There’s a forum thread at Volley Talk on the subject of the influence of blocking on results. A blog post which suggests blocking may not be that important motivated it. Specifically, blocking is said to be the facet of the game least correlated to wins and losses. The post offers the 2012 University of Oregon women’s team as a prime example. That team played in the NCAA Division I national championship game, but actually was at or near the bottom of the Pac-12 conference in blocks per set during the regular season. Clearly, blocking isn’t all that important!

Are you convinced?

This manner of thinking reminds me of other potential misuses of data.

Blocking is not just about blocks

Of course the big issue with this discussion is that blocking isn’t just about blocks which score points. It is also about forcing hitters to change shots. It’s about funneling balls toward our best defenders. And it’s especially about slowing down hard hit balls. Unfortunately, it’s quite hard to objectively measure those sorts of things directly with standard statistics. We can only get there indirectly by looking at opponent hitting percentages and things like that.

What we can do, though, is ask the question what would happen if we don’t block at all. Once one reaches a sufficiently high level where attacking players hit hard and/or accurately enough to overwhelm the defense it clearly becomes the case that blocking is very important. Even a weak block is generally better than no block at all from this point onward.

Blocking because that’s what you’re supposed to do

That said, below that point where offense overwhelms defense in the absence of a block, it is quite legitimate to ask whether blocking is worthwhile. We as coaches – and by extension our players – often get caught up in the feeling like we have to do things a certain way regardless of the situation. This is another element of the discussion in Using 2-touch games to challenge your players in terms of being able to be effective vs. doing things the “right” way.

How often do you see double blocks put up against teams with no strong hitters? How many times do your own teams do it? I am certainly guilty of that. In all honesty, in part I let it be because I see a risk in making things more confusing for the players if I tell them to only single block or to not block at all. Of course, that just means I should train them to deal with that situation.

So at what point do we want players blocking – singly or doubly (or triply)? Should we always have players block in a developmental context?

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John Forman
John Forman

John most recently coached for an NCAA Division II women's team. That followed 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.

    1 Response to "How important is blocking?"

    • Adam

      I agree with what you are saying about measurement. I also feel that the block can also affect a hitter psychologically. In terms of when to use one blocker vs a double block I also agree with what you said 🙂 I did see an occasion this year where I thought the coach made some adjustments that were brilliant. I live in Canada and watched our university women play at our Nationals. In a semi final match it was a bit of David vs. Goliath (also the title of Gladwell’s new book which is worth a read!). The six time national champion UBC thunderbirds vs Laval. Both great coaches, but one team UBC with more size than Laval. Early on in the match it was apparent that Laval’s only chance was to win by playing great D, serving effectively and digging a ton of balls. Well not only digging, but transitioning those balls as well. UBC not a great defensive team, especially vs tip/rolls. Anyways to make a long story short Laval on four/three passes blocked one v one everywhere and everybody else played D. They lost the match but dug a ton if balls. There were also situations where against the better/stronger UBC attackers in transition or Out of system they would send two blockers one way and go 1v1 the other. Sorry for the length and spelling errors I’m on my phone. 🙂

Please share your own ideas and opinions.