Common violations of defensive principles

In his book, Thinking Volleyball, author and legendary coach Mike Hebert includes an interesting list. It features what he describes as common violations of defensive principles. I can say from my own coaching experience that it is a very good list, so I share it here. (The violations in bold are Hebert’s. The comments below them are mine.)

Creeping into the block shadow

Generally speaking, defensive systems are designed to have back court defenders positioned around the block. Often, however, players end up behind the block, and thus out of position.

Not being stopped and balanced at the moment of contact by the hitter

In order to be able to react in any possible direction, a player must be stopped before the ball is attacked. If a defender is still moving at hitter contact, their movement direction will limit their ability to make a play on the ball.

Watching the wrong things; eyes stuck on the ball

Defenders looking only at the ball will not be fully prepared for how it will come across the net. The flight of the ball does offer some information, but it will be the position and movement of the player attacking the ball which determines the most likely angles and areas of attack.

Poor first-step mechanics (false stepping)

This is when a player’s first move in reaction to the ball is a negative one – their weight shifts backwards rather than forwards, for example. Obviously, this means a delay in the actual move to play the ball.

Breaking posture throughout base-to-read movement (leaning, jumping, or any other unnecessary or inefficient movement prior to hitter contact)

This is closely related to not being stopped on hitter contact in that it means the body is not prepared to react in any necessary way or direction to play the ball.

Poor platform mechanics (swiveling, telescoping, hands together too early)

I think this one is pretty self-explanatory – bad digging technique.

Leaning back to dig or receive ball

Leaning back puts the weight on the heals, making it difficult to react to a change in ball flight.

Sluggish recovery after play on the ball (get up quickly!)

Hopefully, I don’t need to comment on this!

Creating unnecessarily dramatic dig by being out of position or utilizing poor timing

We’ve all seen it. It looks great, but we want to see the player properly positioned and the ball reacted to in a timely fashion.

Turning the head away from a hard driven ball

Kind of hard to dig a ball with any accuracy if you’re not looking at it and if you’re head movement is also resulting in platform movement.

Allowing the eyes to bounce with the head (need eyes level while moving)

If the eyes are bouncing it means the ball is moving in the player’s vision, making an accurate read of ball trajectory harder.

I think this is a pretty comprehensive list. Anything you think is missing?

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John Forman
About the Author: John Forman
John currently coaches for an NCAA Division II women's team. This follows a stint as head coach for a women's professional team in Sweden. Prior to that he was the head coach for the University of Exeter Volleyball Club BUCS teams (roughly the UK version of the NCAA) while working toward a PhD. He previously coached in Division I of NCAA Women's Volleyball in the US, with additional experience at the Juniors club level, both coaching and managing, among numerous other volleyball adventures. Learn more on his bio page.

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