Guided Discovery: Blocking

At Gold Medal Squared Coaching Clinics, we learn a lot about the laws of learning. We learn about the concept of transfer, the importance of random/variable practice, and how keys help coaches and players focus their attention and learn faster. As most coaches have discovered, engaging players in the learning process helps them retain information. One technique that many successful coaches use is Guided Discovery.

If we imagine two opposite ends of a spectrum, where one end is the coaching directing everything, and the other is the player figuring everything out, guided discovery would be somewhere in the middle.

how to get better at blocking

With this teaching technique, coaches create situations that lead players into discovering principles of the game. This can be done in practice, by designing game-like drills that create situations for players to learn, and this can also be done outside of practice- for example in a video meeting.

With the Pepperdine men’s team, we’ve been using a specific structure to these individual video meetings to help improve our blocking. It’s simple and any coach can implement these techniques.

Blocking Keys

First of all, if we are trying to guide our players into some discoveries, we better have an idea of where we are guiding them! To do this, we need to have some keys.

There are lots of things to coach your blockers on, but here are three that we are focusing with our wing (left and right side) blockers:

1. See the hitter, see where the set is taking him. We know that hitters like to hit where the ball is taking them, and we need to get in a position where our hands are coming across the net in a position where the ball is likely to cross the net. This means that when the set is all the way out, or past the antenna, that the blocker needs to get all the way out. And when the set is dying inside and the hitter is closing hard, we need to stop short and not fly past. Our blockers know and understand this concept, so we can simply express it as LINEUP.

2. We need to get across the net at the right time. This is eyework and handwork. We need to have the eyework to see the speed of the set, see the hitter, and anticipate the moment of contact and when the ball is going to cross the net. And to that, we need to add the handwork where our arms need to go straight across the net, rather than an up-and-over “swatting” habit that some blockers can get into. Once our blockers understand this concept, we simply call it ACROSS.

3. If we teach our blockers to be dynamic, to run and use their arms to jump, there is more motion involved than a static block move. It is more complex, but we think the trade-off is worth it. However, one tendency that some blockers have is to “helicopter”, where their outside hand is pressing over, but their inside hand is fading off. It’s important to make a move where both hands extend across the net and stay over. Again, a simple key for this is: BOTH HANDS.

Yes or No

Once a blocker understands these 3 keys, it’s pretty simple to use video to help guide them into learning more about their blocking. All you need is some match video and a pencil and paper. I give the player a notepad and we call up all the attacks where he was a blocker. Then he makes a simple grid.

We watch each block move a few times, and he just answers “Yes” or “No” to each of the three keys for each block move. When we get through all of the blocks, we tally up the answers and he gets a score. So maybe he got across 4 times out of 10, which would be 40%.

Often, just by watching their technique for one match, players will become more mindful and start to make changes in practice. The real power comes when you can connect an improvement in technique or process to an improvement in result. For example, here are the results from one blocker:

For this blocker, the biggest area of improvement was obviously in getting his arms across. He had a tendency to go too high and then swat his arms down, which meant that the ball was often past him before he was in a terminal blocking position. I bet you’ve coached a blocker like that!

Encouraging Improvement

We can see pretty clearly that, as this blocker improved his technique, he has been much more effective at stopping opposing hitters- decreasing their efficiency by 50 points over the period of time since he started working on these keys. I have a big chart of his improvement on a whiteboard in my office; anybody who walks in will see each match labeled and how he executed the keys, as well as the hitting efficiency against his block.

It’s pretty obvious how much he’s improving and how his work is paying off. What player wouldn’t get fired up to see that!?

Statistics help us see what a player IS, but a big part of our job as coaches is to see what a player COULD BE. Using this technique helps us bridge that gap, but connecting hard work and improvement in practice to performance in competition.

Give this a shot and let us know what you think! If any of you have used a similar technique, drop us a comment- we’d love to hear about it!

Joe Trinsey