Volleyball Serve Receive Formations in a 5-1 Offense

Updated on April 14, 2020
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I love the sport of volleyball and enjoy sharing strategies to help teams win.

Division III Volleyball Logo
Division III Volleyball Logo

One of the most popular offenses in volleyball is the 5-1. That is when you have five hitters (2 outsides, 2 middles, and one right-side hitter) and one setter. The setter plays all the way around and does not get substituted out.

While a little over half the game is spent in transition, the other half will be spent in serve receive. This article will look to provide simple formations for a team running a 5-1 offense.

Note: In all the photos, the front row players will be highlighted in red so that they stand out.

Rotation 1

For the first rotation, we started our starting setter in zone 1. For the purposes of this article, we have the outside hitter following the setter (following means that they would be the next server after the setter). We will also assume that a libero will go in for a backrow middle hitter.

Most teams will attempt to pass with both outside hitters and a libero, and our patterns will reflect this. There will be a few rotations when we can employ an alternate serve receive by having the right side hitter as a passing option, and those will be demonstrated.

In rotation 1, we drop the front row outside hitter (OH1) back to pass with the Libero and second outside hitter (OH2). This will force our players to hit out of position in serve receive (right side hitter hits on the left side, and the left side hitter hits from the right side on the first play).

Rotation 1 Diagram
Rotation 1 Diagram

Rotation 1 Alternatives

There are two fairly common alternative rotations in the first rotation. In the left side of the photo above, this is called stacking. It's when you bring your front row outside hitter over to the left side in order to pass. This allows the middle hitter (MH2) and outside hitter (OH1) to hit from their normal positions. The right side hitter (RSH) will need to hit something outside of their normal range (a combination with the middle hitter, a slide, or a 3-1), or they can race across the court as the serve is in the air to hit from the right side.

In the second alternative, you could push the outside hitter (OH1) up and drop the right side hitter back and into serve receive. Both players will hit out of position for the first attack and then can switch after the ball goes over.

Rotation 1 Alternative Formation Diagram
Rotation 1 Alternative Formation Diagram

Rotation 2

In rotation 2, the front row outside hitter (OH2) will drop back and pass, while the setter pushes up behind the right side hitter. Typically, the middle hitter (MH2) and the right side will switch spots as the serve is in the air so that all three players are attacking from their preferred spots in the offense.

Rotation 2 provides the most common overlap in the 5-1 serve receive formations. While the right side hitter (RSH) is encouraged to shift to the right to try to get out of the way and closer to the right side to attack, it is imperative that the setter remains between the libero and back row outside (OH1). The setter tends to drift right with the right side and ends up overlapped with the back row outside hitter (OH1). Stress to the setter that they merely have to remain behind the right side hitter (RSH) and do no need to move left or right with them.

Rotation 2 Diagram
Rotation 2 Diagram

Rotation 3

In rotation 3, the front row outside hitter (OH2) will drop back into left back to pass. The setter will push up behind the front row middle (MH1). One thing to stress to the setter is that they can move all the way over to be just to the left of the back row outside hitter (OH1), but emphasize that they still have to remain behind the front row middle hitter.

Rotation 3 Diagram
Rotation 3 Diagram

Rotation 3 Alternative Formation

In rotation 3, one simple change is to leave the front row outside hitter on the three-meter line (10' line in America) and drop the front row right side hitter back to pass. One difference to stress to the setter will be that they have to stay further to the left than in the traditional formation where both outside hitters are back passing.

Rotation 3 Alternative Formation Diagram
Rotation 3 Alternative Formation Diagram

Rotation 4

In rotation 4, the traditional move is to stack everyone over to the left side. This allows the middle hitter (MH1) and outside hitter (OH2) to both hit from their preferred positions in the front row. The right side hitter drops out of serve receive in this rotation.

In each of the next three rotations (rotations 4–6), the front row outside hitter can be pushed up to the three-meter line and the right side hitter can act as a third primary passer. A lot of teams will also substitute a defensive specialist (DS) who can serve receive for the right side hitter (RSH). This allows the front row outside hitter to be able to stay up in the front row on serve receive.

Rotation 4 Diagram
Rotation 4 Diagram

Rotation 5

In rotation 5, it is just a matter of dropping the front row outside hitter (OH1) back into the serve receive formation. The middle hitter (MH1) will have options to attack behind the setter or slide around in front as the serve is in the air.

Rotation 5 Diagram
Rotation 5 Diagram

Rotation 6

In the final rotation, the front row outside (OH1) drops back into left back from middle front in order to pass. The front row middle hitter (MH2) must start to the left of the front row outside hitter (OH1).

Rotation 6 Diagram
Rotation 6 Diagram

Use These Formations to Overcome Errors

By using these simple formations, you can minimize the confusion your team will have in serve receive and allow your team to be that much more successful. Many teams surrender points because of a lack of organization. These formations can help overcome those errors. Best of luck!

Questions & Answers

  • Where does the outside hitter go on offense in volleyball?

    Usually, they switch over to left front, if they were front row to start. If they were in the back row, in our system, we have them play defense in the middle back.

  • May the outside hitter stand outside the court after the serve?

    Sure can. Once a ball is served any player can go anywhere.

© 2015 JOC


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