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What is a Libero?

September 5, 2011 - Michael Palmer
As a photographer, who now writes sports articles, I get to cover a lot of volleyball.

The action is tough to shoot and requires a good lens and some knowledge of photography to take a decent photo, so, since I have the knowledge to take good volleyball pictures (which guarantees nothing in this particular sport) I get to cover a lot of volleyball.

This season, I have noticed that the volleyball rule which is getting much attention is the requirement that a libero jersey must be a different color from the rest of the team. The rule isn't new, but it appears the officials are going to enforce it this year.

If you are not versed in volleyball, you are now asking: What is a Libero?

There are six players on a volleyball court during an indoor volleyball match. The libero, pronounced li-bare-oh or lee-ber-oh, is one of the most important players on the court. Liberos wear a unique jersey, one that is of opposite color of the rest of the team, and can be completely different in terms of style and fit as well. The libero has a separate set of rules for substituting in and out of games, and in high school, the libero can, and often does, serve. The libero cannot be a part of the starting six players, either. She normally sits on the sidelines until the game begins, and then substitutes in for a back row player.

Simply put, she is a player that plays only in the back row, the three players farthest away from the net and rotates in for the middle blockers (sometimes taller players who play in the front row) so that they don’t have to play back row defense.

The word "libero" means free in Italian which sort of explains that they can go in and out of the back row replacing different players in the line up without the coach having to use a substitution.

There are also a paragraph of rules which state how a Libero can not be a front row attacker and for all of those reasons it is reasonable to require this player to wear a unique jersey. The question is just how different does it have to be?

RULE: The libero must wear a uniform shirt or jersey that is in distinct COLOR contrast to shirts worn by other members of the team and must be recognized from all angles as being in clear contrast to and distinct from the other members of the team. The style and trim of the libero’s shirt or jersey may differ from her teammates’, but her shorts must be like colored to her teammates.

Martins Ferry wears a mostly purple and white jersey at home, their libero jersey is black on the sides and mostly white on the chest and back, some official rulings may differ, but the opinion on Monday of last week was, “It is too similar.”

Barnesville wears a mainly green with white and red trim on one shoulder for their home jersey. The libero is mostly red with green and white trim on one shoulder, official rulings may differ, but the opinion on Tuesday of last week was, “It is too similar.”

All of these jerseys were purchased through major uniform retailers, with consultants who know volleyball rules and supplied these libero jerseys. In their opinion, these jerseys are acceptable, so why all the fuss?

I do not believe any of the local volleyball officials have any problem identifying just who is the libero. I asked, in an informal survey, during a break at each volleyball game. If any of the fans were having a problem identifying which player was the libero.

Each person asked could easily identify the player with a different jersey. Depending on which team they supported, they may have questioned the unique quality, but without exception, they could point out the libero without any problem.

In order to make the rules more understandable and consistent, some leagues are requiring a Libero jersey must be a single, solid color (excluding the color of the numbers or lettering) that contrasts (dark vs. light) to the color of the team’s primary jersey color(s). Requiring that if the team’s primary jersey is multi-colored (two or more colors, excluding the color of the numbers or lettering), the Libero’s jersey may not be any of those colors, including gussets and side panels/swatches.

I appreciate the officials for their important and underpaid role in the sport; I will not question their abilities. I think our local volleyball officials are not the “bad guys” here; they are simply complying with a mandate to enforce the rule. I suggest that the OHSAA is the party insulting the official’s ability; indeed that body seems to think that the referees in the sport are literally color blind.

I appreciate that rules committees are attempting to make the rules more understandable and consistent. That being said, in an economy where schools are strapped for cash, requiring teams to purchase additional jerseys seems ludicrous. The other team members are tracked by the simple and time tested numerical jersey system for rotation and substitution. In addition, each team has a specially designated scorekeeper who does nothing else but track the libero.

All things considered, is this a rule we need to spend time enforcing?


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