Every attack is different and unpre­dictable. In blog four, we’ll focus on creating game-like situations during practice so your defense is ready for anything.

In part two of our blog series with The Art of Coaching Volleyball, your team learned how to dig line and angle attacks. But there are always going to be balls that don’t land perfectly down the line or cross court. So in the fourth blog of our series, we’re focusing on how to expect the unexpected—digging balls that go between blockers or high off their hands.

The Problem

You’re having a hard time deciding what you’re willing to give up and what you’re trying to defend. Should your middle lean more towards the star outside and risk leaving her middle without a blocker? Do you want your middle back to sneak up in case there’s a hole in the block, leaving the deep tip open? Your last three opponents averaged a .322 hitting percentage, and you need answers. Time to open your attack tendencies report.

The Diagnosis

To get started, you select your last three matches. You notice there are a lot of blue lines with dashes. The key tells you those are kills deflected by a blocker. Are your blockers up late? Are their attackers just really good at hitting high hands? Is your middle back not staying deep enough?

You also notice that a lot of your opponents’ kills are landing in the middle of the court. Is your back row player out of position? Or is the block not getting closed?

To find out, you click kills in the player stats table to open the video clips. Right away, you notice your middle isn’t closing the block. Or she’s getting tricked by the setter and isn’t getting up at all. Closing the block will definitely be on the practice plan next week, but you also need to teach your back row players to pick up balls when there’s a hole.

The Solution

Now you know your team needs to work on digging off the block, but this can be a hard situation to recreate. In this drill by Oregon State’s Mark Barnard, you’ll see how a fit ball can help simulate what it’s like to dig random balls off blockers’ hands on scramble plays. 

Defending attackers who hit high hands? Check. So now it’s time to work on covering holes in the block. In this drill from Penn State, five players are on each side of the net without a middle blocker. Your left and right side have to be intentional with their blocking moves since they’re one-on-one with the hitter, and your back row will learn to be precise about where they line up with the hitter’s shoulder and stick to their position. 

Want to see more drills and coach­ing tips? Head over to The Art of Coaching Volleyball to start learn­ing. And stay tuned for part five of this series, Hitting Around the Block.