swing blocking IN VOLLEYBALL – AN INTRODUCTION
For decades now, Gold Medal Squared has been known for being one of the best resources for training the skill of blocking in volleyball. Furthermore, we have been recommending swing blocking in volleyball for all levels and genders for as long as we’ve been around. Today, we are thrilled to see that an overwhelming majority of volleyball teams around the world are using this technique. In this article, we will take a deep dive in to the principles, mechanics, tactics, and commons traps related to swing blocking in volleyball.
What is Swing Blocking?
Swing blocking is a movement that is used by blockers in the sport of volleyball. Rather than the athlete using a traditional blocking move, which involves shuffle footwork while staying square to the net, swing blocking allows the athlete to open up and “swing” their arms to gain speed and momentum (full breakdown below).
Now, before we dive into the details of swing blocking, we need to raise some issues. One issue is that blocking is not the most important skill in high school volleyball, and swing blocking takes time to learn and is not easy to teach. If you are working on blocking then you’re not working on serving and receiving. Furthermore, if you are working on swing blocking (as opposed to regular blocking) it takes even more time to learn and there is even less time to work on serving and receiving.
Nevertheless, swing blocking has been in our curriculum for decades because we think the time spent pays off in the long run.
Next, we have had tremendous success teaching swing blocking at the juniors level, collegiate level, the international level, and with both male and female athletes. Historically, this was a technique primarily used by men’s volleyball players, but over the past 10-15 years, more and more women’s players have adopted the technique with great success. Today, nearly all high-level women’s volleyball teams are using swing blocking as their primary blocking move.
Biomechanically, you don’t have to look far for evidence showing that swing blocking in volleyball produces greater jump height, greater blocking area, and greater hand penetration. Furthermore, the move from point A to point B is faster than a traditional block move (shorter time of approach) and allows for more efficient adjusting along the net.
Our Approach To Swing Blocking
- Swing blocking skill breakdown
- Common traps
- When to begin teaching swing blocking
GMS Blocking Principles
- Swing blocking allows blockers to faster and jump higher
- Hitters hit where the set takes them
- Early vision leads to faster movements
- Simplicity = repeatability
Technique Breakdown – 3-Step Crossover Footwork Keys
Ensuring that your athletes have efficient, repeatable footwork patterns is the first key to developing a good swing blocking move. Below is our step-by-step guide to learning swing-blocking footwork patterns. The primary pattern, which is used by an overwhelming majority of top volleyball programs, is called the 3-step crossover. Key #1a – Small first step with the lead leg Why? We want our swing blocking moves to be fast and dynamic. Worry less about covering ground on the first step and more about speed. In fact, many of the best swing blockers in the world, both men and women, will take a negative step here.
Key #1b – Big second step with the crossover leg. Why? This is where blockers generate speed and power to jump high, cover ground, and adjust to set locations. Remember, hitters hit where the set takes them, so having the ability to adjust is important.
Key #1c – Third step squares to the hitter Why? In order to effectively run fast and cover ground with the earlier steps, we need to open our hips and square up to the pole or sideline. At the point of contact with the ball, we want to be square to the net, so we need an intermediate position to keep us from ‘windmilling’ our arms (waving them outside our body), and to help get us back around to square as we get across the net. Staying square to the hitter also allows our blockers to get over the net in a faster, more compact way. It also allows blockers to use their momentum to jump without “putting on the breaks” with a foot angle that fully squares up to the net.
Key #1d – Square to the net Why? A blocker is in the best position to block the ball and get the furthest across the net if their shoulders are square to the net when they reach across, so we’ll continue the rotation from sideline/pole, to hitter, and then to being square to the net when we finally reach to block. Also, we should note that if keys a, b, and c are done properly, the player will experience some natural rotation and land facing into the court. This move will happen largely on its own due to momentum, speed, and the body auto-adjusting to the demands of the task. Some coaches will pro-actively teach their athletes how to land using a split motion, which is demonstrated here. At GMS, we are neutral on this idea. The body is pretty good at figuring out how to land on its own, but there may be times when it’s necessary to pro-actively teach this skill.
The videos below illustrate the same 3-step cross-over footwork pattern for swing blocking, this time from a different angle.
Skill Breakdown – Armwork Keys
Key #2a – Hands down on the first step Why? Many blockers will start the leading move with their hands high above their waist – up around their heads or shoulders, especially if they start from a ‘hands up’ ready position.. This is slow and inefficient. We want a fast, compact move on this first step, and leading with our hands low about waist level helps accomplish this goal. You can see in this video that the athlete’s hands drop to waist height on her first step, making it easy to get into her double-arm back movement.
Key #2b – Double arm lift on the second step Why? Once the arms drop on the first step, the athlete will then make a big double arm lift to help with momentum and drive over the net.
Key #3 – Slight elbow bend when jumping Why? We like this move to help the blocker avoid hitting the net and to get their hands over the net faster. Again, it’s an efficient, compact move that speeds things up. In the video below, you will see this small, subtle bend as the athlete swings up and over the net.
Key #4 – Fast hands OVER the net Why? This is arguably one of the most difficult parts of swing blocking. Often times your athletes will make a double move here, reaching up and then over. With the double move, the blocker’s hands end up in the right position AFTER the ball has already passed them. We recommend spending considerable time training your blockers to get over the net with one fast, efficient movement. The video below is a great example of one, fast move over the net.
SWING BLOCKING – PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER
Below are video examples of a complete 3-step cross-over swing blocking move.
The first video below is a right-front blocker starting in her base defensive spot.
The second is a middle-front blocker starting in the middle of the net.
Notice the similarities between the two swing blockers in the video below. They utilize the same keys from start to finish.
- Both athletes use a small first step.
- Their hands lead low near their waist on the first step.
- Both athletes have a big second step with a big double arm lift.
- Both athletes square to the hitter, then square to the net as they press straight over.
The only notable difference between the two moves is the larger second step taken by the middle blocker. Again, we use the second step to cover ground, and because the middle blocker has to travel further, her second step will be larger.
COMMON TRAPS WHEN TEACHING SWING BLOCKING
As we’ve mentioned, the swing blocking move in volleyball is a more dynamic skill than traditional static blocking. Because of this, it may take you longer to really fine-tune the skill with your athletes. However, coaches around the world have gotten better at understanding and teaching swing blocking mechanics. We now see little variation at the highest levels of play when it comes to the footwork and arm work covered. That said, we should still point out some of the common traps or mistakes that we see on the regular.
- Arms stay high or ‘wave’ high (head level) during the first step. This is much slower, inefficient, and disrupts our rhythm.
- A big, slow first step.
- Rather than staying square to the hitter, the blocker squares to the sideline. This requires a slower, longer swing and rotation back towards the net.
- A slow, loopy swing up and over the net rather than a fast, compact move with slightly bent elbows.
- When trying to press over the net, blockers will often times make a “double move,” reaching high, then over. We want one more, pressing straight over the net. Being over is more important than being high.
WHEN SHOULD I BEGIN TEACHING SWING BLOCKING TO MY ATHLETES?
We know that there’s a strong correlation between power and the value of blocking. In other words, the less powerful the team, the less important blocking will be. Blocking for your U14s team will be less impactful than blocking at the Olympic level. That said, there’s value in teaching the mechanics at a young age. We recommend introducing the 3-step crossover swing blocking fundamentals early, but you don’t need to spend enormous amounts of time on it. As your athletes get older and stronger, blocking becomes more important, and more time will be allocated towards it.
ACCESS MORE BLOCKING TIPS ON GMS+
If you enjoyed this article and would like even more information on blocking, please check out GMS+, our web-based volleyball education platform.