When I would coach junior players, there was one question that came up surprisingly often:
Can’t I just block or attack the serve? In volleyball, you’re not allowed to block the serve directly. Even for those of you tall enough to do it while standing, you’re not allowed to spike the ball back from above the height of the net, either.
That was the standard answer I would give, but it took me some time to appreciate how important the question is.
In fact, now whenever a young player asks that question, I see it as a great sign.
So in this post, I want to talk about four things:
Can you block the serve in volleyball?
Whether you’re allowed to return the ball directly from a volleyball serve;
If there are ever any good reasons to do so; and
Why (I think) it’s a great thing that so many juniors ask this question.
The Official Ruling
If you don’t believe me, here’s what the FIVB has to say about blocking the serve.
“14.5 BLOCKING THE SERVICE 12, D11 (12)
To block an opponent's service is forbidden.”
A little dry for my taste, but that's about as clear as you’ll find.
Just to clarify what we mean by blocking the serve:
When the opponent goes back to serve, your team should be lined up and ready to receive the ball.
This is how each rally begins, with the first opportunity to attack going to the team that is in sideout.
'Blocking' the serve, then, would be any action at the net that stops the ball from crossing over to your side.
Technically speaking, this would actually be the fastest way to end (and hopefully score) a point. Especially when some players are serving the ball incredibly close to the top of the net tape--blocking the serve would be a great way to earn a quick point for your team.
Unfortunately, as we've seen, this is not allowed. Just like blocking an attack, if you reach over the net with your hands to direct the serve down, you would automatically lose the point.
The next question I would get was along the lines of: 'What if I just stand with my hands over the net while they serve?'
It's another great creative attempt to solve the problem (we'll talk more about that below), but again--unfortunately--it would mean forfeiting the point immediately.
So no blocking the serve guys: Not even you, Muserskiy.
The same goes for attacking, but funnily enough it’s legal to do so from the back row. The rule states under ‘Faults of the Attack Hit’:
“13.3.4 A player completes an attack hit on the opponent's service, when the ball is in the front zone and entirely higher than the top of the net.”
In volleyball, especially when players are making a short serve, the ball can travel quite high and close to the net.
If you were ready for it, winning a point directly from the opponents serve could be easy:
With the right timing, you could just jump up and hit it back down, right?
Well, unfortunately this is also illegal according to the official ruling. So long as you are contacting the ball inside the 10ft line, you're not allowed to spike it back.
If you wanted to try hitting a ball from the back row off your opponent’s serve... I guess that's technically legal?
Kind of like this:
What about sending the ball back over on the first contact, then?
In both indoor and beach volleyball, it’s legal to return the serve to the opponent’s side directly (so long as you don’t violate the rules mentioned above).
That can mean passing (bumping) the ball back over.
Or it can mean setting it over with your fingers.
Realistically, in almost all indoor volleyball scenarios, this is not a winning strategy.
In indoor volleyball, there will be six players waiting on the other side. When you return the ball back directly, you'll actually give up the opportunity for your team to set up an offense.
When you start reaching the higher levels, receiving a ball from your opponent without any pressure (like a dig or a set) is a gift to be treasured: so you don't really want to be giving your competition too many of those.
In beach volleyball, however, there may be circumstances when this tactic can actually (annoyingly) work.
*I’m no beach volleyball expert, so take this advice with a grain of sand…
Sending the ball back directly might work on the beach, but not often
For example, when the serving player runs to the net to block, there may be an option to send the ball directly into a hole where he or she has served from.
I’ve been on the receiving end of this tactic more than once, and since it’s such an unexpected play, sometimes one team really can win a point that easily.
It's more than slightly frustrating...
Again, however, this is a one-time catch-them-off-guard strategy at best, and it probably won’t have you winning any tournaments!
Why I think it’s still important that young players ask this question
This is probably the most interesting part of the article (for me, at least).
While the answer to the question is quite short and simple, the question itself is pretty interesting.
I may be wrong about this, but for me it shows that the player is actually thinking about the game.
They are considering the game fresh--not already drilled in sideout systems and how things ‘should’ look--which means that anything is possible.
Why not just attack the ball directly if it can win you the point?
If I’m tall enough, shouldn’t I just block the ball directly? What’s the point in wasting time with all that reception, setting and spiking?
Okay, so the bubble is quick to burst, but the ideas are all there.
Tip #1: “Teaching players to think about the game can be one of the best ways to speed up their development.”
While that may sound like a tip for coaches, as a player it’s worth taking on board.
By thinking about questions like, ‘Can you block the serve?’ in volleyball, you’re more likely to come up with your own solutions to problems that you face on the court.
How can players benefit?
It’s interesting to see the rise of creative drills and warm-ups on the elite volleyball scene.
Even while training with our Australian National Team, we played our fair share of warm-up games and fun volleyball-related challenges.
I love this kind of stuff.
There’s nothing worse than being taught to play, think or live in just one direction.
So while it may not be legal to block the serve, as an exercise try this out:
“Imagine some novel and unconventional strategies that could actually work in volleyball.”
Thought of one, already? Share it below (if you’re comfortable giving away your secret winning strategy!)
What about receiving with 4 or 2 players, instead of 3?
How about flipping things so that your setter stands in position 4 instead position 2?
And what if your front row hitter passed from the middle of the court instead of on the left side?
What would each of those look like?
Of course, these are examples that have all been tried out before. Some work, some don’t, and some are better suited to specific teams or situations.
The point is that by thinking about volleyball in your own way, you will be able to have a deeper understanding of why the standard rotations and systems are so effective.
For example, we pass with three receivers because it’s the easiest and most effective to cover the opponent’s serve. While some situations are great for 4 passers (like trying to receive a bombing jump serve), generally speaking 3 will be enough to cover things.
If you’ve come here looking to answer the title question, congratulations! As you’ve already read, this is a sign that you’re thinking about the game and looking to find new solutions for scoring a point.
When it’s possible to score point in as few steps as possible, why not do it?
Think of some ways that you can reduce the number of contacts as a means to scoring a point in volleyball. Then imagine if that strategy would really be a good way to run your team’s offense.
Even if you don’t come up with the next Olympic Gold Medal strategy, the exercise is great and it will only serve to boost your overall volleyball game knowledge.
Stay sharp, guys.
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