What is a DS in Volleyball

What is a DS in Volleyball?

Although modern volleyball teams seldom use players in the defensive specialist role, DS players are still a key part of the game. Contrary to what some may believe, the libero position is not the same as the DS, and neither is it a better, more flexible version. By learning what is a DS in volleyball, you’ll realize that the role offers its own set of unique benefits. So, what is it?

The full meaning of DS in volleyball is Defensive Specialist. The defensive specialist is a role in the back-row position. Defensive specialists are tasked with passing, digging, defending, and serving. They need to have exceptional reflexes to provide defensive coverage and keep the opposing team from scoring points.

In this post, you’ll learn the basics of the DS position and why it’s different from the libero. We’ll also provide tips and drills that will help you to become a successful defensive specialist.

Here’s a brief rundown:

  • Role of the Defensive Specialist in Volleyball 
  • Benefits of Playing in the DS Position 
  • Challenges of Playing in the DS Position
  • Differences Between the DS and Libero
  • Qualities of a Successful Defensive Specialist
  • Defensive Specialist Drills
  • Related Questions
  • Conclusion

Role of the Defensive Specialist in Volleyball

Let’s check out why the DS is an important position in volleyball by analyzing the job they do in a match.

Leading the Team

Defensive specialists have to lead by example on and off the court. The position requires a lot of experience; hence, DS players tend to be team captains. They nurture younger players and help to maintain discipline on the court in heated moments.

This doesn’t mean DS players can never make mistakes. What matters is that they get their head back in the game as soon as possible. Their teammates would take that as a good example.


As the name suggests, the DS can be the core of the team’s defense. They pair well with liberos to make it difficult for the opponents to score points.

They provide cover from the back row and use their strong mentality and dedication to get their team out of sticky situations.

Facilitating Team Plays

Defensive specialists are not only good passers, but they also have a clear understanding of how the team should play in any situation.

Much like how the middle blocker coordinates the teamwork in the front row, the DS is master of the back-court.

Their teammates have to trust them while trying to anticipate their next move. That way, everyone will be in sync.

Providing Options

The defensive specialist is versatile enough to fill in for any player in the back row. They are commonly employed as back-row hitters. The DS can also be called upon to play in the front row.

Benefits of Playing in the DS Position

Here’s why playing volleyball as a defensive specialist could be great for you.

Requires Skill Balance

The DS role requires a balance of both attacking and defensive skills that most positions don’t. This allows you to offer more to any volleyball team. It also makes you a viable option to play other positions, such as the libero. You may even replace middle blockers when the need arises.

Back Row Attacks

A DS may be in the back-row position, but they’re one of the few that allow for attacks from that position. The defensive specialist can spike the ball, despite being a back-row player, provided they jump from behind the attack line.

Exciting Plays

Receiving a spiked ball can be more exciting than spiking the ball. It’s certainly more difficult. The DS role allows you to turn a spike into a spectacular pass for the team. You get to involve yourself in some of the most crucial moments in a game.


You get to display your game sense and experience every game, making you a pivotal part of the team. If your teammates trust you, your influence becomes more profound, and you can help them win more games.

Challenges of Playing in the DS Position

We also need to talk about the problems you might face as a defensive specialist.

Little Playing Time

We’ve already established that a good DS does two things exceptionally well, coordinating the defense and improving teamwork. This is, unfortunately, a double-edged sword because, in games where the opponents’ offense is ineffective, and your team is passing well, there wouldn’t be any need for a defensive specialist.

Although this shouldn’t take away from how much of an impact you make on the team when you play, sitting on the bench can be frustrating for many players.


You need experience to play well as a defensive specialist. This means that rookies and younger players may struggle to reach their full potential, especially when game time is scarce. If you lack experience, your game sense, talent, and quick thinking will still make you a valuable asset in the role.

Differences Between the DS and Libero

1. Jersey

Perhaps the most obvious difference between the DS and Libero is their jersey colors. The libero’s jersey is unique, but the DS’s isn’t.

2. Substitution

The DS must come in with one of the limited substitutions allocated to the team. It doesn’t work the same way with the libero, as they have the freedom to come in and out as they want.

3. Freedom of Mobility

Although both are back-row positions, the libero cannot play in the front row, but the DS can rotate there to provide additional options for the team or pair with the opposite hitter.

4. Play Time

The libero is expected to help the team throughout the game. Whether the opponents are tough or easy, there’s always a need for a libero to help the team avoid surprises.

The DS, on the other hand, is only needed in tough games or situations where good defense is a priority. This means that a defensive specialist plays for way less minutes than a libero.

5. Court Restrictions

The libero is restricted from spiking the ball from anywhere above the net. Doing so will cause a violation. However, the defensive specialist is free to spike the ball from the back row and reach any height to do so.

Also, international volleyball rules prevent the libero from serving, but the DS can serve for the team if needed.

Qualities of a Successful Defensive Specialist

We’ve already mentioned the role of the DS. Now, it’s time to look at the key abilities and skills that you need to become successful in the role.

1. Game Sense

This is a combination of experience and instinct. Game knowledge or game sense is the ability to not only understand the volleyball rules but also to make the right plays in certain situations.

Game sense affects your positioning, how you approach the ball, and your receiving technique. The best way to develop better game sense is to play as many matches as you can to gain experience. You can also watch more professional games and learn from them.

2. Consistency

We previously mentioned how important it is for a defensive specialist to have the trust of their teammates. By being consistent and making fewer mistakes, you can earn their trust. Your passing and diving have to be consistently good, and sometimes desperate options like kicking the ball need to play on the ball in defense. However, you don’t need them to be perfect all the time.

3. Good Communication

The front-row players will rely on you for info on what the opponent is doing. You should always have your eye on the game and instruct your team in the most efficient way possible.

4. Strong Mentality

You need to be tenacious and tough, doing your best to get to every hard-hit ball. Even in the most daunting situations, you can be the rock your teammates need by displaying impressive bravery in the face of hard spikes.

5. Good Touch

Your touch is vital as a DS in volleyball. After digging, you want the ball to go exactly where you want so your team can take advantage. This will happen a lot less often if your touch is poor.

6. Fitness

A good DS needs to be athletic and agile. You should have no problem diving multiple times in one rally. You must also have the stamina to stay mobile on the court.

7. Strong Serves

While this is not a priority, making aces will help to make you stand out. You might need to make a serve for your team, so being great at It makes you more valuable.

8. Versatility

You should understand how to play in other roles so you can fill in for setters, middle blockers, etc.

Defensive Specialist Drills

Can You Block a Serve in Volleyball


Here are some drills that will help you get better at playing defense specialist:

3 vs 3

Three back-row volleyball players and one player after the end-line play on each side. Each team sets and attacks the ball. Each attacker rotates after every completed attack, and the extra man behind the line replaces them.

2-Man Feeder Passing

Tow feeders hit a variety of balls to the DS, forcing them to react quickly and still make good passes. The DS needs to have good body position at all times.

Feeder Pass and Dive

A feeder sends the ball close to the player’s feet, forcing them to collapse or dive to receive the ball. It’s best to use a volleyball knee pad for this drill.

Related Questions

Is a DS in volleyball a good position?

DS is a good position to play. In a volleyball match, defensive specialists can be very impactful as they make it harder for opponents to score. The DS can also play in all volleyball positions, which provides the team with more flexibility.

What is the hardest position in volleyball?

The setter position is considered the hardest to play by most pro volleyball players. The main reason is that it’s difficult to set the second ball for the outside hitter if the original pass was bad.

Can a libero replace any player?

A libero can only replace players in the back-row positions.

Final Thoughts on What is a DS in Volleyball

Few roles can have as much impact on a volleyball game as the DS. You have to decide what matters more to you between getting abundant game time or being a super valuable member of the team.

If you choose to be a defensive specialist, but you lack experience, watching games and practicing hard will help. When you get a practice ball, be sure to check if it’s an indoor or outdoor volleyball because you need to get used to the one you’ll face in competitive matches.

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