Defense

 

HITTER COVERAGE:

This drill preferably requires 12 players, but can be done with less. Six on one side in serve receive positions and two blockers in each of the three blocking zones on the other side. The coach tosses a ball to the serve receive side who plays out the ball, with so many blockers chances are the ball will be blocked, making sure that the defensive players cover their hitters well. If the blocked ball is picked up, lay it out. If the ball is blocked, the coach who is now standing behind the blocker who made the block, immediately tosses over another ball to be covered as though it has been Blocked. Do this 2-5 times in a row. Repeat a few times and switch front to back and make sure to mix players who have just been blocking.

OFF THE NET SAVES:

Have two groups on either side of the net. Have a line of defenders to save the ball off the net, a setter, and a hitter outside. The coach throws a ball into the net and the defender tries to bump the ball to the setter who sets the ball outside (just catch the ball). A point is awarded if the set ball is actually hittable. This is a difficult drill, but develops an important fundamental tool. Play a game to between 5 and 10.

BAD SET DRILL:

Both teams get set up in defensive positions. The coach stands at right front like the setter (the setter is still in the drill, but just not setting). The coach tosses a ball to any of the hitters, making the toss either a perfect set or a bad one, forcing the hitters to adjust just like in a game. The rally is played out. Switch sides every 5 tosses or so.

BLOCKER DEFENSE:

Set up both teams in defensive position. The coach tosses a ball in to either side to begin. The middle blocker is not allowed to block or hit, they are only to cover tips. The outside hitters must tip at least 1 of every 3 sets. When covering their hitters, all defensive players should take an extra step in. Alternate the side the ball is tossed in and play a rally score game to between 5 and 10 points.

DEFENSE AND BLOCKING:

Set both teams up in defensive positions. This drill is to help blockers and diggers, so there are no quick sets allowed. Only 4s (high outside), 2s (high middle), and 5s (high rightside) are to be set. This enables the defense to get in their correct positions each time. The coaches delivers a free or downball to begin the drill.

DEUCE:

The purpose of the Deuce Drill is to help the sideout team maintain focus and not give up several points in a row. A lapse of focus can result in a run of four or five points which can drastically affect the outcome of a game.

In the Deuce Drill, the players serve to each other with one team starting on 'offense' and serving. The receiving team will begin the drill as the 'defense' team. Each time the offense gets a sideout, they get one point and they rotate. When the defensive team stops them, the defensive team gets to serve. If the defense is able to stop the offense again, they score 2 points (Deuce). They keep serving and scoring 2 points each time they successively stop the offense from siding out. When the offense finally sides out again, the roles are reversed and the offense becomes the defense and so on and so forth.

This drill is somewhat confusing, so be clear that each team is assigned as either 'offense' or 'defense.' You may not want to set a winning score until you can see how the drill is coming along, and can get a feel for the rate of scoring.

DIRTY DAGGLE:

The court is divided up in half and the back line for this game is the 10 foot line. So the game is played within the ten-foot line on only one half of the court. The whole team partners off and 2 players are on one side and 2 are on the other. Using only an underhand serve, one team serves to the other and play begins. Once a team wins a side out, the losers must leave the court and the new challengers come on to face the winning team. Challengers serve. This game is fast paced and a fun way to get everybody involved. The team will love it because it is fun and competitive.

FREEBALL/DOWNBALL DEFENSE:

Set both teams up in defensive positions. The coach tosses a ball to a player in the front row at the ten foot line, who must stay on the ground to hit it over (downball), or to a back row player who must pass the ball over (freeball). Once the coach tosses the ball the drill is on. Rotate front to back every 5 tosses. Switch sides after two rotations. A scoring system can be used if desired.

HIT IT:

Set up both sides of the court in defensive positions. A coach tosses the ball anywhere on or off the court simulating the first contact or dig. A player runs after the ball and tries to bump or hand set the ball to another player to hit it over. Play out the rally. The team who wins the rally gets the next ball. Play to 5 and then rotate.

TEAMWORK:

One server, one passer, a setter, two blockers and two hitters are needed. On the coaches cue, the server puts the ball in play and serves to the lone passer who must pass it to the setter. Meanwhile, both blockers stand in the middle of the court and anticipate where the setter will set it. Once they see where the ball is going, the blockers must react and get into position to block. The hitter goes into the attack and the goal is to get it by the block. Award points to whichever team scores. First team to 10 wins and then switch. Note: if your blockers are not skilled enough to move across the net to block, then start them lining up exactly even with the hitters. This will even the sides chances somewhat.

 

Blocking

All coaching materials contained here have been produced by Coach Luc Tremblay. Like everything posted on our web site, these are provided as a public service and may be re-produced by anyone without prior written permission.

Training the Block

When training the block I break the components down into: Footwork patterns, Posture, and Eye Sequencing. One can certainly add training the athlete’s conditioning and plyometrics training to improve their vertical, but that is beyond the scope of this material.

Footwork pattern: The initial step is the two-step which allows athletes to move 2-3 feet along the net; the shuffle step (step and a hop) allows between 3-5 feet of movement while the step, cross-over step will permit athletes to move approximately 6-8 feet. When attempting to get athletes to move 10 or more feet along the net I generally have them perform a step, cross-over with a shuffle step to finish (hop jump to finish). This can allow female athletes to travel up to 15 feet along the net with little difficulty.

Posture: The blocker should remain “coiled” at the net. That means having the knees bent and loaded to jump. An upright posture forces athletes to gather prior to jumping and greatly affects the timing of the jump. Athletes also have a tendency of standing to close to the net with elbows out to the side. This leads to athletes batting at the ball rather than penetrating cleanly to block. Elbows should be up at 90 degrees and inside. Remember, blocks occur with the hands, not the arms. Fingers should remain open with thumbs up (reduces the chance of injuring the thumbs when a ball is being blocked).

Eye sequencing: Read blocking is broken down into the following sequence: Ball, Setter, Ball, Hitter. The first assignment for the blocker is to determine if the pass is in or out-of-system (ball); secondly, the blocker must learn to identify visual cues from the setter that might give away their intended set (setter); thirdly, the blocker must quickly assess the set. Is it low or high and what hitter is being set (ball); and finally the attacker must be watched to determine their angle of approach and hitting tendency (hitter).

Team Tactics: You may decide that your team’s base position for blocking is “Spread” with blockers spread along the net; “Bunched” with blockers bunched in the middle; “Stacked” this can be either right or left and all these formations have their advantages and disadvantages. These considerations are beyond the scope of this material and I would encourage every coach to discuss this strategy with other coaches. Others may see something you don’t.

Other considerations when preparing your team’s strategy for blocking is that the outside blocker sets the outside block while the inside blocker sets the inside block. Although this may appear obvious to many coaches, training your athletes to make sure they close the block and jump together requires good communication between the blockers and must be practiced regularly. Many coaches at higher levels also use defensive net zones (generally called the A, B, C, D & E zones) to train blocking assignments. Although the outside “A” & “E” and the inside “C” assignments will be obvious to almost any coach it is when athletes are having to defend against the “B” & “D” inside balls that assignments may get confusing between athletes. Depending on the level of play of your athletes this is something to keep in mind.

Cue Words:

  • Coiled – ready position at the net with elbows in and knees bent;
  • Penetrate – reach over the net;
  • See your hands – blockers should see their hands at all times. If they lose sight of their hands that generally means that they are swinging their hands back and swatting at the ball;
  • Jump after the attacker – for timing the jump;
  • Pike – compress the abdominal area prior to contact to help re-enforce the shoulders and arms.

Note: The blocker’s cardinal rule for timing is to jump after the attacker jumps. The blocker’s hands need to be open and strong and should be facing zone 6 of the opponent’s court (initial progression to blocking). At higher levels many coaches will ask their athletes to use their hands independently of each other and I’m a big supporter of that progression. 

There is also some debate about the “Show and Take” move that has become popular in the men’s game. I believe that most coaches in the women’s game prefer to have their athletes penetrate effectively and not attempt to swing their arms to take away that part of the court that they have left open. Liberos, for one, hate to see their blockers get tooled by a ball they could have dug. If you want to be an effective blocker simply remember to penetrate over the net (it reduces the hitters hitting angles) and allow your defense to adjust around you.

IMPORTANT: The following are blocking drills and the focus must remain on the blockers. Whenever live hitters are hitting into blockers they should reward the blocker when he/she has read the hitter properly. Hitters should not be cutting balls around the block attempting to score. That is not helpful to your blockers.

Drills:

Training: Footwork Patterns

Side to Side Footwork: In this drill, your blockers form two lines in court zone 4 on each side of the net. The first player in each line assumes the ready position for blocking then jumps up and mock blocks, takes a two-step to the right, followed by another block. This is repeated as the player travels toward the other side-line and then moves to the back of the line. The drill continues until each player has taken two complete trips along the side of the net. The drill can also be extended by restarting with both lines in court zone 2. All players will then move to their left for two complete trips on each side of the net. A good progression for this drill is to start with a two-step, followed by a shuffle step; step, cross-over step; and a cross-over with a shuffle step to close.

Half-in/half-out: In this drill three athletes are at base position at the net on both sides of the net. They start by mock blocking and stepping to their right where they close their footwork and block again. Then they turn to their left and repeat their footwork in that direction. The athletes must repeat their footwork in one direction followed by the other for a pre-determined amount of jumps. Usually this will be for fifteen or twenty reps. As with the side-to side-footwork drill you can start the exercise with a two-step, then the shuffle step, and finally the cross-over. With three athletes at the net performing a step, cross-over step with a shuffle step is not possible.

Training: Hand Positioning

Hand Position Drill: When you block, you need to surround the ball with your hands. For this drill, players work in pairs using any available court space. Stand on the floor across from your partner, reaching high and in front of your body with your hands in the blocking position.

You can ask your athletes to throw the ball (overhead throw) into the block or hit the ball into the blocker’s hands. The blocker should attempt to surround the ball with her hands and keep her eyes on the ball. This is an excellent drill following pairs passing in any warm-up.

Training: Posture & Movement

It’s very important to teach athletes how to reach over the net to penetrate and not reach straight up. The following three drills are intended to help coaches improve this technique. In each drill athletes should form pairs and stand across the net from each other. They should also attempt to match up with others similar in size and jumping ability.

High Five: Athletes pair up and must jump up and “High five” their partner. This is a quick way to asses their jumping technique and provide some feedback. This can also be used as a conditioning drill.

Ball Catch: One partner jumps and takes the ball from her teammate then bounces it back to her under the net. This drill allows the coaches to focus their attention to all athletes jumping on the same side of the net.

Ball Exchange: Partners jump and pass each other the ball. Each pair would need to exchange the ball a pre-determined amount of times. 

Coach on Box Drills: Coach stands on chair. This is a progressive drill with athletes lined up on the opposite side of the net. Once they have collectively blocked a pre-determined amount of attacks they must step away and now perform a pre-determined footwork pattern prior to blocking. I generally start with a two-step (2-3 feet away from the coach), followed by a shuffle step and finally with a step, cross-over step.

Training: Eye Sequencing for Blocking

Eye sequencing for Read Blocking is broken down into “Ball, Setter, Ball, Hitter.” In general, the first component I train is that of reading the hitter. The following three drills are designed to help athletes improve their ability to read the hitter.

Shadow Drill: Six athletes are at the net (three pairs of two). This is simply a mirror drill with one athlete moving to her right and then her left forcing the opposite athlete to follow and front her hitting shoulder at all times.

Fronting the Hitter: In this drill, three players pull back to the attack line. Each attacker needs to take a quick approach to either side of the blocker and then takes a simulated swing. The blocker reacts to the movement of the attacker to get in front of the hitter and jump to block just after the attacker leaves the ground.

Read the Hitter: This is a coach-centered drill that involves two blockers and a hitting line. The coach tosses a ball over the blockers and the hitter must react and attack ball. Blockers, in turn, must react to the hitter’s body angles and try to block the ball that has traveled over their shoulders and is being spiked at them by an attacker. The hitter then becomes the outside blocker and the inside blocker shags the ball.

T Drills: This is a progressive series designed to help blockers in all aspects of their read blocking. Three blockers start at the net with a line behind the middle blocker. On the other side of the net there is a setter and two catchers, one at each antenna. Note that you can also make this two hitting lines if you have many athletes in your gym. The coach tosses a ball to the setter. At this time the blockers watch the ball (in-system or out – coach’s choice); then the blocker watch’s the setter (hands, posture, etc.) until the ball is set; the blocker would then quickly watch the ball to read its direction and height; finally they must read the hitter’s approach and front the hitter. At first the coach may ask the hitters to catch the ball, and then later hit the ball.

Training: Various Blocking Situations

Net Decision: Athletes must be trained to play over-bumps correctly. Common errors include standing to close to the net and misreading the trajectory of the incoming ball. This is a partner drill with one partner tossing balls over the net for her teammate to play. The decision the blocker must make is whether to play the ball by hitting it down, re-directing it to the side or backing off the net and overhead passing the ball. The decision is based on the height of the ball as it crosses the net. The higher the ball, the more defensively the blocker should play it.

Block & Recover: When blockers face a joust at the net they may be forced into a situation where they have to come down from the block attempt and play a ball that has been deflected nearby. This situation also requires some training. This is a coach-centered drill with athletes lining up opposite the coach. The blocker must jump and push on the ball. The coach, standing on a box, then pushes back slightly and flicks the ball to one side or the other of the athlete. The blocker must land and recover the re-directed ball.

Block & Turn: After attempting to block the ball, athletes need to turn and be ready for the next play, should the ball come to them. On the coach’s command the blocker executes a simulated block and turns toward the coach as soon as possible after the block. The coach then tosses a ball the athlete who must call for the ball and set it to the outside hitter. The attacker takes her swing, shags the ball and then goes to the end of the blocking line. The blocker moves to the attacking line after setting.

Blocking: Games

The Jousting Game: This is a “Queen’s Court” game with one athlete on the winning side and all other athletes on the challenger’s side. The coach tosses a ball above the net where both athletes at the net must jump and joust to win the point. The winner goes to the winner’s side and the next challenger steps in. The game continues until one player has one a pre-determined amount of points.

Middle vs. Middle: One middle blocker stands at the net opposite another middle blocker. Each has a coach ready to toss balls and a setter. One coach tosses to his setter who sets her middle who then attacks the ball while the opposing middle attempts to single block. The other coach then tosses to his setter who sets her middle. First athlete to perform a pre-determined amount of blocks wins the game.