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Michella Chester | NCAA.com | October 7, 2020

College volleyball dictionary: Glossary and common terms

The college volleyball libero, explained

Okay, so maybe volleyball can be a little confusing for those who haven't played, watched, or been introduced to the sport. You get the big picture, but you want to really know what is going on, we get it. 

Well, here it is: every volleyball phrase you could possibly need to know to keep you totally in the loop when watching and talking about the sport. 


Assist: An assist is awarded anytime a set, pass, or dig to a player results in that teammate attacking the ball for a kill. The setter usually owns the most assists on a team. An assist is usually the second touch on the ball.

Attack attempt: An attack attempt is recorded anytime a player attempts to hit the ball into the opponent’s court. It could be spiked, tipped, or hit.

Attack error: An attacking error is given anytime the ball is hit out of bounds, into the antennae, or into the net. An attack that is blocked and not returned by the attacking team is also an attack error. An attack error is also given if the player touches the net, crosses the center line, lifts/carries the ball, or attacks from the back row.

Attack line: A line 3 meters (10 feet) away from and parallel to the net. This line separates the front-row players from the back-row players. A back-row player cannot legally attack the ball over the net unless it is from behind the attack line.

Block: This is the first line of defense, and the objective is to “block” the opposing team’s spiked ball from crossing the net. The three front-court players share the responsibility of blocking, and they usually “read” or “react” block, where they block based on where the setter set the ball.

Block assist: A block assist is when a player blocks a ball into the opponent’s court leading to a point or side out. It is only awarded as a block assist when it immediately leads to a point.

Two BYU Players going up for a block together

Block error: A block error is given when a player attempting to block is called for a violation. The violation usually consists of crossing the center line, touching the net, reaching over the net, a lift/carry of the ball, or an attempt to block from the back row.

Block solo: This is the total number of solo blocks, meaning the blocker must be the only blocker attempting to block the ball. Like all blocks, the block solo is not awarded on a touch, but only if it results in an immediate point.

Defensive specialist: Similar to the libero, a defensive specialist plays in the back row and is responsible for defensive plays and receiving serve, They do not wear a different colored jersey and have to abide by the normal substitution rules, meaning they are only in for three out of the six rotations.

Dig: A dig is a defensive play, when the player is able to keep a spiked or rapidly hit ball from being terminated. It is when the defensive player is able to pass an opposing team attack from low to the ground, to the setter. It is usually the first contact.

Yumi Garcia dig

Hitting percentage: (Kills-Errors) / Attempts. The hitting percentage is the number of kills minus hitting errors, divided by the total number of hitting attempts during the game or season.

Kill: An attack that results directly in a point or side out. This is not returnable by the receiving player.

Libero: This is a defensive specialty position that is signified by one player who must wear a different-colored jersey from the rest of her team. The libero plays in the back row and often receives the attack or serve. This player usually leads the team in digs and is typically fast and able to change direction quickly. They often times have the first touch and have to turn that into a good pass to the setter. But they do have restrictions: A libero cannot block, set an attack from the front court, or attack the ball above the height of the net. They can also be subbed in and out of the game without counting against a team’s total substitutions. This rule is used strategically to sub a libero in for a front-row player when the front-row player is rotated to the back, where they might be less effective. And while a team can never have more than one libero on the court at a time, they do not need to field a libero at all times. Here's more on what the libero does.

Middle Blocker: This spot is known as middle blocker or hitter. Usually, the team’s tallest player plays here. Defensively, they block the center area of the net against quick middle attacks. They also slide to the right and left side to work together with the hitters on blocks. Offensively, they play near the setter and have fast attacks, which can lead to a lot of kills.

Opposite hitter: The opposite hitter, or right-side hitter, hits from the right side of the court. They are opposite of the net to the outside (left) hitter on the opposing team. They need to be able to hit from both the front and back row. Since they are opposite the outside hitter, they also work with middle blocker on blocks, and at times act as a backup setter.

Outside hitter: The outside hitter usually attacks from the left side of the net and is a focal point of the offense. They have to be able to adjust to sets coming from all locations and hit from the front and back rows. They also have to receive the serve defensively and have good back row skills so that they can remain in the game for all rotations. They also work with the middle hitter/blocker in blocking opponents’ shots.

Overpass: A ball passed across the net.

Pancake: A defensive technique where the hand is slid along the floor palm facing downwards while a player dives to keep a ball alive. The ball bounces off the back of the hand and is considered legal.

Pancake demonstration volleyball

Pass: A pass is when a player receives the serve or the first contact of the ball with the intention of controlling the ball to another player, usually the setter. It is also called a bump.

Rally: A rally is the time between the serve and the end of the play.

Reception: A serve reception Is awarded when a player continues play by successfully passing a served ball, not allowing it to result in a kill,

Reception error: This is given to a player when the serve hits the floor in the area of the player or if the player passes the serve, but it is not kept in play. It is also given if the player lifts or carries the served ball on the receiving team’s first contact.

Rotation: After a side out occurs, players must rotate clockwise around the court and through the serving position. A team must be in correct rotation order before the serve is put into play. Once the ball is served, the players can move positions, but the backcourt players cannot move to the net or spike. Backcourt players have to attack from behind the attacking line. The setter must be in proper rotation order before sprinting to the net.

Serve: This is used to put the ball into play and start the volley. It is controlled solely by one player.

Service ace: A service ace is awarded when a serve results directly in a point, and the opposing team was unable to receive the ball. It also is awarded if the receiving team is out of rotation before the serve or commits a lift or carry on the first touch.

Service error: This occurs when the serve lands out of bounds, doesn’t go over the net, or hits the antennae. A service error is also given if the server commits a foot fault, takes too much time or serves out of rotation.

Serving specialist: A serving specialist is put in the game just to serve, and has a very consistent, tough-to-receive serve. They come in for a player who is not as strong behind the service line.

Set: This is a skill where a ball is directed to a point where a hitter can spike it into the opponent’s court. They can be different heights, and on different sides of the net.

Set attack: This is when a setter attempts to score instead of setting the ball to a hitter.

Setter: A setter runs the team’s offense and aim to receive the second touch to set up the third and final touch over the net. They can set from the back or front row, so they also need to be able to dig, block and receive a serve defensively. But for the most part, setters communicate with teammates to set the ball up for an attacking player and identify the opposing team’s weakest blockers.

Side out: A side out occurs when the serving team has failed to score a point, and the receiving team successfully terminates the ball against the serving team. Or, when the serving team commits an un-forced error. When a side out occurs, the players have to rotate, and the teams switch serve.

Spike: A spike is also called a hit or an attack. It is when the ball is contacted with force by a player, usually on the third touch, who intends to terminate the ball in the opponents floor or off the opponents blocker.

Yossiana Pressley spike attempt

Terminate: Another word used for “kill.” It is used in regard to saying “she terminated the ball,” meaning she earned a point, and the ball hit the floor on the opponents side of the net.

Wipe/Tool: When an attacker deliberately spikes the ball off an opposing blocker’s arms out of bounds.

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