Defensive Specialists In Volleyball: Complete Guide

Defensive Specialists In Volleyball

Defensive specialists are often under-discussed in sports. In most teams, it is an optional role, but the libero is emphasized more than this role.

It is my hope that this post will be an encouraging resource for you if you are a DS. Here are some of the best drills I have seen that you will find helpful in your development.

What does a volleyball defensive specialist do?

Defensive specialists on volleyball teams are experienced players proficient in the techniques and strategies of defense, separate from liberos. At tough times, they are responsible for substituting weak players and bolstering their team mentally and defensively.

What is the Meaning of DS Position in Volleyball?

Defensive Specialists In Volleyball

Defensive specialists play volleyball at the DS position. As well as the setter, middle blocker, outside hitter, opposite hitter, and libero, this role is crucial to the success of the team.

It is the defensive specialists who possess great digging skills and excellent passing skills that make them defensive specialists. There are two roles in volleyball that are primarily concerned with ball control, the libero and the DS. The pass should be the first thing they do on every play.

Consistency is an important characteristic of a defensive specialist. During serve receives, they provide consistent good passes, good digging, good defensive coverage, and maybe good serving.

Defensive specialists are also the players who make impossible saves by scrambling for every ball. Being in the right place at the right time requires great reflexes and the ability to read the offense of the other team.

DS vs Libero: What Are The Differences?

Defensive Specialists In Volleyball

Though liberos are often called “defensive specialists” within the game, they are highly specialized roles governed by specific rules. As a result of sacrificing some abilities in favor of other flexibilities, the libero was designed to enhance the role of the “defensive specialist”.

There are still some teams that have DS as a positional role. Defense players are usually experienced and highly knowledgeable, but anyone with a talent for defense can be this. 

Between the Libero and the DS, there are four main differences:

Court Mobility

When left unsubbed, the DS can rotate entirely around the court and enter the court for the entire back row rotation. As opposed to the libero, who cannot play in the front row.

Occasionally a coach will allow the DS to rotate two back court rotations while the spiker has a break, either physically or mentally. Teams have their own strategies, but the DS gives them options.

Game Time

It is easy to distinguish the libero from the other players in off-color jerseys because the libero is a constant presence on the court. As the game progresses, spectators and other teams keep track of their position. There is almost always a libero on the court during a match, no matter the level of opposition.

It is the opposite with the DS. Whereas the libero is always on court, the DS appears only when his opponent is the toughest. As a result, they prevent the opposition from scoring, making their job a nightmare for them. 

Unless this happens, the DS is responsible for helping their team use their strongest hitters again.

The DS might only be able to play five minutes every time in some situations. The average amount of time offered is closer to twenty minutes, but the team may have lost without that time.

Jersey Color

There is no unique jersey for the DS, unlike the libero. As normal members of the team, they must use an official substitution to enter and exit the court. In the US, this limits the scope of their work to one (or two) rotations per year.


Unlike the libero, the DS is not restricted by these restrictions when spiking or contacting the ball above the net. 

It is not uncommon for the DS to specialize in attacking from behind the 10-foot line, or “back-row spiking.” It gives the team another offensive option while allowing the front row to focus on blocking, thus strengthening the team’s defense.

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Is A DS A Good Position To Play In Volleyball?

Defensive Specialists In Volleyball

In volleyball, the DS is a great position to play.  A defensive specialist only comes on during critical moments (usually when a specific player is needed) as opposed to liberos, who have more opportunities to play the ball than others. 

In addition to being exciting as spikers, their playstyle often leads to exciting points because they are trusted to dig the team out of trouble.

The role of a DS requires a good balance of all skills, but defense takes precedence.

The libero and the DS both play very similar positions, but one of the reasons I prefer the DS is that the liberos cannot play the front. The front row is appealing to many players, even if they are not hitters.

As a defensive specialist, you won’t spend much time in that area, but it is an option. Liberos know going into a match that they will never be in the front row.

As a DS, you are versatile. It is traditional for the libero to trade out with both middle blockers and serve for one if they have a stronger serve. The coach can choose from a variety of defensive specialists when changing you out.

The more you work on developing solid blocking and hitting techniques, the more chances you might have to play. You may be the best option to fill in for a coach who is frustrated with one of their hitters.

What makes defensive specialists so tough?

Defensive Specialists In Volleyball

As an athlete, you receive constant feedback from your coach. The feedback should be constructive and encouraging. It is expected that we will be corrected or criticized when we make a mistake.

Playing DS or libero means you have fewer positive things to say about yourself and more negative things to say about yourself.

 You are just doing your job, whether you are right or wrong. If you want to keep your team in the game, you need to make good first contact whenever the ball crosses the net.

Additionally, all other players have opportunities to score and make up for their mistakes, even if they make mistakes on offense.

There is a tendency for coaches and teammates to overlook the defensive players when praising and encouraging their hitters or setters. Liberos and defensive specialists are therefore my least-appreciated positions.

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DS position in volleyball: Advantages

Defensive Specialists In Volleyball

Several characteristics of the DS have already been mentioned, but the following list should serve as a resource for anyone considering what it takes to become one, or for coaches seeking to coach their players to become one.

I believe these five characteristics make a great DS, although not all are necessary.

Perfect Touch

DSs should be defensive specialists with “perfect touch”. Being able to make the ball go wherever you want without catching it is a huge advantage in volleyball since it’s a game of instants – touches on the ball without catching it.

A perfect touch can be developed through drills and exercises, but experience also plays a huge role. 

This defensive touch is also developed through visualization, which has been championed by coaches around the world. According to Bill Stobie, the head coach:

The perfect ball flight must be visualized by experienced players who know how to play a defensive touch. In order to intercept the ball, the brain systems use the early flight information acquired from the first few feet of the ball’s motion to predict where the ball will be. By intercepting the ball, they are hoping to make it rebound at an angle that will send it in an arc to where they expect it to go. Based on your desire for the perfect flight, the brain makes the necessary adjustments in the background. It’s less likely to happen if you don’t visualize the perfect ball. It works – give it a try!

Head coach of NUVOC Volleyball Club, and coach of the Scottish Men’s Under-20 squad.

To succeed at the highest level, DS must have the perfect first touch. The ability to visualize, train, and experience can be acquired.


DSs are intended to replace struggling backrow players on any given day, though who they replace depends on the situation. If the libero has a bad day and must leave too, this can be an outside play, opposite play, or middle play. In rare cases, the DS can even substitute for the setter.

Every aspect of teamwork should be flexible for a DS. As well as understanding how each role is defended, they should also understand how they move on court and what their role is. Due to its complexity, the DS is usually left to experienced players only.

Additionally, the DS may stand in for another player during a match – usually outside. Adapting quickly to sudden substitutions requires them to play at a high level immediately. This is an exciting and fun experience, but it is also very challenging.

Back Row Attacker

Attacking from the back row is one of the characteristics of a good defensive specialist. So, as well as having another reliable choice besides always setting the outside, the setter will also be able to earn more points for the team.

Focus on the outside spikes when training your back-row attacks. 

An unexpected barrage from an unexpected angle is what you are designed to do as a DS. When hitting, DS should use their defense knowledge to target tricky zones on the court in order to avoid spiking out.

It is your goal to damage the defenders’ defense by distracting them from your spikers.

Solid Mentality

In order to play DS, you must be mentally stable. Players in volleyball games can get emotional when they experience extreme highs and lows in addition to its physical component, but not in DS games.

Their behavior will be picked up and replicated by the other members of the team since they are respected members of the team.

 It is possible for them to contribute to the team’s collective mentality as long as they remain calm in the face of challenges.

Additionally, the DS is usually used when the team is in the hole in terms of points. You may become depressed if you focus on the differences, as thinking negatively won’t help. A DS should avoid becoming emotionally involved in this situation, or their impact will be much less than expected.

The DS is an excellent role model for volleyball players who need to develop a strong mentality.

Game Knowledge

A great DS should also have a good understanding of games. It is typically through playing in different leagues, tournaments, and matches that volleyball players acquire this knowledge. This knowledge can also be supplemented by professional matches and skill clinics.

Game knowledge in volleyball consists of two things: first, a complete understanding of all the rules; and second, a correct response to any given situation.

It is important for the DS to have a thorough understanding of specific rules, including those related to reaching across the net, rotating faults, and screening. 

By understanding these aspects and more, their team can execute combos with confidence. Furthermore, a misplaced foot will prevent the DS from accidentally hurting the team.

Furthermore, they can read spikes and feints, identify serving seams, and pass the ball efficiently to the right player where the setter can make use of it most effectively if they have game knowledge.

“DSs are primarily responsible for picking up junk: tips off the block, heavy off-angle swings from middle blockers, and hard angle swings from outside hitters. The best DS can adjust to the opponent’s offense, make predictive moves, and pass non-hard-driven balls in a way to runs the team’s best offense.

Making the opponent’s job harder and reassuring their own team that there is no magic involved.

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A Libero and a Defensive Specialist: Why Do Teams Need Both?

Defensive Specialists In Volleyball

This strong backcourt is created by the DS and the libero combining their talents. The other 4 players can focus on offense throughout entire rallies when those 2 players are on the back row.

When they get to the back row, some of the best offensive players become very subpar players. Due to the libero’s limited role, the defensive specialist is able to fill that defensive slot when the libero is not available.

Defensive Specialists Drills

Defensive Specialists In Volleyball

Role Flexibility Drill

During practice scrimmages, players should play different roles to train flexibility and increase their knowledge of DS game concepts.

Each week, rotate the DS in and out of the back row. Once a full rotation has been completed, switch them out again. Replace the DS for the other side (ideally with a different role) and continue the game. Continue until the set or scrimmage is over.

In this drill, the DS is thrown into constantly changing situations within different teams, allowing them to become familiar with changing positions quickly and frequently. 

In a real match, stress and chaos are common, so it is necessary for the DS to adapt quickly in order to be effective. Competing against their own points helps them gain mental toughness as well.

Whenever a DS enters or leaves the court, coaches should keep track of their team’s score. Their team will benefit from more points if they can help them maintain control. If the DS finishes a set without finishing their rotation, you have an impressive lineup on your hands.

Deep Passing Drill

It is usually the DS who fills in for the outside in position six instead of the libero, who plays position five. Their responsibility is to return deep balls, so they should drill accordingly.

Stand your players on the sidelines next to the ten-foot line for this drill. With a static player in the setter’s position, slap and throw the ball high and deep over the net toward them.

When the player returns the ball at the slap, he should run deep and pass it to the static setter. The second ball must be scrambled to be picked up, and it must be joined to the end of the first ball. It is a good warm-up drill to get players’ blood pumping, as it emphasizes quick footwork and pace.

For the DS to excel in deep situations in matches, he must not only be accurate in his passes, but he must also be lateral in his movement to chase a ball and return it to the setter. Your other backrow players, as well as the setter, will benefit from this as well.

By practicing technical drills, you can conserve stamina through a point system or timer.

Spiking Drill: Back Court

A net is the best tool for practicing spiking. When you feel comfortable, toss to yourself if you are playing solo by downballing from behind the ten foot line. Slowly increase the power of your spike while staying close to the ten foot line.

Ensure back row spiking is accommodated by shifting hitting lines with teammates. Practicing this type of technique this way is the most effective, and having a teammate film you from the sidelines can help you grow as well.

Neither a friend nor a wall will suffice if you do not have a net. While focusing on your spike’s arc and spin, play downball to them like you would with a net. To mimic crossing the net from backrow, catch the volleyball instead of bouncing it.

It is impossible to reach a higher level of spiking without a net, just as it is impossible at other levels of spiking. During practice, talk to your coach or captain about practicing backrow spiking. You may lose points if you try to do this during a match without practice, so always practice!

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Why Do You Need A Defensive Specialist?

Defensive Specialists In Volleyball

Although teams don’t technically “need” defensive specialists, I believe that teams with one will perform and develop better over time. There are many roles that a DS plays on a team, all of which a coach should take into account before selecting or passing over a player at tryouts.

A DS is important for the following 3 reasons:

1. Leadership

In many cases, a DS serves as a role model for his or her team. Players with the most experience should set a good example for younger members or those new to the sport, offering coaching and guidance to help them become valuable team members.

Despite being a talented player, a DS is often humble because it is not the most glamorous position. During tough points, they use this unshakable feeling of self-worth as motivation to keep their heads in the game and turn things around.

The captains of DS teams, or vice captains of DS teams, are often DS players because of this factor. It is common for former DS players to become great coaches later in life.

2. Teamwork

Teamwork often flows more smoothly when you have a DS. Because of their extensive game knowledge, they make the right calls, earning the trust and respect of their teammates. As a result, the team functions more effectively as a cohesive unit and is able to commit 100% to a play.

Some teams implement “row-captains” for the frontcourt and backcourt during games, as well as a captain who guides practice and takes responsibility for the team’s wellbeing. To facilitate teamwork in that zone, the team has designated specialist players to lead the defense.

The middle blocker is usually the “blocking captain” in the front court. The DS (or libero if the DS is not available) is often the decision-maker in the backcourt.

3. Defense

As a result of their defensive skills, teamwork is easier with the DS. Maintaining a positive mentality of their comrades is key to turning hopeless points into victories. Due to their rock-solid mentality and volleyball experience, they are able to do this.

In some cases, DSs have played other roles in their volleyball careers, such as outside or libero, but transitioned to DS for some reason.

They are not surpassed by their teammates, but instead, their expertise is necessary to hold this position. Having worked defensively in other roles allows them to fill in immediately when needed.

A DS can be compared to a libero, and when two of these defensive specialists are on the court at the same time, the opposing team is at a serious disadvantage.


How Do Ball Handling Errors Happen?

Volleyball tracks errors as negative statistics. There is a misplay of the ball involved. Errors that are not in another error category (serving errors, receiving errors, blocking errors, attack errors, etc.) fall into this category.

How Does Cover Work In Volleyball?

Covering a particular area means defending it. In this situation, you cover an area after your opponent makes a block and the ball comes back.

Is Ds and Libero the Same Thing?

Not at all. A libero is often referred to as a “defensive specialist” – which is accurate – but DS has his own strategies and purposes and is his own player. Both liberos and DSs can be referred to without any issues because they are considered defensive experts.

What Does Ds Stand for in Volleyball?

The term “defensive specialist” in volleyball refers to a player who specializes in defensive play. In this context, DS is usually referred to as a strategic and highly skilled player who can replace any player on the team. A DS is used to shorten or lengthen leads and shore up defenses. Their experience in the court makes them trusted decision-makers.


As a result, defensive specialists play a crucial role in volleyball. The athletes on these teams possess unique skills that are crucial to their success. Defendants and offenses rely on them for precise digging, passing, and serving.

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