Purpose of Blocking
The main goal for blockers is to either stop or slow down the movement of the ball after it is hit by an opposing player. By placing themselves in the way of the ball, blockers can either return the ball to the other side of the net, redirect the ball to make it easier for passers or cause the hitter to make a mistake as they try to hit around.
Different teams will often have unique strategies depending on the height and skill of their players and of the opposite team. Often, a tall blocker will be matched up across the net from a tall hitter, allowing for a more even matchup between players. There can also be combinations of blockers from a single blocker to all three front row players. This way, they can change strategies based on how many players are blocking. A three-person block is more intended to stop the ball from coming over the net, while a one person block can be better used to redirect the ball to passers on the players own side.
How to Block
Blockers must first start from a stable starting position. The knees should be bent with the player's weight balanced between both feet. This way, the player is able to move either direction quickly when they need to. By having the knees bent, players can more easily move position; sometimes players can get caught standing up too much, and they can't move to the ball fast enough.
Blockers also have to be aware of how close they are to the net. A blocker should start around a foot and a half to two feet away from the net in order to avoid being too close or too far away in their block. Players can measure this distance by placing their elbows at their sides and reaching out forward. Their fingers should barely reach the net. The goal for this distance is that the blocker's arms can still reach over the net, or penetrate it, while avoiding actually touching the net (a violation) and losing the point.
While getting positioned, the blocker must also watch the players on the other side of the net. By watching both the ball and the players, the blocker can tell where the ball is going, and where they will have to direct their approach in order to block. If they are not watching close enough, their approach will be delayed, and they could miss the block.
For blockers who must move in order to get to the ball, there is a typical step pattern to follow. They first take a big step with their lead leg in the direction of the ball and then take a crossover step and a small hop step to line themselves back up with the net. They can also perform a swing block, in which they use their arms to build momentum into their block. In the swing block, the first step is small, and the second is big, opposite to a regular block.
Blockers want to line themselves up not only in front of the ball, but also alongside their other blockers. This way, there is no gap, or seam, between the blockers. Blockers must also be careful not to get too close to each other, as they may land on one another when they land after jumping. This is called drifting, when a blocker has too much sideways momentum in their jump that they bump into another player. In order to prevent this, players must make sure they jump up after moving over, instead of jumping while they move.
In the block, players reach their arms above the net in order to line up with the hitter and the ball. Taller players may be able to reach higher over the net, but shorter players can be just as effective as long as they are able to get hands above the net and in the right position. When reaching arms over the net, or pressing, blockers lock their shoulders and create a wall with their hands and arms. Hands should be shoulder width apart and angled forward at a 45-degree angle from the wrist. The goal is not to smack the ball back, but to be a wall for it to bounce off of.
Blockers must also be aware of the angle at which they are facing the ball. If their arms are facing away from the middle of the court, they may block the ball out of bounds, or the hitter may be able to hit it off of them and out of bounds on their own side. This is called tooling.
Outside blockers are on the left side of the court. They will block on that side and often come into the middle to block a middle hitter. Outside blockers often have to move their blocks over because many opposite hitters are left-handed.
Middle blockers are in the middle of the court and will block the middle, the left side, and the right side. They are the blockers that move the most in the front row. They have to be extra careful not to drift in their approaches as they often move the farthest.
Opposite blockers are on the right side of the court. They block the outside hitter on the other side. This hitter is most commonly set, so this blocker has to have stamina and the ability to block multiple times in a rally. This is also the position that many setters fill, so a setter may have to take on the role of this blocker when they are in the front row.
There are a few rules that blockers must keep in mind as they go up to the net.
First, they are not allowed to touch the net. Referees are looking for any contact or movement of the net. In college and professional volleyball, coaches can protest a point or a call and the ref must look back at the play in slow motion to determine if the net has been touched or not.
Second, the blockers are not allowed to step over the line underneath the net. If their foot crosses the line, they are putting the other team in danger of stepping on it and falling or injuring themselves.
Blockers must also be aware of where the ball is on the other side of the court. If the ball is not on its way to their side of the net, blockers are not allowed to interfere with the ball. This way, the other team gets a fair opportunity to send the ball over the net without a tall player reaching over and interfering. All of these rules, if broken, mean a point goes to the other team, and the serve goes to them as well.