The End Of Specialisation?: Summary

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Top level men’s volleyball is a fairly homogenous sport.  From team to team and country to country there are countless subtleties and variations, but most of those are not noticeable to the average fan.  Teams are set up the same way, with the same number of receivers / setters / middle blockers / etc, playing in the same positions, in the same basic structure.  Players, despite their individual differences, are essentially fit into preexisting spots in the rotation: the principle of specialisation.  There are many excellent reasons why this is so.  Following Occam’s Razor, the simplest explanation is that it is a better way to play volleyball.  Over the last nearly 30 years, nearly every successful team (with one exception) has played using these principles.  It is easier to prepare a team when following these principles as training time can be optimised by practicing only the relevant skills for each role.  And perhaps just as importantly if you can optimize training time, you do optimize training time and players therefore reach the highest levels with a role specific skill set and role specific mentality.  This leads to the self fulfilling prophecy that players reach the highest level with the required skills to play a certain way and so coaches can only play in that way.  Essentially junior coaches, copying the system of senior teams, provide players who are only able to play in that way.  So when we talk about fitting a system to the players or players to a system, we are really only talking about the margins.

The examples of Macerata and Cuneo are not (yet) the forerunners of a new movement in men’s volleyball.  Each circumstance is unique and unusual.  In Macerata’s case, they have a uniquely talented individual in Ivan Zaytsev (he actually began his professional career as a setter) who allows them to stretch the boundaries, but they are not fixed on a single strategy.  In the first league match after the Champions League, Zaytsev played in a ‘traditional’ receivers role with a ‘traditional’ opposite.  In Cuneo’s case they are short of one middle blocker on their roster and presumably their substitute middle is at a lower level than their subsitute opposite.  If they had lost a middle at another point of the season, I am reasonably sure they would have gone out and bought a new one.  For those reasons, I don’t think that we will suddenly see wholesale changes in the formations we see.  However, what we may be seeing is the beginning of a readiness by coaches to consider some other possibilities.  It will be interesting to see what, if anything, develops from here.  Keep an eye out on Russia!


  1. I’m watching a youtube clip of Zaksa v Cuneo. Sokolov looks REALLY lost in the middle…. And Grbic is setting. I don’t think Zaksa is taking the 1st tempo seriously when he’s front court


  2. Hi Mark, what are your thoughts on the a future model of volleyball where we no longer have a specialist setter?
    the skill levels of the top swing hitters are on a par with the setters in most cases and so if you can train the swing hitters to be able to set quick ( probably the most difficult setting skill to get right consistently) you could have a scenario where your big three are the middles and opposite then your three skill players (not including the libero) that could mean nearly nearly all rotations with a back row setter and 5 rotations penetrating from 1 and 6 and 1 rotation either from 5 or go with front row option. This also means the swing hitter following the setter is no longer the standard rotation as you can have the mid follow the setter in the old way of looking at it because now you have thee players who can all set, pass and hit. Just a thought


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