hardly understand the point of this role in a volleyball game.

So, now I am going to write this blog for those who want to understand this least crucial position in volleyball or want to start their volleyball career as a DS. This article will help you to understand what you have to do or what the limitations will apply to you as a Defensive Specialist in volleyball.

Why there is need for a DS position in a volleyball game?

A DS in volleyball means to serve the best and save the ball from getting scores. The Defensive specialist is just like hitters, attackers, and liberos make things better while playing on a back row of the court. The DS starts every game with a sound pass and gets ready to defend against the hard spikes.

The DS players are quite amazing at digging, receiving the tough spikes, and passing them to the attacker or hitter with the appropriate strength. Apart from digging, their passing skills are also astonishing, they just receive the ball and smoothly fly it up in the air towards the setter or attacker. This flow of ball turns the defense into a wild offense against the opponent team.

Sometimes, coaches intentionally allow the DS position in the first row. This mostly happens when the opponent team spikes hard, this will provide an appropriate strength to the team against those wild strikes.

What are some good qualities of a Defensive specialist in volleyball?

Being a current volleyball coach, I seek out the following positive qualities inside a Defensive specialist;

Spark Plus:

One should own remarkable serving skills, communication skills, cheering skills, and strong serve reception to become a good DS. Being a part-time player a DS should know how to cheer up their teammates on and off the court and guide them where to spike to get a score. Sometimes coaches also allow them to serve as back-row hitters to make things in favor of the team by their good hitting capabilities.


They’re one of the best on the team. They should handle about 40% of the court by themselves, taking the heat off the libero and the spikers (outside hitters).  Because they’re so good, the other team often tries to serve directly to them, but this player can handle the pressure and keeps those tough serves in play!


A DS role is limited as compared to hitters and blockers, as they do not directly take part in scoring. All they have to serve the ball and pass to the next player with perfect timing and optimum strength. Therefore, a defensive specialist should be mentally strong have a never-give-up attitude, and give non-stop hits and passes to the players.


The Libero/DS plays a crucial leadership role on the team, especially behind the setter. When we say the Libero handles serve receive, it means more than just passing the ball. This player oversees the entire play by protecting the area between the outside hitters, allowing them to prepare for hitting earlier. They also communicate with other passers to ensure each knows their responsibility and remind the front-row players to watch out for short serves. This requires a deep understanding of the game, which comes with experience playing at a certain level and speed.

Some good DS techniques to know

Digging Technique:

  • Don’t bend down so much that you fall to your knees. Think of staying balanced and ready to move in any direction, left, right, or even forward.
  • Imagine you’re gently leaning forward from your hips, keeping your back straight. Your shoulders should be a little lower than your knees. This position helps you move quickly and react to the ball.
  • Keep your hands comfortably apart in front of your body, palms facing outwards. This way, you’re prepared to jump and use your forearms to dig the ball up!

Choose a Good spot:

The secret to digging well in volleyball is all about getting to the right spot before the attacker hits the ball. The closer you are to where the ball is going, the easier it is to dig it up with your arms.

Take a Good position:

Being in the right spot makes everything easier! When you’re positioned well on the court, you won’t have to scramble as much to reach the ball. This makes playing the ball smoother and less stressful.

Take an appropriate poster:

 If the blocker gets a hand on the ball and deflects it, get ready for a high dig. Stand tall to react quickly and control the ball.

Steady and Prepared:

If the opponent hits a slower shot or a soft tip, stay in a medium stance. This gives you some time to adjust and make the dig.

Low and Ready:

When facing a powerful spike, get low! A lower position allows you to react faster and dig the hard-driven ball with more power.

No matter what kind of attack you’re facing, always keep your eyes on where you want to send the ball after the dig. This helps you control the dig and set up your teammate for the next play.

DS vs. Libero: Why I Prefer DS

Both DS (Defensive Specialist) and Libero are awesome defensive players. But here’s why I like DS more:

A Chance to Hit: 

As a Libero, you never get to hit the ball in the front row. While hitting might not be your best skill, many players (including me!) enjoy the chance to attack sometimes. As a DS, you mostly play in the back row, but there’s still a possibility to hit if needed.

More Flexibility: 

A DS can be swapped in for different players in the front row. This gives the coach more options based on the situation.

Potential for More Playing Time: 

If you practice blocking and hitting, you might even get to play in the front row if a teammate is struggling. A coach might see you as a better option to fill in.

Some Drills to boost your DS skills

Not all players are made to perform this role in volleyball games. The DS has to practice certain drills and exercises to remain intact and stable during the match. Here are some of the important exercises if you want to be a remarkable defensive specialist;

Drill #01: 4 vs. 4:  Each team has 4 players on the court. 

This is a fun and challenging drill for 8 players! You’ll split into two teams of 4 each. 

Elimination Game: If your team makes a mistake (explained below), you lose a player! The first team to lose all their players loses the game.

Setter and Hitters: Each team has 1 player who sets the ball (the setter) and 3 players who hit the ball (the hitters). These 3 hitters are always positioned in the back row of the court. 

Rotation on Every Hit: Every time the ball goes over the net (regardless of who hits it), all 4 players on your team rotate positions on the court. 

Back Row Hitting: All attacks (hitting the ball over the net) must be done from behind a specific line on the court called the attack line.

Drill #02: 3 on 3: Each team has 3 players on the court

In this exercise, each team has three players in the back row and extra players standing behind the end line on both sides of the court. The coach begins by tossing the ball to one side, and the players there must pass, set, and then hit the ball. After the hit, the player who made the hit moves out, and someone from behind the end line takes their place.

There are different ways to change up the exercise. For example, the coach could decide to limit the kind of hits the players make. They might only allow hits from the back row (from behind the line), only tips or any other kind of hit they want to focus on.

Drill #03: Back row hitting and attack

In this drill, you need a setter and a row of players on each side of the court. On one side, there’s a traditional hitter who tries to hit the ball across the net to the other side for the players to practice digging. On the other side, a player stands in the back row and digs the ball to the setter. The setter then sets the ball back to the player for a back-row attack. Setters should position themselves near or slightly in front of the attack line to allow the hitter to approach properly.

After each attack, players rotate to the end of the line on the opposite side of the court.

How to become a great DS?

Defensive Specialists (DS) sometimes feel like they aren’t as important as Liberos. But just like a setter doesn’t wish they were a hitter, each position has its own value! Focus on being the best DS you can be, make amazing saves, and enjoy playing with your team. You don’t need a special jersey to shine, enjoy the moment and have fun! Volleyball goes by fast, so cherish your time on the court and give it your all!

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