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Recently I have watched some recorded volleyball games featuring the Brazilian men's national team. I noticed that frequently - in nearly every set I have watched - they substitute one or two players after approximately half the set has been played. The player(s) that came in are resubstituted after only a few - sometimes less than five - points by the original players.

This seems to be so common that the TV commentator was saying things like "the usual Brazilian substitution is coming early this set". However, he didn't give a rationale for this kind of substitution. So what is the team trying to achieve by such a substitution pattern, especially when it is obviously done in a majority of sets played?

For avoidance of doubt, I'm not talking about the libero replacement, but about the substitution of one "regular" player for another.

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It's a bit hard to be specific without more details, but the reason is the same as everything else: to gain a tactical advantage. Some common examples:

  • If one of your substitutes is better at serve reception and/or defensively than one of your starters, you put the substitute on when they are in the back row, and then reverse the substitution when they rotate to the front row.
  • If one of your substitutes is a particularly strong server, you substitute them on when they rotate to serve, and then reverse the substitution when you lose the serve.
  • A more advanced tactic is, just as your setter is about to enter the front row, to substitute your backup setter for the starting opposite hitter and the backup opposite hitter for the starting setter. This substitution is then reversed three rotations later when the backup setter enters the front row. This gives you nine consecutive rotations with three front row hitters.

Of course, another reason if a team is winning easily (or in some cases, losing heavily) is to give the reserves some court time to increase their experience.

One minor rules note which you may be aware of, but in any case others may not: if during a set player B is substituted for player A, the only further substitution which made be made in that set involving player B is to replace them with player A. This explains why it's always the original player in the "resubstitution" rather than a third player C.

  • Nice answer, +1. I'd have added the substitution of a tall player for a shorter player like the setter in order to get an advantage when blocking, though. – cadaniluk Nov 9 '15 at 14:19
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    Very nice and helpful answer. I was aware of the fact that two players that have been substituted for each other are "bound" to each other for that set. However, it's a good information to have for other people reading this answer who might not know of this rule. – Benedikt Bauer Nov 10 '15 at 10:28

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