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How To Block Back-Row Attacks in Volleyball



Written by Chris McGown

In volleyball, it’s possible for your attackers to be set in both the front-row and the back-row. When an athlete is set in the back-row, they must jump from behind the 3-meter line in order for the play to be legal. In this article, we are going to explore some ideas that will help your blockers see and ultimately block more attacks coming from the back-row.


While there isn’t any official requirements when it comes to naming sets in volleyball, the terminology suggested below are the most common names at both the NCAA and International levels.

BIC – The bic is a set to a back-row attacker that goes just over the top of the quick hitter. On good teams this is a second-step set, and on really good teams it gets to be a third-step set.

PIPE – We would consider the pipe a bit more “old school” as it’s traditionally a slower version of the bic. As the game has evolved, more and more teams are running the bic which is simply a faster version of the traditional pipe. It’s pretty hard to find a team running an in-system pipe (1st step set) these days so for the sake of this article, we will talk primarily about the BIC.

When run well, the bic is a VERY hard play to defend. Watch any of the film from the Olympics and you’ll see that nobody from any team stops that play with regularity. In fact, they almost never stopped it when teams were in-system, making it an extremely effective offensive play at the top levels. However, as power and age decrease, so does the effectiveness of the play.

A lot of how you block back-row sets, particularly the bic, starts becoming more about tactics within the basic blocking keys. We don’t want our players to “guess” about where the ball is going to be set – we want them to read and react. But you can get your players in position to have their reactions be faster: load on med/bad passes, load when there is no quick in your zone, dedicate on middles that are hurting you, etc. But we still want players reading and reacting from those spots.

Often times we will get asked about the “baby jump” and “big jump” which means you only jump a little on the quick hitter so as to be able to jump again on the bic. My thought is that you can’t try to baby jump the quick all the time or you’ll get hammered there. If you read the quick, jump on the quick completely and if you get fooled see what you can do to try and jump again. It’s a tough play, no doubt about it.

We do see middle blockers at the very highest levels, most of whom are 6’10” or taller and in the men’s game, do some of this. However, it’s much, much harder for those who can’t get their hands over the net without jumping 🙂

As for trying to triple block the bic, it becomes a question of where your block is deployed, but one of our principles is that at some levels, more blockers are better than fewer blockers – at the HS Boys level that is probably the case. The trouble with keeping your wing blockers in to help on the quick/bic is that you make it hard for them to get to the pins if the offense is that fast. My sense from the matches I have seen is that HS offensives aren’t going to be good enough to go that fast consistently. If that’s the case in your league, and you are getting beat in the middle of the court, it wouldn’t be a bad play to try.

When dealing with a perfect pass, blocking becomes more about the math – what is hurting us more, the bic or the MB? If only a few balls are getting killed via the bic every match but a lot of sets are going to the quick, I am happy to have my middle jump on balls that he thinks are set to the quick (but actually go to the bic) a little more often. The other thing to really try to get a sense of is any kind of “tell” the setter has (most HS setters will set the bic a little differently than the quick), and what patterns he might have (likes to go bic in a certain rotation, likes to go bic in transition, likes to go bic on a perfect pass, etc). If you can chart a setter for a match, you can start to see some of these patterns.

Finally, we also need to worry about our right side blocker and decide when they are going to help. There are a few questions here as well – how fast are the outside sets? Do I have time to really help on the quick/bic and still get outside effectively? Once again it turns into a probability equation – let’s put our blockers in the spots that see the most action, and in spots that allow them to defend the most likely attack the best.

The biggest take-away when it comes to blocking back-row attackers in volleyball is that your blockers have to have great footwork and even better eyework. Get them moving well and seeing the right things early and you’ll be in pretty good shape.

Finally, one last thing: if you can chart the bic hitters to see where they like to hit the ball and get your back-row defenders in those spots, that is another HUGE help. If you can’t block the bic, you can dig it (especially HS kids out of the back row – not too many of them are crushing back row swings).

I hope this helps!

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