Don Patterson | AOC senior content manager
It's a known fact that blocking with big hands is a good thing. The trick is to get that point across to your players. A good start would be to borrow this colorful description from Brennan Dean, executive director at Wave Volleyball club in Del Mar, California, and head coach of the girls' varsity team at Torrey Pines High School.
“I tell the players, ‘When you’re blocking and you’re opening up your hands, if the webbing underneath your fingers doesn’t feel as if it’s about to rip and every knuckle on both hands isn’t completely white, you’re not doing it correctly,’” Dean says. “I say this somewhat jokingly, but in reality, there isn’t a lot of joke to it. I really believe there should be a little bit of discomfort.”
Many other top coaches feel the same. One is Cary Wendell-Wallin, a former NCAA Player of the Year at Stanford who coaches at 949 Athletics in Orange County, California. In the video below, she explains and demonstrates the big-hand technique to one of her players.
Spreading your fingers to the edge of ouch is partially about developing a more physical mindset, and Dean says physicality is an often overlooked key to great blocking. He frequently encourages his athletes to bring more mojo to the net.
“When it comes to swing blocking, young players often don’t understand that they need to match the power of the opponent,” he says. “If you have an outside hitter taking a 4-step approach (that covers) 12 to 14 feet of space and coming in with energy and force, you have to match that energy and force as a blocker. If you give 60 percent to their hundred, you’re going to lose 60 percent of the time.”
Players usually know that they should make their hands big but frequently forget. One reason for that, Dean says, is that there are a lot of components to putting up a good block. Spreading your fingers wide seems simple enough until you factor in reading and footwork and getting to the right spot and penetrating – and doing it all in a matter of seconds.
But when players do remember big hands, it can make a significant difference in how much trouble they give the other team’s attackers. So as a coach, remind them and remind them again. Stretch the webbing, whiten the knuckles, stuff the ball!
Don Patterson is the editor of DiG magazine and is the senior content director for Art of Coaching. Previously, he was a sportswriter for the Los Angeles Times and an editor at CBS Sports.