How the Libero Changed Volleyball

How the Libero Changed Volleyball

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  1. Introduction

    There are many unique positions that define the sport of volleyball, from its power-swinging outside hitters to its daunting middle blockers to its indispensable setters. However, the most recent position to be added to the game has helped redefine game strategy, court play and even the type of athlete needed to compete at a high level. As with any elemental change in the concept of a sport, there are both supporters and critics of the issue.  Either way, the new revisions to the rules and functions of players on the court have had a profound affect on the game itself.

    The Libero

    The libero, a specialized defensive player, was established for international play in 1998 and four years later at the collegiate level. With the creation of this unique position, many facets of the game began to change. The libero quickly became the best at the underhand pass due to their special skill training and the fact that they were restricted to playing only in the back row.  They soon became heady court communicators, being able to read defenses and help teammates make adjustments during play.

    The Impact

    On the court, rules for the libero now varied greatly from those of other positions.  Liberos are required to wear a different colored uniform, but may only play on the backrow. They have unlimited substitutions, but only with a designated player already on the court. Their play often meant that sure “kills”, or spikes finding the ground, were now being dug by tenacious passers that kept plays, and points, alive for their team.

    This new position also opened the door for players without the traditional body or skill set for playing volleyball.  Liberos tend to be shorter than their teammates who need a height advantage to block and spike along the net.  Because liberos are restricted to the back row positions, they are usually agile, scrappy players who are willing to get on the floor for every ball. Another advantage of this position is that these players have a limited purpose (i.e. no spiking, blocking or serving), which allows for them to just focus on practicing the skills they will use during a game.

    Since its inception, this position has rapidly become an integral part of a team’s success on defense as much as the setter has always been important to a team’s success on offense.  The alterations made to the game have revolutionized the way teams approach game planning and even player recruiting. To play at the highest levels, a volleyball team must now have strong hitters, tall blockers, mobile setters and, now, persistent and skilled liberos.


    The evolution of volleyball, with the addition of the libero position, has noted similarities to other sports that have undergone such transformations.  While critics may hail this as an unnecessary change that weakens the institution of the volleyball tradition, and supporters applaud the new complexity to the game, it is impossible to ignore the impact that liberos have had on the volleyball game.

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