There’s an article on the JVA blog titled The Four Rules of Defense. Honestly, I find that title a bit misleading, but the piece does provide a progression for thinking about defense. To quote:

The Four Rules of Defense are:

  1. Defend the overpass.
  2. Defend the free ball.
  3. Defend the setter dump.
  4. Defend the attack.

Note that being prepared to defend the free ball is out of the sequence you’d normally expect, since they most often happen on a 3rd contact. There’s always the chance it happens sooner, though. More to the point, the author makes the case that if the other team shanks the first ball we have to immediately change from expecting an attack to expecting a free ball.

So what we end up with is a progression like this:

A good start, but…

This is a very nice way to think about the thought process defenders should have. The challenge comes with respect to positioning our players. Our base position generally deals with the 1st ball issue – so long as the players are paying attention.

It’s a little trickier when it comes to 2nd ball, especially when facing a fast offense. Here are a couple potentially key considerations.

Do you put a block against the setter attack, or leave it to the back court defenders?

Do the back court defenders prioritize positioning for the setter dump, or for a 3rd contact attack (e.g. a quick)?

The speed of the game at your level is likely to factor heavily in the thinking here. If you don’t face many quick attacks, then you probably don’t need to position your defense for them. If you do, however, it’s a factor.

Ultimately, we want to set up our defense for the thing most likely to happen. To that end, we have to keep in mind the ultimate objective. That’s to win the rally (not simply to just not lose it). We need our defenders in positions that provide the greatest chances for us to do that.

On this subject, you may also find Common violations of defensive principles a useful read.

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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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