What Is a 'Libero' in Volleyball? Why One Player Wears a Different Color Jersey

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Jul. 27 2021, Published 7:31 p.m. ET

The 2020 Summer Olympic Games have begun in Tokyo after being delayed for a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. While things look a bit different this year as new sports have been added and sanitary precautions are taken, viewers are still tuning into their favorite sports.

Those who watch the volleyball teams have noticed that some players wear a red shirt or a different color jersey than the others. But what does this mean?

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Why does one volleyball player wear a red or different colored shirt during a match?

If you've never played volleyball before, following the players as they rotate on and off the court can get a bit confusing. On most Olympic volleyball teams, there is one player who wears a different colored jersey than the rest of the team. The jerseys are typically one of the team's official colors, though they stand out from their teammates by taking the opposite color.

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These players are the liberos. A libero is a volleyball player who typically specializes in defense, only playing in the back row of the court. These athletes are not allowed to jump and spike a ball within the front row or block an oncoming attack, and their substitutions don't follow the same rules as the regular substitutions do.

Under certain rule sets, a libero also cannot serve. A team can have up to two players who are liberos and they must be chosen before the beginning of a match.

"The Libero’s jersey or jacket must clearly contrast in color to the color of the jersey worn by other members of the team," the official USA Volleyball rules read. "The Libero jerseys do not have to match, but they must both be contrasting from the other members of the team. 'Contrast' means 'strikingly different.' As such, two dark colors (or two light colors) often do not provide sufficient contrast from one another."

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The libero was introduced in 1996 by the FIVB (the International Volleyball Federation) as a way for teams to have a more strategic defense, of course, often with more particular rules to follow.

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"The libero can perform only as a backcourt player and may not play an attacking shot (when the ball is hit back across the net), serve or block," the FIVB writes of the position. "If the libero makes an overhead set of the ball in front of the 3-metre attack line, the ball may not be spiked over by the team. If the libero makes the same action behind the front zone, the ball may be freely attacked."

Who are the liberos on the U.S. volleyball teams?

The U.S. volleyball teams have two liberos a piece — one regular and an alternate. For the men's team, Erik Shoji serves as the regular libero and the Tokyo Games are his second time competing as an Olympian, while Dustin Watten is the team's alternate. For the women's team, Justine Wong Orantes is representing the U.S. in her first Olympic Games, while Megan Courtney is the alternate.

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