What Is A "5-1" In Volleyball?

The phrases for offensive systems used in volleyball aren’t exactly beginner friendly. If you’re here because you’ve been wondering, “what the heck is a “5-1” and what does that even mean…?” you’re in the right place!

While volleyball terms can be tough to grasp for new coaches, some of the most difficult to handle are when someone asks you if you’re going to run a “5-1”, a “6-2”, or a “4-2”. Once you understand the basics of what these numbers mean, you’ll feel confident in talking shop with other coaches in your program.

One of the most popular systems is a 5-1. This system, along with a 6-2, are the most commonly used systems in intermediate to advanced middle school teams, most high school teams, and most club programs.

Today I’m going to break down a 5-1 offensive system for you, which is basically a fancy way of saying what your players do when they’re standing in different spots on the court.

Since this is a fairly difficult concept to understand through words alone, I created some images (which I shared on the Instagram account for @getthepancake) and will share those here! Click through and read at your own pace for a basic explanation, and then we’ll dive into a few more details after you’re done.

WHY USE A 5-1:

A5-1 is one of the most common offensive systems in use today, right alongside a 6-2. A 5-1 has a ton of benefits, which make it one of the more popular options:

  1. It’s easy on your setter. When you’re running other systems, sometimes setters will stay on the court but in a role other than setting. There can be a SLIGHT hesitation to chase down the ball while they try to remember if they’re setting or not, or they might get in the way of the other setter if they forget they’re now in front row. NOT with a 5-1! Since there is only one setter, this player can command the court with greater confidence since they KNOW they are the setter.

  2. Your team’s hitting might be more consistent. With only one setter, players don’t need to adjust their approach for different styles of setting from different players. When using a 6-2, you may also have one setter who is more skilled than the other, so only hitters with the more talented setter get to run plays. This can lead to cries of unfairness, and possibly impact the strength of your hitters in later rotations. But with one setter, everyone gets an equal opportunity to hit the same consistent sets.

  3. Your setter can attack the second ball, adding an often overlooked attack option. I LOVE when a setter fakes a jump set and instead smashes the ball down on a second ball. While tips and dumps are more frequent than a full-on swing, this makes your opponents hesitate in their blocking and can score you some easy points. You can also draw the blocker up with your setter, giving your middle a wide open net.

  4. Setters (in my opinion) tend to be stud athletes. A 5-1 lets you utilize their wide skill set. If you’ve got a player who can pass, set, hit, block, and serve… you might want to consider a 5-1. Of course you can use them in a 6-2 just as much, but you increase the amount of times they’re involved in the play by having them as your setter. With the right player in place, this increases your team’s level of play.

One of the most confusing aspects of volleyball for those who are new to the sport, is learning BASE and ROTATIONS. Understanding how to rotate in volleyball is actually pretty simple when you break it down! This description is perfect for coaches of 5th grade volleyball teams, up to beginner 8th grade teams. These basics of volleyball should help you get started!


Although a 5-1 has a ton of advantages, it doesn’t come without its drawbacks… Here are a couple of cons to using the 5-1 system:

  1. Playing time is unequal. If you’ve got a large roster or are coaching a younger team, parents and players may feel that you are playing favorites if you run a 5-1. Why? Because one player stays in all around and touches every other ball. If you’ve got a player who subs in to play right front only, never gets set, and doesn’t get to serve, they’re going to look at you (and the setter) and start to feel resentful. Make sure your team is mature enough to handle the playing time imbalance.

  2. Injuries or absences critically wound your team. I love a 5-1. Except for when the “1” is missing. If you don’t have someone who can fill in as a back-up setter in case of injury or an absence, you’re going to have a bad time. Continue to train a backup setter if this is your preferred offensive system.

  3. There’s a different serve receive formation in all 6 rotations. Teaching your team where to stand in serve receive is tough enough in one rotation. But when players need to remember 6 different rotations based on where the setter is… well, just trust me and spend extra time reviewing this before your first match. It CAN be done! You just have a steeper learning curve than most other systems.

No matter what offensive system you chose, it is best to teach your team their rotations EARLY. Many teams focus too much on basic skills in practice (how to hit, how to pass, etc.) but when it comes to game time, if your players don’t know where to stand, NONE OF THAT MATTERS!

Good luck! Be sure to follow @getthepancake for more coaching tips.