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Here’s a problem that is starting to become more common among volleyball players. Before they’ve had a chance to really develop their skills in different positions, they’ve already been pigeonholed in a specialized role. Some players are already specialized as setters or hitters by the age of 12 years old, which is limiting their development as a player. The question is, when is the right time to specialize?

The Value of Well-Roundedness

The best players in the game are well-rounded, without question. If you’re confident in your ability to pass, set, spike, dig, block, and serve over the volleyball net, you’re in a much better position to succeed as a volleyball player. In reality, you’re never just one thing, which is why it’s so dangerous to practice only one skill over and over. A coach’s job needs to be educating kids on how to be the best possible all-around players.

Why Specialize At All?

If being well-rounded is better for an individual player, than why would coaches ever force them to specialize so early? As it turns out, specializing is a good way to win. Young players who specialize can become very good at their particular skill, but that’s to the detriment of their overall success. While specializing is sometimes necessary, you should never let that stop you from developing each and every fundamental volleyball skill. True specialization is akin to restricting yourself and blocking future opportunities, which is not what you want.

Here’s When to Specialize

Realistically, there’s no one ideal time to specialize, but many agree that you should be at least 15 years old. That gives you several years to practice different positions and skills. However, one of the most interesting things about volleyball is how people can change. The short girl who’s great at setting might become a fantastic libero in just a few years after she’s had a growth spurt.

Whatever your age or level of interest in volleyball, keep the mindset of looking at your “total game,†rather than just your specialization. Most importantly, if you’re having trouble getting that kind of freedom from your coach on a formal team, don’t forget to practice outside of the official environment. Take some friends or fellow players and practice street volleyball, beach volleyball, or indoor volleyball two-on-two in your off-hours. You learn by playing, so make sure you get plenty of time to play.

Even collegiate athletes mistakenly believe they’re only able to play one position, but what happens if someone leaves the team or is temporarily injured? It’s simply unrealistic to pigeonhole everyone into a specialization and leave it at that. There’s nothing wrong with switching up the team’s positions, and ultimately, you are actually a better team player when you understand what it’s like to play each position. It’s completely different to understand as a libero, for example, when you know firsthand what it’s like to spike the ball over that volleyball net. Take this wisdom to heart as you develop your specialization.