Blocking is my favourite part of the game – there is nothing more rewarding than turning a hard hit into a point in less than a second. It’s my intention to give you the basics and a few ideas that may improve your blocking.
Rule #1 for blocking is that you jump STRAIGHT UP. That means you do not get an approach. You only move laterally to block, and you prepare to block by standing LESS THAN 1 metre from the net.
From the Ground Up
I won’t spill a lot of ink on footwork – there are several approaches that work. The most important aspects of blocking footwork are:
1. To move yourself into a good blocking position.
2. To be balanced just prior to leaving the ground to block.
To be in a good position to make a block (1), you must position your body so it is in the path of the attack. There are several variables to consider – the hitter’s tendencies, the hitter’s approach, the set, whether or not you are blocking alone. As a starting point – think of lining your head (the center of your body) up with the hitter’s hitting shoulder.
To be balanced (2), you should have your weight evenly distributed on both feet (not leaning). Your feet should be at least shoulder-width apart and your knees should be bent.
When do I Jump?
The hitter has an approach – the blocker does not have an approach (see IMPORTANT above). In most cases this means that the hitter will spend more time in the air than the blocker. So, a rule of thumb is that the blocker should leave the ground AFTER the hitter. As timing is crucial for success, be aware of the hitter’s distance from the net. The further away from the net the hitter is, the later you should jump.
As long as you can get your hands above the tape, you should penetrate. Most people think about getting their hands OVER (as in “above”) the net. It is more important to get your hands ACROSS the net (to penetrate INTO your opponent’s court).
If it helps, think of a hockey goaltender. When the opponent is winding up for a shot, the goalie is more successful if he skates out of the net to “cut off the angles” than he is if he waits for the blast with his skates on the goal line. The higher you jump, the further you should penetrate. This means that a tall blocker should block at the same height as a short blocker – the tall blocker just penetrates more.
To penetrate, make sure that your fingertips cross the net first, then your fingers, then your palms, wrists, forearms etc. Imagine a length of string tied from antenna to antenna (across the net), about 6 inches above the tape. You should extend your block between the top of the net and the piece of string.
If I took a snapshot of you at the instant the ball hit your hand(s) when you block, here’s what I should see:
Every muscle in your upper body, hands, wrists, elbows, shoulders, and abdominals should be tight. You should be looking at the hitter (not at the tape) – and your eyes should definitely be open. As I said above, your hands should be across the net. Your hands should be more than a ball-width apart. Hitters are trained to hit around you, not through you, so maximize your chances to block by taking up more space with your arms.
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