DS in Volleyball: Exploring Volleyball’s Defensive Artistry

ds in volleyball

You might be familiar with the different positions of the volleyball court, including setter, hitter, and blocker.

But, there is one position often overlooked by many: DS or Defensive Specialist.

Many people confuse DS with Libero and use these two terms interchangeably, but in reality, the actual role of DS is more flexible than libero.

Key Takeaway: The DS in volleyball is an experienced team player specializing in passing and digging. He is responsible for covering the back row and can switch positions with any player on the court.

He should be mentally stable and be able to handle the pressure.

In this article, I will explain the importance of DS in the volleyball team and the skills needed to become an excellent defensive specialist.

What is a DS in Volleyball?

DS, also known as Defensive Specialist, is a highly specialized player focusing on defense and passing.

I call them the court guardians who fearlessly dig, dive, and exchange their positions abruptly to keep the ball in play.

A DS brings great energy and leadership to the team because of his experience.

They set a positive tone for the entire team, which can significantly impact the game’s final result.

Remember that a DS must be a registered player on the roster and can’t enter the team without substitution.

A team can have only one DS at a time, and he can’t switch positions with a libero.

It is worth noticing that if a defensive specialist changes position with a front-row player, he is liable to return to the back-row as soon as possible.

How important is a defensive specialist in volleyball?

A DS usually has more game knowledge and respect than other teammates because of their experience.

I also refer to them as unsung heroes because they don’t get as much recognition as other players.

As a person with volleyball coaching experience, I believe that a team must have a defensive specialist.

I am discussing three reasons to elaborate on my point.

1) Leadership

A defensive specialist brings coordination to the defense of the team.

They have remarkable communication skills, and because of it, they collaborate with their teammates better.

Also, they have a better understanding of the game due to their experience, and that’s why a DS can read the opponent’s attacks better.

It helps them to decide their next movements and guide their teammates about potential threats.

Defensive Specialist helping to unite the team members

2) Defensive Organization

A DS plays an essential role in smooth defensive transitions.

They have fantastic court coverage skills and incredible reflexes, allowing them to retrieve the ball, which is challenging to reach for inexperienced players.

Along with contributing to their team’s defense, they are ready to transform into an offensive approach due to their flexibility in changing their position on the court.

They carry the team’s momentum and make the opposite team’s job more difficult by making quick decisions and being committed to the sport.

Their skills in digging, passing, and efficient ball retrieval, along with a deep understanding of volleyball violations like a lift violation, greatly boost the team’s defense.

These abilities, combined with smooth defensive transitions, have a significant impact on the team’s overall performance on the court.

3) Game Strategy Execution

A DS can help in the game strategy execution for their team in the following ways:

  • They call out the positions of the opposite team’s hitters, which helps their teammates position themselves for better defense against hitters.
  • They use their expertise to adjust the team’s defense when needed. It helps to keep the team’s momentum going.
  • A DS can help improve the team’s communication and coordination, leading to a better defense and a more successful offense.

Defensive Specialist vs Libero

The main difference between the DS and the Libero positions is that a Libero can only switch positions with back-row players.

At the same time, DS can change position with any player.

He wears the same jersey as the other teammates, while the libero wears a different jersey.

Also, the libero can’t spike the ball, but DS can spike and contact the ball above the net’s height.

I have shown a detailed comparison of these two players in the below table.

Defensive SpecialistLibero
He wears the same uniform as other team members.The libero wears a different colored jersey to distinguish their role.
He plays in the back row and can rotate to the front rowHe plays in the back row and cannot rotate to the front row
He can serve or spike above the net’s heightA libero cannot serve or spike above the net’s height. His position is primarily for the defense.
A DS is present for a limited number of rotations and usually comes when the opponents are more vigorous.A libero is part of the team throughout the game
Defensive specialists can block the spike of the opposing team if they are in the front row.They can’t block the spike of the opposing team.
A team can substitute the Defensive Specialist a limited number of times. Their substitution is counted in the team’s total of 6 substitutions per set.A team can substitute the libero an unlimited number of times.

What makes a good ds in volleyball?

I have discussed a lot of qualities and abilities of a DS in this article before.

But what makes a good DS?

What characteristics should a player have if he aims to become a DS?

I have compiled a short list, which can serve as a base point. One thing is clear!

If you want to be a good DS, the ability to transform to any position on the court and a positive mindset are most important.

1) Good passing skills

If you plan to become an exceptional DS, work on your passing skills and do the required drills.

The reason is that having a good passer will help you contribute better to the team’s offense.

A good DS needs good footwork, which helps him get to the position to receive the ball quickly.

It enables them to set the ball up for the setter, which is crucial to keep the game going.

Make sure to have good hand-eye coordination as a defensive specialist.

It means that you should be quickly able to see the coming ball, judge it, and react to it accordingly.

2) Leadership

Leadership is an essential trait for a good DS. He should have the guts to lead from the front of the team with a positive mindset.

A defensive specialist quickly adapts to ever-changing situations and make a better decision.

They must communicate clearly with the team and be able to uplift the players.

He should motivate other players and make them excited about playing. It will help them to stay focused.

Interestingly, a DS is the captain or vice-captain in most teams, solely on his leadership skills.

3) Back Row hitting ability

A DS is primarily not a hitter, but they should be able to judge and hit the ball from the back.

The reason is that the team can call the DS to hit the ball in a hurry-up offense in certain situations.

If you want to increase the back row hitting ability as a DS, ensure good timing, as it will help you hit the ball at the highest point possible.

Secondly, work on your accuracy because you want control over the ball to hit it at your desired position.

Lastly, a good Defensive Specialist has good power because it is essential to hit the hard harder enough to score the point.

A DS showcasing his defensive skills

4) Flexibility

The defensive specialist is the most flexible person on the team because he can play different positions throughout the game.

He is ready to switch the position if an injury or substitution occurs. He may play the back row and then switch to the front row.

So, a DS must be mentally flexible to adapt to any changing situation and make quick decisions.

Volleyball drills for defensive specialist

If you want to become an agile and sharp defensive specialist, make sure to follow the below-mentioned volleyball drills based on my experience and thorough research.

1) Passing drills

There are different passing drills that a DS should do to improve his passing capabilities, like deep passing, double feeder passing, ballon and ball passing, passing to dive, etc.

I will explain the procedure of the deep passing drill and double feeder passing drill.

The reason is that these two drill types are my favorite, and I believe every defensive specialist should do them for better play.

The deep passing drill improves the defensive specialist’s ability to pass the ball accurately from a deep position on the court.

It’s helpful to enhance their ability to handle challenging passing situations and improve their footwork, too.

The steps of the deep passing drill are listed below:

  1. The drill starts, so the DS stands on the deep position near the end line.
  2. The coach throws the ball from the opposite side of the net.
  3. Using the proper footwork, DS approaches the ball and passes it with his forearm, ensuring he directs it to the target.
  4. The drill continues with the ball’s speed, trajectory, and position variation.
  5. He receives feedback from the coach on his passing skills, decision-making, and footwork.
  6. The whole process develops consistency and accuracy in deep passing for him.

The Double Feeder Passing drill helps improve DS’s passing skills by receiving balls from two different feeders at the same time.

It increases his ability to react to multiple incoming passes simultaneously, like the actual match.

I am listing the step-by-step procedure of this drill below:

  1. There are two feeders on opposite sides of DS, and the purpose is to deliver passes to different court areas.
  2. The feeder tosses the ball and throws it to the Defensive Specialist.
  3. He quickly judges the trajectory and speed of the incoming pass, adjusts his position, and then passes it back to the target (usually some teammate).
  4. The drill continues with different variations of the ball’s speed and placement, challenging the passing ability of the defensive specialist.

2) Teamwork drills

The teamwork drill helps DS coordinate and collaborate with the rest of the team members.

It helps to enhance communication skills, leadership qualities, and synchronization on the court.

This drill is unlike typical volleyball drills, as no specific steps are involved.

The DS works with other team members to improve his skills of digging, passing, diving, and receiving. 

During this drill, he directs his team members about the game strategies, practices calling them out, and alerts them to potential threats.

His role in this drill is to showcase his quick reflexes, agility, and decision-making capability.

He makes the quick decision whether to pass the ball or dig it.

He also works on his flexible positioning throughout the drill to become comfortable with offensive and defensive play.

Volleyball players doing passing drills

3) Diving Drills

This drill focuses on improving the DS’s ability to react quickly, cover more ground area, and improve the defense.

There are different kinds of diving drills, and each one helps the DS to develop the confidence to keep the ball in play.

My favorite drill is the “Diving Save Drill.” It helps to improve a defensive specialist’s reflexes and diving techniques.

The drill is more straightforward to conduct, and I am listing its simple steps below:

  1. You need two players for it.
  2. One player acts as a server, and the other as a DS.
  3. The DS will be in the backcourt, just a few feet from the net.
  4. The server stands on the opposite side.
  5. The server starts the drill by serving the ball, and the DS quickly moves into the position to dive and makes a save.
  6. After each successful dive, the DA returns to their feet instantly and prepares for the next serve.

4) Back Row Hitting Drills

The back row hitting drill helps to improve the hitting skills of the back row players. As the primary position of the DS is back row, this drill is mandatory for him.

It helps him to work on his footwork, technique, and timing for the execution of powerful hits from the back row.

The setup of this drill is as follows:

  1. Make two teams. One takes the serving position, and the other receives the serve (standing in the back row)
  2. The server starts the drill by doing a serve to the opposing team.
  3. The receiving team receives the ball and executes a back-row hit to their opponents
  4. The rally continues unless a team wins the point.
  5. The drill continues between alternative serves and hits among both teams.
  6. The defensive specialist plays a crucial role in digging and receiving the hits from the opposing team.
  7. Make sure to rotate the players between serving and hitting positions so everyone can practice back-row hitting.

Conclusion and final thoughts

The defensive specialist is a valuable asset to the team but needs to be more noticed.

He helps to execute the team’s game strategy and organize the defense. He has exceptional passing, digging, and back-row hitting ability.

A DS should have good leadership skills, be mentally stable, and always be ready to switch positions with any player on the court.

If you are willing to work hard, you can be a successful Defensive Specialist and help your team win.

The court is yours. Go make some plays!


Let me elaborate on some of the commonly asked questions regarding defensive specialists. So, stay connected!

Is ds a good position in volleyball?

Yes, Ds is a good position to play in volleyball because he is a leader on the defense and can play different positions throughout the game.

Also, it’s a rewarding position that can contribute significantly to the team’s success.

Can a DS play front row?

Yes, a DS can be called to play a front row in specific conditions, such as the regular front row players are injured, need to add another attacker to the team’s offense, or in some cases, they may be called in the front row for the blocking purposes too.

Can a DS serve in volleyball?

Yes, a DS can serve anywhere behind the end line in volleyball. However, they cannot serve from the front row or behind the 10-foot line.

What are the challenges of being a defensive specialist in volleyball?

The defensive specialist must be familiar with the different responsibilities of each position on the court because the coach or another teammate can call him to play in the front or back row at any time.

Also, their communication skills, decision-making, and leadership skills should be exceptional.

Due to these reasons, it is challenging to become a DS in volleyball.

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