Swing Blocking, by Carl McGown

Swing Blocking, by Carl McGown

It was in 1985 that what is now Gold Medal Squared was founded. We called ourselves Canyon Volleyball then (we lived in Provo Canyon), and we sent out brochures to all the schools in Utah, and most of the schools that border Utah in Idaho, Colorado, Wyoming, and Nevada.

Our very first customers were Dubois, Idaho; Cortez Colorado; and Mountain Crest, Rich County, and Spanish Fork, Utah. Two of those five won State Championships the following season (Dubois and Spanish Fork). Mountain Crest won in 1986, and soon (1988) Rich County (and Cindy Stuart) dominated their division and they have won 16 titles (and counting).

When I look back on the curriculum that was in place in 1985 I am delighted to see that the way we wanted to teach volleyball then is not so far away from the way we want to teach volleyball now (I take this as good news, because it means that we actually knew what we were doing even back then).

Of course there have been refinements, modifications, and changes. Probably the greatest change is in the way we now teach individual blocking.

BYU Men’s Volleyball – The Blocking Factory

In 1999 I decided that the BYU men’s team I was coaching should learn how to swing block. We did our best to put it in place and it helped us to a 30-1 season and the NCAA championship. Because it was such an effective technique for the BYU boys we started teaching swing blocking in our camps in the summer of 1999 and we have been doing it ever since.

Swing blocking raises 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 you are not working on serving and receiving, and 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 over 10 years because we think the time spent pays off in the long run in making teams better at blocking (and probably defense).

Is Swing Blocking More Effective?

There is also a results issue. Are teams better at blocking if they use swing blocking? Check out the table from the 2005 NCAA season that lists the top blocking teams in Division 1. We know that at least four of these teams—St. Mary’s, Utah, Cal Poly, and NCAA champion Washington—are swing blocking because we helped train them. The results are impressive. Four of the top blocking teams in the country were swing blocking and Washington, while ranked only number 16, was the best defensive team in the PAC 10 (swing blocking is not only about blocking it is also about total team defense) and was able to win the national championship.

School Games Solo Blocks Block Assists Blocks Per Game

1. Nebraska 116 66 823 4.12
2. St. Mary’s (Cal.) 110 51 706 3.67
3. Utah 123 61 765 3.61
4. Louisville 122 97 679 3.58
5. Penn State 111 106 582 3.58
6. Notre Dame 124 174 534 3.56
7. Wisconsin 115 76 663 3.54
8. Washington State 113 94 604 3.5
9. Colorado State 108 79 575 3.39
10. Hawaii 117 59 676 3.39
11. UNI 117 55 662 3.3
12. Arkansas 127 55 724 3.28
13. Maryland 122 71 646 3.23
14. Pepperdine 108 98 492 3.19
15. Cal Poly 91 30 509 3.13
16. Washington 108 43 589 3.13

The Biomechanics of Swing Blocking

The results seem to be there. But why is swing blocking good? Perhaps the final issue is biomechanics. Consider the results of a recent thesis by Kevin Ulmer (you can read his thesis here: arm_swing_blocking_Div_1.pdf)

His thesis was designed to examine:

His major purpose was:
The purpose of this study was to compare the use of a swing vs. crossover blocking technique in blocking performances.

His major findings were:
Swing blocking is recommended as it produces a greater block height and longer block time, but does not take longer to perform than the traditional crossover technique.

There you have it.

More and more club, high school, and college teams are using it. If you watched the NCAA championship match both UCLA and Illinois were in a bunch read and were swing blocking. Our USA women (currently ranked number ONE in the world) are in a bunch read and are swing blocking.

You should be swing blocking (if you would like a handout on what we think you should teach, email us – info@goldmedalsquared.com and we will send one to you).

Swing blocking (since 1999) in our gym and since 2012 in your gym.

Carl McGown
Gold Medal Squared

2 comments on Swing Blocking, by Carl McGown

  1. Name *Sarah Wall-Carl Junction High School says:

    One thing that really helped our high school girls was a comment Chris McGown made at a GMS coaches clinic. I told him our high school girls were swing blocking but continued to have the ball fall in front of them at the net on an attempted block. It was frustrating but I wasn’t watching their footwork. He told me to make sure our girls were remaining parallel to the net on their first step. Once we got back to the gym to work, I noticed that was exactly our problem! We were taking our first step too far back and were not reading the hitter! We are continuing to get better at this skill! An inch makes a mile of difference for our 5’7″ blockers!

  2. Arlisha says:

    >Dear Joe (Part II),When these factors are codnisered In the context of the volleyball spike (which you posed as an example), the force variables associated with the dynamics of skill execution are inseparable. As the execution of this skill in competition is random (i.e. no two spikes are identical), the force variables required to execute the skill can ONLY be optimized by random practice, which, over time, will produce the maximal amount of optimal solutions for expert task execution. Again, look at the work of Jensen and Kleim (and others), and you will realize why there is essentially no transfer of block training to the acquisition of skilled performance. It simply doesn’t train the right neuronal systems. This is also why that unless the 200 lb male and the 90 lb female are both expert volleyball players, there is no way to predict which one will have a more powerful spike. Similarly, the tennis serving example you pose is a “well known fact” but it is simply not true. ALL of the research has demonstrated that skills are specific to the task and while the tennis player might be a good server there is no scientific rationale to predict that this will be so. I have to admit at this juncture that I have erroneously applied some of these well known “facts” myself. Best example is that when I first started coaching volleyball I tried to recruit the tall basketball players to play middle because I just “knew” they would be awesome slide hitters. The only thing I learned was that they weren’t and all it did was piss off the basketball coach. Give me a 5’7″ kid that has been in our program since Jr. High and we’ll run circles around 6 foot basketball players that don’t have volleyball skill training. See Witten to clarify your statement about training volume and its influence on muscle growth. Current research is revealing that this is simply not the case.Yes, you can achieve a higher training volume with blocked training. Wonderful, but my question for you then is this; “If we know conclusively that block training doesn’t create motor maps in the brain that are representative of movements we need in competition; and we know conclusively that force variables are tightly coupled to execution of the specific movements; and we know conclusively that block training does not lead to skill transfer (i.e. motor learning); why would we train that way?” Further, if you look at the references in our article about random training you will find that if you control for the amount of time practiced, your assumption that 1500 blocked spikes per week is superior to 300 random is false when it comes to measure of skills in game situations.To your question on the principles of diminishing returns ~ emphasizing again that the adaptation is specific to the task ~ there is for all intents and physiological purposes no “intersection” of whole/random and part/block. It does not exist. These activities stimulate different brain pathways, optimize different neuromuscular functions, and are, at least from a motor skill perspective, completely independent . Again, if you control for amount of time practiced, random will be far superior to block for all of the reasons previously cited.Finally, scientific research has revealed that skills AND strength are specific to the task. Serving is a great example of a closed skill that can (and is) trained in a block fashion to increase serving strength. However, in our gym, we know that eventually this skill will be executed in a random environment with environmental cues and stressors not normally present in practice. Thus, to optimize the acquisition of this skill we train it randomly and use contextual interference, which we know will optimize BOTH skill AND strength acquisition.

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