What is a DS in Volleyball? 7 Tips Be a Good Volleyball DS

The DS in volleyball, or defensive specialist, is one of the most vital yet underappreciated positions. While flashy spikers and setters may get more of the glory, a talented volleyball DS is crucial for a team’s success. The DS may not always appear on the front of the stat sheet, but make no mistake – they are a linchpin that makes excellent defense possible. 

This comprehensive guide explores everything you need to know about playing defensive specialist in volleyball. Whether you’re new or you want to perfect your backcourt game as a DS, read on to learn all about the position’s responsibilities, required skills, importance, and how to improve. By the end of this article, you’ll have all the knowledge you need to become an asset to your team as an elite DS in volleyball!

What is a Defensive Specialist in Volleyball 

A DS in volleyball is a player specializing in defense and passing for their volleyball team. The DS is positioned in the back row and is responsible for handling serve receptions, digging hard-driven spikes, and passing the ball accurately to the setter. They wear different colored jerseys to distinguish themselves from other players on the court. 

Volleyball DS must have quick reflexes, a solid passing technique using their forearms, and excellent court coverage skills to reach balls. Their primary focus is on preventing the ball from hitting the floor on their side of the net by keeping balls in play.

The DS initiates the offense by receiving serves and making good passes to the setter. They must read plays and anticipate where balls will go based on player positioning and hits. A talented DS is an expert in ball control and initiating the offense with quality first touches.

If you’re keen on delving deeper into volleyball positions, you will find it interesting to explore the best positions in volleyball.

Responsibilities of a DS in Volleyball

The defensive specialist in volleyball has several important responsibilities that contribute to the team’s overall success.

  1. First and foremost, the DS must receive challenging float and jump serve receptions and pass the ball accurately to the setter. This allows the offense to start their play.
  2. In addition, DS players are tasked with digging powerful spikes and hard-hit balls from the opponents. Excellent digging skills keep rallies alive and prevent quick points.
  3. The DS also must read the other team’s formations and anticipate where balls are likely to go based on player positions. This court awareness allows the DS to get into the proper position to make plays.
  4. DS players also provide strong communication and leadership from the backline to direct their teammates. They have to cover the court effectively and seamlessly to reach balls.
  5. Finally, they make smooth and controlled passes to the target, enabling excellent setting and offensive hitting opportunities.

In a nutshell, they;

  • Receive serve receptions and pass the ball to the setter
  • Dig spikes and hard-hit balls
  • Read plays and anticipate where balls will go
  • Provide strong communication and leadership on defense
  • Cover the court effectively to reach balls
  • Make smooth and accurate passes to set up offensive plays

Skills Required for DS Position in Volleyball

To succeed as a defensive specialist in volleyball, players need to develop specialized physical and mental skills. This includes;

  1. Having quick reflexes and light footwork to react instantly to balls and move seamlessly around the court.
  2. DS players in volleyball must have a low center of gravity with a balanced ready stance for changing directions.
  3. A strong forearm passing technique is critical to make clean contact with the ball for accurate passes.
  4. Reading plays and anticipating where the ball will go based on opponent tendencies also is important.
  5. Mental toughness and unwavering focus are required to make plays even after long rallies.
  6. Regarding physical attributes, flexibility, and agility allow DS players to dive, extend, and reach for balls. Mastering these abilities gives defensive specialists the tools they need to excel.

In summary, the DS position in volleyball requires the following:

  • Quick reflexes and footwork to react to balls
  • Low center of gravity and balanced stance for movement
  • Strong forearm passing technique
  • Ability to read plays and opponent tendencies
  • Great communication and court awareness
  • Mental toughness and focus during long rallies
  • Flexibility and agility to dive and extend for balls

Importance of a Volleyball Defensive Specialist

An excellent defensive specialist is invaluable for any volleyball team. Though the DS in volleyball may fly under the radar compared to hard-hitting and high-flying offensive players, they provide a critical foundation for their team’s success.

  1. The DS keeps rallies alive by digging powerful spikes using their athleticism and technical skills.
  2. By making solid passes to the target after serve receive and during transitions, the DS initiates offensive plays that allow attackers to thrive.
  3. The DS also limits the opponent’s attacking options by covering the court extremely well and digging balls other players cannot reach.
  4. From the backline, the DS provides important leadership by organizing the defense and calling out hits.
  5. This takes the pressure off the hitters and setters, who can simply focus on their primary roles.
  6. Overall, a top-notch DS assertively controls the serve receive and passing game with their defense while using unrelenting effort and hustle to frustrate opponents.

In short, the DS in volleyball is important because

  • Keeps rallies alive by digging hard hits
  • Initiates offensive plays by quality passing
  • Limits opponent attacking options with great coverage
  • Provides backline leadership and organization
  • Helps take pressure off hitters and setters
  • Controls serve receptions and passing game
  • Uses solid defense to frustrate opponents

Take a look at our newest article highlighting the easiest positions in volleyball.

How to Be Better as Volleyball DS

For volleyball players looking to improve their defensive specialist skills, there are several keys to becoming elite at the position.

  1. DS players should focus on drills and training to improve quick footwork and agility to react to balls.
  2. Building core and leg strength for balance and stability prepares the body for rapid changes of direction.
  3. Repetitive passing drills against a wall or passing machine improves technique and one-touch passing accuracy.
  4. Digging drills using weighted medicine balls or high rep sets to train the arms enhance form and ball reading abilities.
  5. Studying game film helps analyze team tendencies and improve positioning and coverage.
  6. DS players must also communicate constantly with teammates through verbal and nonverbal cues.
  7. Finally, maintaining unwavering focus and competitiveness throughout long rallies will lift any DS’s game to the next level.

Keeping these best practices in mind will help any defensive specialist maximize their talents. In a nutshell, a player, specifically DS in volleyball, has to;

  • Work on quick footwork drills to improve agility
  • Strengthen core and legs for balance and stability
  • Practice passing against a wall or machine for technique
  • Do repetitive digging drills to improve form and reading ability
  • Watch the game film to analyze tendencies and positioning
  • Communicate constantly with verbal and nonverbal cues
  • Maintain focus and competitiveness during long rallies


The defensive specialist is the unsung hero of any volleyball team. While outside hitters may get the kills and setters rack up the assists, it’s the DS in volleyball that provides the critical glue with their passing, digging, hustle, and defense. Without a DS to effectively receive serve and set the offense, even the most talented hitters would struggle. At the same time, DS players keep rallies alive with their athletic digs to give their team a chance to score.

Though the volleyball DS may not fill up the stat sheet, their overall contribution is immense. By mastering the keys to the position – footwork, passing, court awareness, leadership, and mental toughness – defensive specialists can thrive. With a dedication to excelling at these fundamentals, any volleyball player can become an indispensable defensive anchor for their team. Ask yourself if this is a volleyball position should I play? The DS truly is the backbone of any successful squad.

Frequently Asked Questions:

Can a DS Serve in Volleyball?

Yes, a DS  in volleyball can serve. But, the DS can only serve if they are in the front row. If the DS is in the back row, they cannot serve. When the DS is in the front row, they can serve just like any other player on the team.

Is DS and libero the same thing? 

No, DS and libero are not the same thing in volleyball. While both positions specialize in defensive play, they have different roles and rules on the court. The libero has some unique rules that do not apply to the DS.

Is DS better than libero? 

There is no straightforward answer to this question, as both positions require different skill sets and play different roles on the team. The DS is a versatile player who can play both front and back row, while the libero is a specialized defensive player who only plays in the back row. Ultimately, it depends on the team’s strategy and the individual player’s skills and abilities.