High Schools Adopt Libero

By Staff

Coaching Management, 14.5, April 2006, http://www.momentummedia.com/articles/cm/cm1405/bblibero.htm

This fall, nearly every high school coach in the country will have the option of introducing a new position to his or her team’s lineup. Intending to add excitement to the game, the NFHS Volleyball Rules Committee approved the libero for use at the high school level beginning with the 2006 season.

Coaches can use the position to replace any back row player, except the server, without it counting against the team’s allotted number of substitutions. The libero may enter play at any time, must wear a different-colored jersey from the rest of the team, and is not allowed to hit, block, or serve.

The rule change provides more participation opportunities to players who may not be strong at the net but have developed defensive and passing skills. Another benefit is that it puts NFHS rules in step with those used by the NCAA as well as many club competitions. In the NCAA, though, a libero is allowed to serve one rotation.

Over the last two years, a handful of states have experimented with the libero, including Alabama, Colorado, Florida, Minnesota, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, Tennessee, Washington, and Wisconsin. According to the NFHS, feedback from coaches in those states regarding the position has been extremely positive.

Jennifer Greeney, Head Coach at Pullman (Wash.) High School, has used the libero for the last two years and loves the rule change. “It allows you to specialize your defense by having one of your best defensive players on the floor for almost every play,” says Greeney, whose 2005 Washington 2A state championship team was led by Katie Hinrichs, a second-team all-state selection at libero. “Katie usually played in the center of our defense and was our best passer, so we also designed our serve-receive strategy around her. It made such a difference having her on the floor for the majority of the game.”

Using the libero also relieves pressure on players for whom defense is not a strength. “By getting a seventh person into the game, you alleviate stress for a weak defensive player,” says Aaron Bender, Head Coach at Hurley High School in Wisconsin, another state that experimented with the libero. “For instance, if you have a really good outside hitter who’s a little weaker in her defense and passing, she can remain confident throughout the match if she doesn’t have to worry about making good passes or tough defensive plays. It also keeps that player fresh and agile because she has a chance to rest.”

For those teams that will use the libero for the first time this fall, Greeney suggests devoting plenty of practice time to learning the nuances of the position. “Experiment with it as much as you can during practice,” she says. “Make all your players aware of what the position does and get them comfortable playing next to the libero.”

Teaching liberos the substitution rules is also important, says Bender. “The switching they have to do can be difficult, as can remembering to stay behind the attack line when they make their substitutions,” he says. “I’ve had a few occasions where the libero has cost us a sideout or a point because she didn’t enter the game at the right time.”

But it’s also important, says Bender, to allow your liberos to learn from their mistakes. “Don’t give up on them,” he says. “The first year I used the position, whenever there was a match in which the libero didn’t play very well, I thought, ‘Maybe she’s not made to play that position, or she can’t handle it.’ But in the end she improved immensely and did very well, and this year I learned to give that player more of a chance to grow into the position.”

To familiarize athletes with the change, Greeney has coaches at the lower levels use the libero extensively. “Our j.v. team had a libero and so did our freshman squad,” she says. “We would assign different players to play the position for different games. It really allowed us to play more people, which is important at those levels.”

In Wisconsin, Bender says some coaches have been using the libero and others have not, but he is glad he incorporated the position into his gameplan. “It can be a real advantage defensively and it can improve team morale,” he says. “It allows a seventh player to get into the lineup, and when you’re dealing with high school kids and parents, any chance you get to provide more players with playing time, it is a good thing.”

For more information on the NFHS rules changes regarding the libero, go to: www.volleyball.org/nfhs/28Jan05_Release.html.

The University Interscholastic League (UIL) of Texas Web site contains links to downloadable PDFs on transitioning to the libero and recommendations on how to track statistics for the position: www.uil.utexas.edu/athletics/volleyball/.