Eye Work – Number 4 and counting…

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It is nothing new to reveal here as I have mentioned it before, often, but what you look at in a game of volleyball and when is very, very important.  For at least twenty years in Australia, and obviously longer in the USA and other volleyball playing countries, the standard ‘eye work’ for blocking has been BALL – SETTER – BALL – SPIKER.  That is, after the reception the middle blocker should briefly watch the reception to recognise the flight path of the ball  and determine the setting position of the setter.  The focus should then quickly switch to the setter, and particularly the setter’s hands.  After contact, the middle blocker should briefly follow the flight path of the set to determine roughly the position of the attack and then quickly turn his total focus on the spiker. The logic of this is clear.  The ball never lies, and it also never changes its path between contacts. Once the ball is played and you know its flightpath, it provides no further information.  Further information can only be provided by the actors directly involved, the setter and the spiker.  Clearly, the major focus of the (middle) blocker/s should be on the actors that provide the most (important) information.

I write that in detail because it has recently come to my attention that this decision making sequence is not universally known / accepted / understood.  There are apparently coaches who believe that information about the attack can be obtained from things other the actors involved.  I had always thought that was the most basic technical advice for blocking.  I don’t see it how it is possible that information about the attack can come from anywhere other than the setter and the spiker.  They are the only actors capable of making decisions and determining / changing the path of the ball.  If you watch any video of the best middle blockers in the world, you can see very clearly as their heads turn, distinctly and precisely, to watch, in sequence, the setter and the spiker.

The following video isn’t an official technical or academic video.  It was obviously done as a little bit of fun to promote the Italian national team before the 2012 Olympics, and it is not an official match or practice, but that doesn’t mean we can’t learn anything from it.  They have put a forehead camera on one of the middle blockers.  You can see clearly how he turns his head in the specific moments.  And what really jumps out is how quickly he turns his head to watch the spiker.  He seems almost not to watch the ball at any point of its path.  You can see this at 1:23 and 1:50 marks of the video.

Only the setter and the spiker can influence the attack and to look anywhere else is a waste of energy and a recipe for bad blocking.


  1. I can not see it as clearly as you, Mark. I don’t think, that the camera they use gives detailed information. But from what I see the middle during the pass watches the ball, the setter an the middle on the other side. And after the set it seems that he is watching the attacker and his own blocker at 2 or 4 at the same time.

    Both observations make sense to me. If you don’t have “a feeling” or better see where the opposite middle is aiming his approach and compare this with the quality of the pass and the position the setter has to the ball, he would give up the chance to block the other middle, I think.

    And I also think that the middle needs to see where his blocker on 2 or 4 is going to block to synchronize location and timing for their block attempt.

    I wish they had used the equipment from the third part of your sequel…


    1. The watching the setter part isn’t so clear in the video, but the watching the spiker part is very clear at the 1:23 and 1:50 points of the video. He doesn’t watch the set/ball at all! He turns his head directly towards the spiker. The camera can see the blocker out, but that is not what is in the middle of the picture, ie what the blocker is looking at. What the camera is recording isn’t the same as what the blocker is watching. What I am looking at is where the camera is pointing.
      There are no ‘feelings’ in blocking. What is important is what you see. The blocker should have the opposing middle in his peripheral vision, but the setter in the his main vision.
      Where the outside blocker is, is not important to watch. Not at all. Everything there is peripheral. Plus they are both watching the same thing, the spiker. The spiker gives the timing, not the blocker.


      1. I don’t agree from what I see in this video. The camera is pointing (at first) neither to the spiker nor the outside blocker, but somewhere in between. I think this middle has the opposing spiker and his outside blocker both in a peripheral view. And I would support this. I think seeing where your outside blocker is building the block is important, but I agree that this view has to be peripheral. Before the middle jumps all the attention has to be on the opposing attacker. And if he want’s to have most of his attention (after the set) on the spiker that’s fine with me as well. But I don’t agree that the position of the outside blocker isn’t important. About the timing you are right. I agree with that.

        More important. From what I know something (a ball, a player) coming right at you hinders your brain to judge the ball’s/player’s approach correctly – concerning the flight path/run-up and more important the timing. This is why serves coming right into the direction of a players face, are terrible difficult to receive. Which is the same in American Football by the way. Defensive players who have to tackle a player who is coming right at them almost all the time slow down slightly, because the timing of the tackle is hard to judge. But if the ball carrier crosses their way, they approach the tackle with much more speed and resolution.

        If that’s true, the middle shouldn’t focus directly on the opposing attacker, because he will come directly onto him. He should look in a more peripheral way. I think.


      2. I don’t think you should get too caught up with exactly what is in the frame of the video. The eyes see something different from the video. It is just an indication of the direction he is looking. And given that this is not scientific, we probably shouldn’t even assume that the camera is in the middle of blockers head. In that case you will just have to trust me that good blockers do focus their complete attention on the spiker.
        The position of the outside blocker is absolutely vital. It is not important for the middle blocker to look at him.
        Spikers are not running directly at the middle blocker. The are running to a point near the antenna at about 45 degrees to the net. The middles are moving to a position about 1 metre away from the attack position moving parallel to the net. At no point is the spiker running directly to the middle blocker. So I don’t think your point, while excellent, is valid in this situation.

        BALL – SETTER – BALL – SPIKER is the way.


  2. Cool video! I’m enjoying the blog & the facebook page. The sequence I like is BALL-HITTERS-SETTER-BALL-HITTER. Watching the initial BALL-HITTERS is more of a wider vision, and the focus narrows as the pass nears the setter. I guess it might be more of a women v. men thing – my mid-level NCAA women pin blockers have a hard time getting to the pin and being penetrated in time if they stay inside until they see the set. If they are not threatened by a quick attacker, I like them to take a step toward the pin before the ball is set.


  3. Mark… I too thought that what you described was obvious. I agree with you 100% but you missed the most important look of the whole process. Looking at the ball hit the ground when you have single handedly blocked the centre attack. ABSOLUTELY priceless!


    1. The one time it is acceptable to watch the ball is after it has hit the middle of your hand and is one the way to the floor 🙂


  4. Absolutely agree on the sequence, but would argue that the sequence could start earlier:
    identification of line-up and likely attack threats (decisions as to priority – responsibility) -reception setter’s position at pass (and likelyhood of “overpass”) – check zone pattern (confirm attack runs (particularly in Asia – women)) – “The focus should then quickly switch to the setter, and particularly the setter’s hands. After contact, the middle blocker should briefly follow the flight path of the set to determine roughly the position of the attack and then quickly turn his total focus on the spiker”


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