7 Ways a Volleyball Coach Decides Playing Time

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We've all been there. "Why am I sitting out?" "Why does Sarah start but I have to sub in?" "Why do I never get to serve?" These are all thoughts we probably had as players on one team or another. We usually chalked it up to Sarah being the favorite, or the coach not paying attention to us, or not knowing what they're doing...

Yes, those are teenage thought patterns. We didn't often think beyond ourselves, and our parents were (occasionally) right there with us. As a child, my dad was my coach for a lot of my teams, so I usually got to hear him talk through all of the possible game-day scenarios he could think of, and what he would do in each instance.

As a coach myself, I know that I spend hours coming up with the best lineup I can think of, alternatives if something goes wrong or if someone is having an off day, and with my 10 years of experience coaching volleyball, I think I'm pretty good at finding the right/best lineup for my team. I try to balance the court and give as many players the opportunity to shine in their position, but sometimes, parents and players just don't understand.

That's why I made this video! I wanted to talk through all of the points and help parents and players understand WHY their kid might be sitting out for a certain number of rotations, either on my team or another team. Here's the video in its full glory if you want to check it out and listen to me go in-depth on some of these points:


Of course, sometimes I know I want to just get to the points, so here are the 7 factors I personally consider when deciding playing time and my lineup.


If you're the strongest person on the team in a certain position, or the most talented, you will likely have a starting position. Of course, any of the following reasons could solidify or threaten that starting role.


Do you understand how to move to the ball? Do you know when to tip versus when to swing all-out? If you struggle with on-court decision making, your volleyball IQ might be a little low. More time on the court, and even playing additional sports to improve coordination, can help build this quickly.


Now, I don't mean strength as in "I can bench 180 lbs" strength. I mean, are you consistently serving tough serves in the court accurately. These are the types of serves I want early in the match, and a big part of my lineup decisions are who I want to serve in a specific order. Really, I want serves like that the ENTIRE match! But I know from experience that some players who are great at the net can also be bad at serving. Don't take it personal. You contribute in other ways to the team, that's all!

READ MORE: Fix a Volleyball Serve in 4 Steps


Most players will go after a ball in their general vicinity. Others will go all out for any ball they think they can get to. And then other players will only go for a ball if it is right at them. While I'm going to do my best to coach that out of you and make you a more aggressive player, until you go for the ball, I need to have you next to an aggressive player to make sure we don't drop any balls. If you're unlucky at that player isn't in just the right spot in the lineup, you might sub in later in a match because that's where I NEED to put you to make sure you do not fail. The best way to stop being the timid player? Learn your position, ask for clarification on what ball is yours and when, and then you will feel more confident going after the ball.


Listen. If you're not going to be at practice, you won't know what we covered. How are you going to be successful on the court if you don't know what we're doing? Everyone misses at one point or another, usually for reasons outside of their control. But that doesn't change the fact that you don't know what's going on on the court. I'll probably have you sit out and watch someone else until you understand, and then I'll put you in.


I talk about this a lot in the video, but I'll sum it up here: sometimes you shine best when you only play front row or back row. Most setters will be back row only, which means if you play right side, you're probably going to sub out for the back row setter. Liberos can only play back row, and if you play the position on the court where the most balls go to statistically (left back), I'm going to want the libero there instead of any other player. Again, don't take it personal. There are subs at every level of volleyball, that's just how the game works.

READ MORE: Volleyball Position Characteristics


If you've gone through this list and haven't found a reason you should be sitting out yet, this might be the one you need to hear. Attitude can make or break a career. I don't care how talented you are, if you are only focused on yourself (i.e., pouting when you have to sub out, goofing off at practice, yelling at teammates, etc.) then you're going to find that your playing time keeps going down and down. Sure, you might still play if your coach has no other options, but you're holding your team back if you can't change your attitude to support your teammates instead of focusing on yourself.

OK folks, there you have it! The 7 ways that coaches decide playing time! I know there are more because I had an awesome coach on Instagram share that she uses effort as a deciding factor. Although I didn't include that in my original video, I agree 100% that effort gets taken into account!

Coaches: What else do you base playing time off of? What other factors do you use to determine your lineup?

Player/parents: Does this help answer your questions? I know all coaches are different, so you might want to consider talking to the coach if you still don't understand playing time decisions! This can be a tricky subject, so let me know if you'd like me to write a post about talking to your coaching about playing time!

As always, thanks for reading!