Chances are, you’ll change positions more than once in your volleyball career. If you’re like me, you could change positions every practice. While some may see the “utility player” as someone without a set position or a concentrated volleyball focus, I’ve come to learn that playing multiple positions can often turn into great opportunities. Broadening your skills by playing multiple positions will enhance your own volleyball experience by developing the skills you need to become a complete player, a valuable teammate, and a student of the game.
When I think of a complete volleyball player, names like Karch Kiraly, Kerri Walsh, and Flo Hyman come to mind. These players have not only shown excellence in their respective positions, but have mastered all of the skills in volleyball. Young players, especially, should not limit themselves to one position because they are missing out on valuable skills that will allow them to become a more well rounded player. In general, the well-rounded players are also the players that are highly recruited by colleges. I’ve never once heard a college coach complain about a player having too much ball control, or having a middle hitter who can pass just as well as she can block. Being able to do all of the skills opens up many doors as a player, particularly in college. In my own experiences as freshman outside hitter at Pepperdine, I was not ready for attacking at the college level. However, because I came to school with good passing and defensive fundamentals, I was able to earn a spot as the team’s libero. Who would have thought?
Similarly, another great aspect of learning multiple positions is that developing one skill will ultimately help in knowing the others. For example, being able to think like a hitter allows you to become a better defender, and vice versa of course. Further, being able to do all of the skills will help you in your beach game, which is growing in popularity and will soon be a Division I sport.
We’ve all heard the line that goes something like this: you can’t understand someone until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes. This statement hit home for me this past fall when I often stepped in as a middle blocker in practice, as our Pepperdine squad was short on players and dealing with injuries. After 45 minutes of wash drills as a middle, I practically needed an oxygen tank. This said, a versatile player is usually a valuable teammate. I know what it is like to block the entire length of the net, get up to hit the quick, and get called out for not closing the block. It goes without saying that I gained a new appreciation for the hard work (and cardio fitness) that our middle blockers put in everyday. Understanding the work that goes into every position helps players understand and appreciate the individual roles that each player has during practice and during matches, therefore turning them into a valuable teammate.
Personally, the most rewarding aspects of playing multiple positions have been the experiences that have helped me become a better student of the game. With few exceptions, at the highest levels of volleyball, much more than athleticism is needed. A great volleyball player needs skills that go beyond the basic fundamentals of passing, setting, and hitting. A great player must be competitive, tactical, and smart, and must also know the importance of hard work and being a part of something greater than themselves. I believe that being a student of the game helps develop these other important skills. In my experiences, being a student of the game has not only made me a better player and teammate, but has also provided me with the knowledge that is needed to become a better coach.