High School Blocking Systems

by
Tom Fakehany

One of the most neglected areas in high school volleyball is blocking tactics. Many times you will walk around the gym at a tournament and watch as team after team lines up their blockers -- outside blocker one arm's length in from the antenna and middle blocker right in front of the opposition's setter. That is fine as long as your opponents all run the same offense, have players of equal ability, and have the same tendencies in all rotations. Since this is obviously not the case, your team can benefit from the use of different blocking systems for different situations. Some teams use four different blocking systems during matches. Since most players are also trained to block in all three positions at the net, this gives us 12 different possibilities to use in any blocking situation. These different looks allow you to adjust to your opponent's tendencies in every rotation and also to hide a weak blocker on your side. Why do teams which stand their 5'4" setter in right front every time and let the opposition's best hitter bomb the ball over her. If your philosophy is that the setter needs to be ready to set, then there are three ideas for you: 1.If you block the ball you don't need to worry about setting it. 2.If the other team's best player is hitting over your short blocker you aren't going to dig many balls to be set. 3.Your other players should have enough ball control to set a high ball in transition. Blocking is the quickest, surest way to score points. Don't worry about what will happen if the ball gets by the block until you have aligned the blockers in order to give them the best chance to block the ball.
There are four blocking systems (bunch, spread, load, and shade) and you should use them all during the season. Also discuss will be some thoughts on team blocking strategy and training players to block from all positions.
Spread Blocking
Spread blocking is the basic system used by most teams. The deployment of the blockers is listed at the beginning of this article. You use this system about 35% of the time and chiefly against teams with the following characteristics:

Basic 4-1-5 offense
No dominant player
Ineffective quick attack
This system should allow us to have one blocker up in the middle all the time and hopefully a double block on the outside, though you all have experience with teams that don't close the block on the outside. A team can be effective with this strategy until you run into a team with a more sophisticated offense or one with one or two dominant players.
Bunch Blocking
Bunch blocking is the next most popular system in our blocking strategies. Most teams use this system about 35% of the time. The deployment of the blockers is as follows: Right Side Blocker: Fronts the opponent's back one set. Middle Blocker: Fronts the opponent's front one set. Left Side Blocker: Fronts the opponent's 31 (shoot) set. This system is very effective against teams that set a variety of quick sets, run combination plays, or hit two's or thirty-two's frequently. In bunch blocking You know you will have a blocker waiting for any quick set as well as the ability to get two or three blockers up on any play set. You accomplish this without giving up the ability to put up a double block on the outside.
Load Blocking
Load blocking is an extremely useful system against any team that runs a 5-1 offense or has a weak attack on the right side. This system can be used anywhere between 10-25% of the time. Anytime a team has only two front row hitters who are hitting in front of the setter or has a weak attacker behind the setter you shift into load blocking (you would probably be surprised at how many teams have two or three rotations like this).
The deployment of blockers is as follows:
Right Side Blocker: Starts at the antenna
Middle Blocker: Fronts the opponent's 31 set
Left Side Blocker: Fronts the opponent's front one set
This system allows us to always have one blocker up on the quick set and reduce the amount of movement necessary to form a solid block on the outside. When you are in this system, the back row players know they have total responsibility for the setter's attacks. I have found this system to be capable of shutting down most teams in their front row setter rotations.
Shade Blocking
Shade blocking is used most of the time against some teams and not at all against others. This system is used against teams that run a very effective front one set. The deployment of blockers is as follows:
Right Side Blocker: Starts one arm's length in from the antenna
Middle Blocker: Starts three feet in front of the opposition's setter
Left Side Blocker: Starts next to the middle blocker in front of the opponent's setter
This system allows us to put two blockers up on the opponent's middle (who is hitting 1's). You use this to control a hot hitter who is putting away the one set consistently.
Mix and Match
You frequently will give each blocker a system in which to line up. A common example of this is the following:
Right Side Blocker: Spread
Middle Blocker: Bunch
Left Side Blocker: Bunch
This allows you to protect against the one, the back one, and play sets while leaving a strong right side blocker waiting for the four set. It is important to define your blocker's responsibilities within each system. For example, when you are in bunch all three blockers are expected to be up blocking any second tempo set. When you are in load you might tell our left side blocker to go and triple block the four set. All your players are prepared to block in any position. You frequently leave our outsides on the right and our opposites on the left. During the past high school season you had one rotation in which an outside hitter blocked middle. The use of various systems has had a psychological benefit on our team as well. Our players know they are expected to call out the oppositions hitters and tendencies each time you serve. They also receive the system from the bench before each serve. This ensures the players are completely focused on the task at hand. I also feel that all the attention you pay to blocking tactics creates an atmosphere in which our players expect to be in the right place at the right time. This in turn fosters a very aggressive attitude towards blocking. Teams are greatly affected by the effective use of blocking strategies. When a middle blocker is faced with a double block while hitting the one or the outside hitter looks at two blockers waiting outside for her in her team's two hitter rotations, their confidence can be drastically reduced.
If you deploy your blockers strategically and let them know you expect results, you will find your team scoring more light points and seizing momentum through shutting down your opponent's offense.