Saturday, 13 Jul 2024

10 Keys to Middle Blocking

Originally published in VolleyballUSA, Fall 2010

Three-time Olympian Heather Bown shares her expertise on becoming a top middle blocker in the world. Bown’s international volleyball career spanned over a decade, during which she showcased her skills and knowledge.

Her tips have proven valuable for current USA middle blocker Foluke Akinradewo, who was chosen as MVP of the World Grand Prix in 2010 shortly after joining the U.S. Women’s National Team.

In this article, we will explore Heather’s ten essential keys to becoming a better middle blocker and improving your performance on the court.

Key #1: Ready Position

To start off, it is crucial for a middle blocker to maintain a good ready position. This means keeping your knees bent and staying balanced on both feet. By staying low and athletic, you will be able to move more explosively.

Key #2: Finding the Right Distance

Positioning yourself correctly in relation to the net is vital. As a general rule, stand about a foot and a half to two feet from the net. To fine-tune the distance, put your elbows bent at your sides (as if holding a tray) and reach straight out with your hands until your fingers touch the net. Adjust as necessary during drills and matches. Being too close to the net can hinder your ability to penetrate and increase the risk of netting, while being too far leaves a gap that makes it easier for the opponent to hit past you.

Key #3: Scouting the Opposition

While scouting may be more common at the international level, it’s still important for middle blockers to make mental notes about the opposing team’s rotation. Three key questions to consider are:

  • Is the setter in the front or back row? (Is she an active attacker when in the front?)
  • Who are the hitters in the front row?
  • Who is the go-to hitter in each rotation? Identifying the opponent’s key player will help you be prepared for crucial moments in the match.
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Key #4: Reading the Pass

Observing the location of the ball after the pass can provide valuable insights into how the play is likely to unfold. If the pass is tight and the opponent’s setter is in the front row, be prepared for a setter dump. An off-the-net pass indicates that the setter is unlikely to run a middle attack. Pay attention to overpasses as well. If the ball is over the net or within a few feet, you can try to attack it. Otherwise, focus on passing it back. Remember to be patient when dealing with tight balls to avoid interfering with the setter.

Key #5: Footwork Techniques

Once you are in the ready position, it’s essential to master the footwork techniques used by middle blockers to move laterally. The traditional footwork involves a big first step with the lead leg in the direction of the set, followed by a crossover step and a close step. This explosive movement allows you to cover more ground. Another technique, known as swing blocking, involves a small directional step followed by a larger dynamic step while turning adjacent to the net. Both techniques require maintaining a half-squat position for better mobility.

Key #6: Getting over the Net

Remember that reaching high above the net is not as crucial as getting over it. Even shorter blockers can find success by extending their reach beyond the net. Hitting the ball a few inches above the tape can lead to effective blocks and disrupt the opponent’s attack.

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Key #7: Creating a Solid Wall

Your goal as a middle blocker is to create a formidable wall with your hands on the other side of the net. To achieve this, jump and extend your arms as straight as possible over the net, locking your shoulders. The space between your thumbs and pointing fingers should be in line with your shoulders, with your hands tilted at a 45-degree angle from your wrist. Maintain a strong and firm hand position, avoiding slapping at the ball.

Key #8: Communication with the Back-Row Players

Collaborating and communicating with your back-row players is crucial for effective blocking. They have a better view of the net and can provide valuable feedback. By working together as a team, you can enhance your defensive strategies. At advanced levels, it’s important to share information about the hitters’ tendencies to ensure effective coverage.

Key #9: Independent Hands

As you advance in your skills, consider utilizing independent hands while blocking. This technique involves keeping your hands separate to take away specific shots. For example, you can use one hand to block the seam shot and the other to defend against cross-court hits. Practicing this technique will enhance your versatility and make it more challenging for the opponent to find gaps in your block.

Key #10: Respect and Sportsmanship

Finally, it’s essential to maintain respect and sportsmanship while blocking. Celebrate your successful blocks by acknowledging your teammates’ contributions and fostering team spirit. Avoid being obnoxious or disrespectful to the opposing players, as it can create unnecessary tension and negatively impact the game.

By implementing these ten keys to middle blocking into your training and gameplay, you’ll be on your way to becoming a more effective and successful middle blocker on the volleyball court.

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Q: What is the ready position for a middle blocker?

A: The ready position for a middle blocker involves keeping your knees bent and maintaining balance on both feet. Staying low and athletic allows for more explosive movements.

Q: What should I consider when scouting the opposing team as a middle blocker?

A: As a middle blocker, it’s important to take note of the opposing team’s rotation. Focus on the setter’s position, the hitters in the front row, and identify the go-to hitter in each rotation.

Q: How can I improve my footwork as a middle blocker?

A: Mastering the footwork techniques for middle blockers is essential. Practice the traditional footwork, which involves a big first step, a crossover step, and a close step. Additionally, explore swing blocking techniques, incorporating small directional steps and larger dynamic steps.

Q: How can I communicate effectively with my back-row players as a middle blocker?

A: Communication with your back-row players is crucial for effective blocking. They have a better perspective of the net, so ask for their feedback and collaborate as a team. At advanced levels, share information about the tendencies of the opposing hitters to enhance your defensive strategies.


To excel as a middle blocker in volleyball, it’s vital to master crucial skills and techniques. By focusing on your ready position, footwork, and communication with teammates, you can become a formidable force on the court. Additionally, scouting the opposing team and understanding their tendencies will give you a strategic advantage. Remember to always play with respect and sportsmanship, celebrating your successes as a team. Incorporate these keys into your training and gameplay to elevate your middle blocking abilities.