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Blocking Breakdown - Reading the Pass

In order to be an effective blocker, one must be able to gather and interpret information from the opponents side of the net quickly and efficiently. This is where the eye work sequence comes into play. Most Bay to Bay players will be very familiar with the phrase, "Ball-Setter-Ball-Hitter". These are the four things we train our blockers to look for throughout the course of a rally. Once the serve is put in play, the blockers eye work goes to work.

In the next few posts I will be breaking down the fundamentals of blocking. Today, I will specifically break down the blockers pre-play communication as well as the first "BALL" in the eye work sequence.

Pre-Play Communication

As our blockers prepare at the net, they are trained to identify all of the front row players and primary attacking options in their zones (see photo below). Each blocker is responsible to defend their zone, with the middle blocker working to assist the pin blockers if the ball is set out of the middle zone.

The net is split into three zones, blockers must identify the primary threat in each zone

The opponents rotation is the first source of information that our blockers can interpret:

  • Is the setter front row? If yes, are the backrow players an offensive threat? Beware the dump on a tight pass.

  • Is the setter backrow? If yes, then blockers should be extra aggressive on any overpasses since the setter cannot defend the net.

  • Who is the primary attacker in my zone? Who is their primary attacker in general? If your opponent needed to score a point in this rotation, who would they set? That guy is the primary attacker.

  • Who did they set last time in this rotation?

Communicating before the serve helps get all of the blockers on the same page about what to expect. At the highest levels, any blocking schemes would be communicated during this pre-serve time (more on this at the end). As well, it is a great opportunity to "talk" the opponent out of a specific play. For example, if the setter is front row, the left front blocker can call out "Setter is up, I've got the dump". If the setter thinks he has a free net, he is more likely to be offensive along the tape.

bay to bay 15-1 cos master theoren moses wagner
15-1's look across the net to identify the opponents rotation and primary attacking options



The first 'Ball' in the eye sequence is referring to the opponents pass. The pass dictates so much of what a team can do on offense, with a perfect pass teams have 3-4 attacking options. If the pass is pulled behind the 10-foot line, the middle attack is no longer a credible threat and blockers have one less option to worry about. Check out these examples of how the pass dictates the offense:

Perfect Pass Situation:

When the opponent passes the ball perfectly (1 foot off the net, middle of the court) the blocking team is at a distinct disadvantage. With only three blockers to defend 4 attacking options our blockers must be "good on their guy", meaning they need to defend the net against the primary attacking option in their zone.

In the video below, our Bay to Bay team (in blue) is in a bunch read block scheme, meaning all of the blockers are bunched into the middle of the court to help defend the quick attack and backrow outside hitter first and then will revert to the pins once they read the pass and/or set.

Once the blockers read the perfect pass, all of the blockers revert to their primary blocking responsibilities. You will see that the pin blockers will start to "load out" towards their respective attackers prior to the setters contacting the ball. This allows the blockers to be ahead of the play and adjust their block on the move, especially against a higher level fast offense. **At the younger age groups blockers typically have more time due to a higher set location.

Off-Pass Situation:

If the serve gets the opponent into trouble (i.e. a shanked pass, or just a pass off of the net) then the blockers can start to play a game of percentages. Once the pass goes past the 10 foot line, the percentage chance that the opponent will try to run the middle on a quick attack plummets, therefore our middle blocker can drop his hands and be prepared to move laterally pin to pin for a well formed double block. Similarly, if the pass moves the setter towards the sideline than the likelihood that he will set the closest pin hitter increases. Therefore, the middle blocker can cheat in that direction with 1-2 shuffle steps.

Note: at the highest levels, many setters are taught to "reverse the flow" for this exact reason. This means that if the pass pulls the setter into area 4, than they should opt for the long distance back set to catch the blockers cheating. Be aware of the opposing setters tendencies and adjust your strategy accordingly.

For the pin hitters, once the middle is no longer a threat in their zone, whether because of the pass or because of the route the middle runs (a "1" versus a "3"), then the pin blocker can release to defend the primary attacker in their zone.

Limited Attacking Options Situation:

As the number of viable attacking options decreases, the blockers ability to defend the court increases. Understanding this game of percentages is what separates good blockers from great blockers.

Limited attacking options is not solely dependent on the pass, it is also tied to your opponents personnel. For example, in rotations 4, 5, and 6 the opposing setter comes front row and the right side attacker moves to the backrow, therefore the number of front row attackers drops to two: the middle and the left side.

If your opponent does not have viable offensive weapons in the backrow, then the left side blocker can bunch even further into the middle zone to help key in on the two front row options. In the video below you will see a designed blocking play, called on OH Trap Block, where our outside hitter sees the front row setter and therefore abandons the right side attacking option (the D ball) in favor of helping with the front row middle attacker.


I hope you enjoyed this overview of reading the pass. Check back next week as we overview reading the setter!

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