Jim Iams | Former USA Assistant Coach and Former Head Coach at University of Georgia
For me, blocking is one of the most difficult skills to teach and assess. We all know about “penetration” and how important that is to successful blocking. However, I would contend there are several other key factors that may be even more critical. They include setting the block, hand and arm positioning, vision and timing. And when it comes to evaluating a player’s effectiveness at this skill, we are usually left with “blocks per game” as the only answer. (By the way, wouldn’t “blocks per attempt” be more informative?)
The light first went on for me when I was in China some 30 years ago. The USA women’s national team was competing in a tournament, and I had the assignment of scouting Russia. As always, I settled myself in the stands behind the end line. (This location is used because it gives the best view of serve-receive formations, attack patterns and blocking schemes.) Before long, I realized the Russians were blocking or controlling virtually every attack. And this was against a very good East German team. Finally, I couldn’t take it any longer. I relocated right along the net to observe first hand their amazing penetration. Spoiler alert: there wasn’t any. The Russians went straight up and their arms and hands stayed a good six inches off the net during the entire blocking motion.
I relate this story not to suggest you coach your players to stay off the net but rather to illustrate the complexity of this skill. I have come to the conclusion that blocking is very intuitive (many great blockers are at a loss to explain how they do it). Some players have “it”, and the rest of us can only hope to get better. But how do we know if our players are getting better? This is where I might be able to assist you.
As I mentioned earlier, “blocks per game” doesn’t help much. What happens to all the attacks that don’t get stuffed? There are two statistical methods that can help answer that question. The first is very simple and easy to understand. Just record the attacker’s hitting efficiency against each of your blockers. In other words, every time Sally/Sam goes up to block, note the result of the attack (+ = kill, 0 = kept in play, - = error). Then, run the numbers like you do with attacking. The lower the hitting efficiency, the better your blocker is performing.
The second option for blocking stats is a little more complex but provides more insightful information. This method was adapted from the work of former USA national team coach Jim Coleman and is similar to his serving and passing stats. In this system, there are four possible outcomes from an attack and each one is assigned a value.
- Attack error – 5
- Ball kept in play and leads to counter-attack – 3
(By the blocking team.)
- Ball kept in play and results in follow-up attack – 1
(By the attacking team.)
- Kill – 0
Once again, every time Sally/Sam participates in a block, they receive a score based on the result of the attack. To get a player’s blocking score, you add their total points and divide that number by the total number of attempts (similar to S/R stats). Example below:
Blocking scores: 0,1,1,0,3.0,5,3,1,1 – 15
Attempts – 10
Individual Score – 1.5
*Note: Any score approaching 2.0 is very good.
You now have a couple of statistical methods for rating your blockers. I suggest you try one or the other during a team scrimmage. It might provide valuable information and a tool you may want to use during competition.
Jim Iams was an assistant coach to Terry Liskevych from 1985-88 for the U.S. women’s Olympic team and an advisor for the ’92 and ’96 teams. He was a head coach collegiately from 1989-99 at the University of Georgia, where he compiled a 242-118 record and led the Bulldogs to seven NCAA tournament appearances.