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By Mark Lebedew: Teach Blocking First

by WoV
source: marklebedew.com; Photo: CEV

Blocking is a really difficult skill to master. Blocking is a really difficult skill to teach. For beginners, blocking is not really required. For all of these reasons it is understandable that blocking is the last skill that players learn.

Mark Lebedew – Photo: CEV

I recently gave a presentation at a coaches conference. My presentation was on blocking and I gave a long, dare I say impassioned, speech about triple blocking. Part of my presentation was a practical demonstration and I obviously wanted to show the assembled coaches how I teach and practice the triple block. The small dilemma I was faced with, was the that group of players who would be performing my tasks were Under 16 girls. They had never made a triple block before, but we all made it work. They managed the drill, and the coaches could understand what I was talking about.

We then went on to the next part of the presentation which was about how I practice all different elements of blocking. This may shock my long time readers, but I organise nearly all of my blocking practice in a 6 v 6 format and always play the rally to the end, regardless of whether the initial action is good or successful. After a few minutes I noticed that the young girls, without any prompting or instruction were using triple blocks. And not just on the first action, but also in the extended rallies. At this point I double checked with their coach who confirmed to me they had never learnt or practiced a triple block.

As I went through my progressions, I decided to conduct a small experiment. One section of the drills is to practice read blocking for position 4 blockers. The setter has the choice to set either first tempo or back and the blockers must make a double block for both options. I gave the instruction to the blockers that they should watch the setter, and put up two blocks at the point of attack. Surprisingly (not really, see below), the success rate was exactly 100%. To put this into context, working with professional men, the success rate is not 100%. To finished we made some competitive component and with those two bits of instruction over the course of perhaps an hour, they were triple blocking some first tempo, and had multiple blockers at every point of attack.

I had a similar experience coaching a development group in which the level varied from essentially beginner to National Junior Team (NJT) level. The drill was a version of the one described above (but without continuing the rally). To my utter shock (at that time) the beginners mastered the drill immediately, while the NJT players performed by far the worst.  

Understanding that reading is the key element of blocking technique, the takeaway is that beginner to inexperienced level of players can learn blocking quickly and easily, with relatively little instruction.

Could it be that we don’t teach the key elements early enough? Or perhaps not at all? I had one international level middle blocker from a big volleyball nation tell me with a huge smile that no one had ever told him to watch the setter before. The smile was because he had just played a world class setter and known where every ball was going.

Or could it be that blocking is hard to learn and hard to teach exactly because we teach it last and thereby implicitly communicate that it is the least important skill?

Maybe we should teach blocking first.

About Mark Lebedew:

Mark Lebedew – Photo: CEV

Mark Lebedew authors the At Home on the Court Blog. He coaches professionally in Poland, from january 2021 with eWinner Gwardia Wrocław, in season 2019/20 with Aluron Virtu CMC Warta Zawiercie and in the period 2015-2018 with KS Jastrzębski Węgiel. That follows five seasons Germany where his Berlin Recycling Volleys won three straight league titles and a CEV Champions League bronze medal. He has prior professional experience in Belgium and Italy. Mark was also Head Coach for the Australian Men’s National Team. From 2021/2022 leads VfB Friedrichshafen, while in 2022 he led the Slovenian national team during the Volleyball Nations League.

Mark partnered with his brother and father to translate and publish “My Profession: The Game“, the last book by legendary Russian coach, Vyacheslav Platonov.

With John Forman, he is behind the Volleyball Coaching Wizards project (link http://volleyballcoachingwizards.com/) which identifies great coaches from all levels, making their experience, insights, and expertise available to people all over the world. The project has produced multiple books, a in e-book format available here ( link to http://bit.ly/34yakou ) or at Amazon here (link https://amzn.to/2JRqTE6).

In 2021, he launched project Webinars and Presentations on Demand. If you are interested for coaching presentations and webinars available on demand, click here.

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