Blocking can be one of the most difficult skills of volleyball and becoming an elite blocker can take years of training and experience.
Luckily for you, I'm going to condense my lifetime of playing and coaching experience to give you three actionable tips to make you a better blocker today!
In this post, I'll walk you through three simple changes any blocker can make in their game to block more balls in your next match.
Block with your feet
Reach across the net
Keep your eyes open
Of course there is more to becoming a great blocker than these small sub-skills, but these quick changes will give you the most immediate results!
I always say blocking is the most frustrating volleyball skill. You can jump out of the gym and be well practiced with your technique, but not block a single ball the entire match! "What am I doing wrong?!" players often ask me in exasperation.
Rest assured, even the best blockers at the highest levels of volleyball become frustrated with their blocking.
With the three tips we discuss today, you can get out of your blocking slump and back to building that roof over your opponents' attacks.
First thing's first: whenever I'm in a blocking rut, I tend to focus on everything I'm doing wrong. Before I try to change any technical aspects of my game, I need to change my mindset. Take the focus off your errors, missed blocks, or bad reads and make a mental change to focus on what you SHOULD be doing well.
Many new volleyball players are often surprised at how technical the game is. There can be a very steep learning curve which is often frustrating. Not to worry! In this post, I'll give you three simple tips that will get your blocking up to speed.
This brings us to today's first tip:
1. BLOCK WITH YOUR FEET
No, this should not be taken literally (although this would be a very impressive feat). What I mean here is that your feet make the first move when you block. They should take you to the correct spot and set you up for success.
Before even moving moving to block an attacker, blockers need to see which attacker is being set. This is what we call "reading" the setter, and is one of the most difficult sub-skills in blocking.
Often blockers try to guess who is going to be set. You might get lucky every now and then, but you will not consistently guess what the setter is going to do once you start playing at a slightly higher level.
I recommend blockers start by letting the setter set, then moving to your attacker. Until you're playing a more advanced team, the sets won't be too fast for you to wait, read, then block.
A mistake less-experienced blockers often make is to watch the set far too long. Once you can tell the setter sets the ball to your hitter, go ahead and shift your attention to your hitter. He should also be going to the ball, so you'll ultimately end up in the right spot to block him.
You want to line up directly in the path of the attacker's approach. Make sure that if he were to continue on a straight line through the net, he should crash straight into you. For those of you who have played or watched basketball, I like to call this setup "taking the charge."
Putting yourself in a good starting position is the foundation to a good block. Now, we're ready for step 2:
2. REACH ACROSS THE NET
Reaching toward the attacker, or "pressing," as it's sometimes called, is a crucial aspect of blocking. Often, less-experienced players try to reach as high above the net as they can.
What blockers need to remember is that the attacker has to hit the ball down into the court; there aren't a lot of people jumping and hitting the ball way over you.
Volleyball is a game of angles. The farther across the net you can push your hands on a block, the more attacking angles you're taking away from your opponent. Similarly, the closer your hands are to the ball, the more likely you are to block it!
BE CAREFUL! When I say reach across the net, you can't just put your hands anywhere on the opponent's side of the net.
Make sure to reach straight across, with your arms perpendicular to the net. The easiest mistake to make when blocking is to reach your hands toward the hitter.
This tends to happen when I don't get my feet to the correct spot.
Blockers often think, "It's okay that I didn't get my feet there, I can still reach to put my hands where the should be."
THIS IS NOT TRUE! Until you are a very advanced blocker, you should not reach with your hands outside your shoulders.
Doing so can lead to a bad block for a number of reasons:
First, our arms are in a naturally weaker position when they're pressed outside our shoulders. No matter how strong you are, your arms are stronger when they're directly in front of you than when you're reaching to the side.
Second, when you reach toward an attacker, usually your hands are now pointed out of bounds. So if you do happen to block the ball, it's most likely going to go where your hands are facing: out of bounds! Which is a point for the other team, even if you did "block" your opponent.
Lastly, reaching straight across the net allows you to take away more court and prevents "holes" or "seams" in your block. Reaching to the side gives attackers lanes to hit around you, parallel to your arms. If your team is double or triple blocking, when one blocker reaches for the ball, a hole is opened in the middle of your team block.
These seams are almost impossible for your back row players to defend, so make sure to reach straight across the net. Not only will you have the best chance to block the ball, you'll also be helping out your friends in the back row!
When trying to press across the net, a common mistake is to swat at the ball aggressively, bringing your arms down too fast. This will often lead not only to a bad block, but is also the best way to make sure you commit a net violation (touching the net while blocking is illegal)!
Instead of swatting at the ball, reach your hands as far across the net as possible. Make sure to engage all the muscles from your core all the way up to your finger tips! Squeeze your ears with your shoulders to make sure your block is as strong as possible.
The idea here is to make your block as solid as possible and keep it in front of the attacker for as long as possible. That's why pushing your hands across the net as quickly as you can is so important. You should also keep those hands high and pressed for as long as you can on the way down from your jump!
Now that we've gotten in position and pressed our arms across the net, there is one last tip that only the highest level blockers use:
3. KEEP YOUR EYES OPEN
Some young players I coach tell me they already keep their eyes open while blocking - that's great! Often new players do a great job watching the attacker and the ball once they are in the air blocking.
Until they get hit in the face one too many times, that is...
Having been a middle blocker for over a dozen years, I've taken more than my share of hits to the face! After a couple strong swings to the head, it becomes very easy to react by closing your eyes every time you block.
While this reaction is only natural, you have to fight it! With my eyes open, I find that I block almost twice as many balls as when I keep my eyes closed - the change can be that dramatic!
Even without years of practice and high level training, your body can help you become a better blocker naturally.
By keeping your eyes open, your brain subconsciously directs your hands to the ball. Seeing what you're blocking allows you to process and react the information you take in much faster and more efficiently.
Eventually, keeping your eyes open will allow you to effectively move your hands independently while blocking. More on this in a later post though.
Bring it In
When blocking, there can be a lot going on and tons to remember before, during, and after the attacker hits the ball. Try to keep it simple!
Get in front of your hitter
Make sure to reach straight across the net
Keep your eyes open to see what you're blocking
If you can master these three tips, you're well on your way to dominating the net! Look for future posts we'll be releasing on position-specific blocking keys.
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Comment below about which tip worked best for you, and ask us any questions you may have about blocking!