A member of an online volleyball coaching community asked members to provide a list of pros and cons for triple blocking a back row attack. I want to broaden that out and discuss blocking back row swings generally.

So here goes!

Should we block at all?

I think it’s first worth reviewing something I talked about in How important is blocking? Specifically, we need to ask the question, “What would happen if we don’t block?”

Give this some real thought.

You probably play some form of back row 3s or 4s in your gym. How many swings result in kills when there isn’t a block? That’s the starting point for your general blocking strategy. You’ll then want to adjust based on whether your team is better or worse than average hitting out of the back row.

If a high percentage of back row swings result in kills – or at least balls that put your team out-of-system – blocking is probably a good idea. If not, then you’re probably better off not doing it.

What do we mean by “high percentage”?

Well, let’s think in terms of other hitters. At what % of successful attacks would you think it’s worth it to block a front row hitter. That should be your basis for comparison. Remember to include balls that aren’t dug well enough to get a good transition opportunity. And of course we only want to consider hard swings, not tips and roll shots.

We also need to think in terms of block quality. If you block, will it meaningfully reduce the percentage of successful attacks? Or might it make things worse?

For a lot of teams hitters are not effective enough out of the back row and/or the blocking isn’t good enough to make a positive difference. They probably shouldn’t block. For others, though, they should.

Getting more specific

The above thought process gives you a general strategy. From there you’ll want to think about whether you need to change your strategy in certain situations. This is the sort of thing I wrote about in Thoughts on opponent scouting.

For example, you might have a general strategy of not blocking the back row attack. Against certain teams, or specific hitters, however, you feel like it makes sense. Or maybe you normally just block with your middle, but in some cases you feel adding a second block is the preferred strategy. Alternatively, you could have blocking as your base strategy, but decide against it when playing certain teams.

All of this comes from assessing the percentages in the way I talked about above. You’re basically thinking in terms of whether certain hitters are above or below the average you used to define your general blocking strategy.

Here’s an example scenario.

When I coached in England there weren’t many back row attackers I worried about. So as a generally strategy we didn’t block. If a particular hitter was stronger than average, though, I’d tell my middle to block. Usually, though, my guidance was to only block if they could line the hitter straight up and they could go straight up and down in their block. Otherwise the risk of an undiggable ball off the block was too high.

When do you triple block?

So let’s return to the question I started this post with. What are the pros and cons of triple blocking?

Not surprisingly, most of the respondents didn’t actually answer the question. They just shared their views on whether to do it or not for a given level of play (the original poster did not mention level of play).

Anyway, here’s my list. By the way, it applies equally to any situation where you’re thinking to add blockers (0 to 1, 1 to 2).

Pro: The block takes up more court area

Con: There are more hands for the hitter to use, there are fewer defenders to cover the court, and those in the block can have longer transitions.

It looks like a lopsided comparison, doesn’t it? You have to balance things out in your decision-making, though. It’s the exact same rationale for multi-blocking or not against a front row hitter. The decision comes down to a simple consideration.

Will adding a blocker in this situation reduce the number of net successful attacks?

When I say net successful attacks I’m referring to two elements. First is the hard swing stuff – kills and defended balls that your team can’t get good transition attacks from. Second is the increase in those sorts of outcomes coming from any increase in tips and shots, plus balls off the block. If expanding the block is to make sense it has to reduce the former more than any offsetting increase in the latter.

And keep in mind that math is going to vary based on which blockers are involved. You might need to think differently, for example, when your setter is front row vs. when it’s your opposite.

As you can see, deciding on a blocking strategy for back row attacks is a multilayered process.

Note: You may also be interested in my post on back row attacking strategy.

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John Forman
John Forman

John is currently the Talent Strategy Manager (oversees the national teams) and Indoor Performance Director for Volleyball England, as well as Global Director for Volleyball for Nation Academy. His volleyball coaching experience includes all three NCAA divisions, plus Junior College, in the US; university and club teams in the UK; professional coaching in Sweden; and both coaching and club management at the Juniors level. He's also been a visiting coach at national team, professional club, and juniors programs in several countries. Learn more on his bio page.

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