The article is provided by Coaches Choice and is taken from the eBook: Coaching Volleyball:Defensive Fundamentals and Techniques edited Kinda S. Lenberg.The entire eBook may be found at the Coaches Choice Volleyball Coaching Library.
By Don Shondell,Ph.D
The spike’s velocity and the attacker’s closeness to the blocker make blocking unquestionably the quickest skill in volleyball. Strong blocking is a requirement for success, especially in men’s volleyball, where speed makes balls hit into the gap between players virtually impossible to dig. The blocker’s responsibility—if he cannot “roof” the ball for a quick score or side-out—is to channel the ball to the digger or deflect it to a teammate.
The Psychological Aspect of Blocking
Blocking success can be measured in various ways, but perhaps most important is the psychological intimidation of the opponent. Intimidated attackers often hit out or resort to the tip to avoid being blocked. An aggressive attacker’s whole game can be destroyed through the embarrassment of having several balls blocked in the face.
The Skill of Blocking
Limited time makes the blocker’s preliminary preparation for actual contact vital. The blocker must deal with many variables, some out of his control. Players must use what they know about opponents to set up correctly prior to the attack. Blockers can be alerted through scouting reports to opponents’ tendencies by rotation, setters’ habits, and preferred plays and routes run by the attackers. Shot charts can inform them about hitters’ shots in specific circumstances. For example: “Deep set—attacker hits to 5-zone corner. Tight set inside antenna— attacker normally hits line or outside wipe-off shot. Medium depth set outside antenna—attacker hits sharp crosscourt.” Such information helps blockers position themselves properly to stop attackers’ preferred shots.
The blocker should start with hands about head high, elbows in and pointing forward, palms facing the net, hands at a 45-degree angle to the floor, and fingers spread. Hands are firm. The blocker starts as close to the net as possible, while still allowing enough space to raise the arms vertically without touching the net.
For the blocker to be able to adjust to where the ball is hit, the legs should be slightly flexed and a rapid stutter step used to overcome inertia and to speed the adjustment. This footwork is especially important when “read” blocking in the middle and when a quick move must be made to block a second option on a combination play. A player blocking in the middle in a read-block situation must also extend the arms almost completely before reading the setter’s delivery. As a result, the blocker will have to jump with the legs only, but the extension of the arms should give him enough height above the net to prevent a straight-down, undiggable hit. The blocker’s extended arms will put the hands over the net more quickly as he reads the quick set. In blocking one-on-one, players should spread the arms slightly wider than in team blocking, because skilled middle attackers will cut the ball to either side of the single blocker.
In the read, the blocker watches the attackers out of the corner of the eye while concentrating on the setter, clueing in on where and at what speed and height the ball will be delivered. As the ball is passed to the setter, some setting options may be eliminated, while others become more obvious. The blocker must adjust initially with the pass and again as the ball is set. Watching the setter, the blocker must be ready to tell teammates if the attacker is moving inside or swinging to the opposite zone (where he must be picked up by another blocker if the blocking team is using a zone defense.) In a match-up defense, the blocker stays with the assigned hitter by sliding behind the adjacent blocker. However, if the assigned attacker is hitting a one set, the blocker assigned to the quick hitter should slide in front of the adjacent blocker.
If the ball is set quickly, the blocker must try to block the attacker’s preferred angle. A blocker’s right hand should be against the spiking hand of a right-handed power angle hitter. Cut-back hitters should be blocked straight on, with a blocker’s right hand slightly to the right side to cut off the sharp angle hit.
The blocker knows when to jump according to how deep the set is from the net and how hard the attacker hits the ball. Jumping too quickly sacrifices aggressiveness and the element of surprise. Generally, on balls hit deeper than 30 inches off the net, the hitter should contact the ball before the blocker extends the arms across the net. On sets closer than 30 inches, the blocker must commit earlier. If the set is on the net, the blocker surrounds the ball with the hands at virtually the same time that the attacker makes contact with it. (Note: The rules state that if the ball is completely on the attacker’s side of the net, the attacker must touch the ball before the blocker. However, simultaneous contact is seldom called.)
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Blocking success can be measured in various ways,but perhaps the most important is the psychological intimidation of the opponent.
When starting the blocking arm action, the blocker must be aware of the ball’s velocity and its depth and angle in relation to the net. Ideally, the blocker either intercepts and rebounds the ball into the opponent’s midcourse (preferably in front of the three-meter line) or deflects it into his own backcourt in a controlled manner, enabling it to be set and attacked. The blocker must be aware of the position of the body, arms, and hands as he rebounds the ball. (Practicing the blocking arm action in front of a mirror and analyzing the arm and hand position is helpful.)
The arm movement should be rapid and directly penetrate the net. The hands should be firm with the fingers spread to improve ball control and provide the greatest blocking surface. Just before contacting the ball, the blocker should pike the hips, shrug the shoulders, and tense the hands to help stabilize the airborne body and provide a force counter to the hard-driven volleyball. According to Newton’s third law of physics, a force contacting a body suspended in air will result in an equal and opposite reaction by another part of the body. The lack of a spiking action is often what drives the blocker’s body into the net.