Kirsten Higareda, a high school libero interviewed in the Sept. 20, 2007 edition of "The Washington Post," knows what it's like to try and explain the libero position to volleyball spectators. Volleyball is unique in the way it requires one member of a team to wear a jersey colored differently from the rest of the roster members. This relatively new change in volleyball can still be confusing to many people.
A libero is primarily a defender. Although liberos are allowed under the rules to score points, the restrictions placed on this player prevents them from being too offensive. Mostly they are placed in the back to roam the back line and dig out potential points from long shots hit over the net. Liberos need to have quick reflexes like a goalie in soccer as well as ability and strong dig skills to scoop up a ball that might otherwise be a point to the other team.
The libero is a relatively new position in volleyball. According to "The Washington Post," it was first integrated into international play in 1998, followed by college volleyball a few years later and, in 2005, appearing in high school volleyball. The position has revolutionized how volleyball is played, being integrated at the same time as rally scoring, which allows non-serving teams in volleyball to score points. These changes have quickened the pace of volleyball games as well as the intensity, because scoring can come for either team on any serve.
Because the libero is only meant to be utilized as a backcourt defender, they are not allowed to move into the front half of the court for attacking shots or blocks on the other team. However, they are allowed to hit by any means necessary from the back half of the court, and are placed there to let other players move closer to the net without fear of the ball sailing behind them for a point.
A libero can be substituted in or out just like any other player. However, when one player comes off the bench to play libero, that person also needs to be wearing a jersey colored the same as the starting libero's jersey. For this reason, some leagues require all potential liberos to be dressed in their alternate jersey even when on the bench. But one advantage of liberos is that they do not count toward the maximum allotment of substitutions for a team, and they are exempt from a regular player rotation.
Although the libero position is defense-only, a player should still possess some offensive skills in order to launch long attacks from the back. In addition, players can be interchanged in and out of the libero position as needed from one game to the next -- the only designation that matters is the jersey, not the position a player is listed as playing. Libero is less common at lower levels of competition, particularly elementary and middle school.