Originally published in VolleyballUSA, Spring 2008 issue
By April Chapple

Watch your hitter with your shoulders parallel to the net

Watch the hitter to get indications of how she intends to hit the ball. Is the player approaching you with her shoulder at an angle, indicating that she is going to hit cross-court, or are her shoulders coming at you straight on with the intention of hitting down the line? Does she hit the ball low across the net? Does she hit on her way down? Ultimately, you should even be able to see if your hitter is turning her shoulders to face outside the court, indicating that she intends to wipe off your block.

Watching means keeping your eyes open. Don’t laugh. I can show you hundreds of action shots of players blocking with their eyes closed. Watch your blocker, then go get the ball. I say it this way to emphasize reaching over the net to grab or block the ball.

Jump straight up and down, don’t fly

Some blockers jump “up” in one spot and come “down” in another one. Learn to control your body while you watch your hitter so that where you go “up” to jump is where you come “down.” Why is this important? Because you have three defenders behind you who are figuring out where they have to be on defense based on where you set your block. If you block is all over the place, your teammates on defense are not going to know where to set themselves up on the volleyball court in team defense. Help your sisters out, come down in the same place that you jumped up from.

Secondly, for the outside blockers your middle blocker is relying on you to set up a solid, “closed” wall. Walls do not move around; they stay right where they were built. It is your job to position yourself in front of your hitter’s body. Get there and do not jump out again or move side to side so your middle blocker knows exactly where to come to close up the block. If you fly or jump to the outside you blocker will never be able to close up that space between the two of you and the other team’s hitter will look like a celebrity spiker hitting between that hole you created between you and your middle blocker.

Keep the palms up at shoulder height in ready position

Many volleyball players and high school coaches have difficulty deciding where the hands need to be while moving along the net to block. I have seen coaches teach players to keep their arms fully extended above their heads while moving along the net, which actually slows you down and does not allow you to squat to maximize your full jump. More commonly, I have seen players of all ages drop their hands and arms way below the net BEFORE block jumping in an effort to add a couple more inches to their jump.

This technique, 1. Usually slows your block jump timing because of the time it takes to go down before coming back up; 2. Increases your risk of touching the net when your arms are swinging up in front of you; and 3. Actually puts more distance between you and the volleyball net because of the extra space needed to swing your arms up in front of you. As a result, you are actually blocking farther away from the net, wasting a lot of your vertical jump.

The solution? Use “tiger hands,” “bear hands” or whatever you want to call it. Ultimately, keep your lovely bear paws at shoulder height and keep the following things in mind:

  1. Keep your hands 6-10 inches in front of you, palms facing the net, fingers wide.
  2. Make sure you have solid wrists.
  3. Go down (squat) to prepare for the jump phase
  4. Then, fully extending your arms, reach over the net when you come out of your squat to jump. Speaking of squats, this is virtually the same position you maintain when you do squats during your weight lifting workout in a gym with a bar on your shoulders. While engaging in a block, simply keep your hands inside your body right in front of your shoulders. Your body is already used to doing this movement over and over again. Squatting with your hands at the height of your shoulders maintains body balance, allows you to stay close to the net, gaining inches you can use to reach over the net to choke off that ball and allows you to maximize your powerful block jump. If you can do it in the weight room, you can do it against a net on the volleyball court. Trust your body memory.

Use maximum arm length

Your goal is to be able to extend your arms fully at the maximum point of your block jump – every time you jump. For middle blockers, especially, there will be times that they will have to block a quick set that is so fast they only have time barely to get their hands over the net to stop the ball. But outside hitters who block 4s and 5s, balls that are set high to the outside or shot out at a quicker pace to the outside have time to use the full extension of their arms to block the ball. If you were born with arms that are 45 inches long, then you should be reaching some 45+ inches as far over the net as you can get.

You want to keep your arms fully extended for as long as necessary, so do not put your arms up there and then pull them away before you have completed your block jump. Hold your arms extended throughout the duration of your block jump. When you land, land back down into a starting “tiger hands” position in case you have to block again.

Commit to taking one area away

If you have watched your hitter, then you know she is going to hit or tip either down the line or cross-court, or wipe off the block. It is very simple. Your job is to take one of these directions away. Ultimately, you can only take cross-court or you can only take line.

What you decide to take away will depend on what your coach has told your team in pre-game strategy: what team blocking strategy is going to be used for a particular hitter, or against a particular team. If you don’t have an established game plan, then what you take away is determined by the indications you “see” the hitter giving you as to where she is going to hit.

Once you have decided to take an area away, do not chase the ball in midair with your arms trying to cover everything. You simply cannot. Besides, when you set up early and take one area (either cross-court or line), then your defense will cover your butt by taking away the other areas on the court.

If you are at the net trying to take everything away, then your back-row teammates do not know where they need to be on defense.

April Chapple is a former international indoor and beach volleyball professional.