The original purpose of the volleyball libero was to provide a more exciting game overall through better passing and defense. The thought was that tall players have more difficulty with ball control and smaller players are quicker, more agile, and can play better court defense. The irony is that I have overheard coaches say that some liberos are too small and do not have enough reach to play some balls (Team USA Libero, Rich Lambourne is 6’3″ tall). I guess we’ll never be satisfied 😉
After watching the USAV Open Nationals, I again realize how specialized volleyball has become; each position has specific roles in which a player trains meticulously. At the highest levels of volleyball, I appreciate this specialization, at the lower levels, I dislike it. In some respects I wish the libero was ruled out of junior competition so that players become more well rounded, especially middles. On the flip-side, we might lose out on some smaller players that do not have much chance of playing front row. The libero has given hope to the smaller players in a tall person sport.
With the advent of the libero and how the position has developed, players know their role to the point that they are substituting themselves in and out without coaches saying a word. It is automatic, but why? The backrow attack of the game is developing to the point where it is a vital part of the offense. At the University of Minnesota, middle hitter, Lauren Gibbemeyer scored a great number of points for the team when she was serving. The libero was out of the game and Lauren has great court awareness and made some great digs. I believe her defense was a contributing factor to her third team All America honor. Lauren also provides the team another offensive threat in the back row. Lauren is tremendous at hitting out of the backrow from the right-side using a one-footed, slide approach. When a team is down some points, why not keep the middle in the game for more offense? Its common for a team in hockey to pull their goalie when they need a goal. This is a similar concept.
What about starting a match without a libero if you have middles that read the game well and can play defense? The middle in the backrow is a great offensive threat. The outside hitters and opposites could be primary passers. Maybe the middle could even pass…blasphemy!
I have heard coaches like to have their middles sit-out for three rotations because playing middle is hard work, so why not rotate in three middles throughout a match? Iowa State did a nice job upsetting Minnesota by using three middles and the University of North Carolina defeated Minnesota at home without their number one middle (she rolled her ankle just prior to the match). I know it would certainly play havoc for pre-match scouting reports.
The point being is that I believe we have become accustom to the libero position where it is now automatic – without thought. There should be more creativity with the position and all positions. It should also make for a better, more purposeful practice environment when players know they might have a chance to truly play backrow in matches.
Coincidentally, the international game is adopting two liberos per team. The two liberos will not be on the court at the same time, but one libero will be able to substitute in for another libero during a set (instead of having to wait until the end of the set).
A description of the libero position from Wikipedia:
In 1998 the libero player was introduced internationally, the term meaning free in Italian is pronounced LEE-beh-ro (although many players and coaches pronounce it lih-BEAR-oh). The NCAA introduced the libero in 2002. The libero is a player specialized in defensive skills: the libero must wear a contrasting jersey color from his or her teammates and cannot block or attack the ball when it is entirely above net height. When the ball is not in play, the libero can replace any back-row player, without prior notice to the officials. This replacement does not count against the substitution limit each team is allowed per set, although the libero may be replaced only by the player whom they replaced. The libero may function as a setter only under certain restrictions. If she/he makes an overhand set, she/he must be standing behind (and not stepping on) the 3-meter line; otherwise, the ball cannot be attacked above the net in front of the 3-meter line. An underhand pass is allowed from any part of the court.
The libero is, generally, the most skilled defensive player on the team. There is also a libero tracking sheet, where the referees or officiating team must keep track of who the libero subs in and out for. There may only be one libero per set (game), although there may be a different libero in the beginning of any new set (game).
Furthermore, a libero is not allowed to serve, according to international rules, with the exception of the NCAA women’s volleyball games, where a 2004 rule change allows the libero to serve, but only in a specific rotation. That is, the libero can only serve for one person, not for all of the people for whom she goes in. That rule change was also applied to high school and junior high play soon after.