In the 1970s and 80s volleyball was different. If you watch it now, you know more of less what is happening but the details will likely go over your head, not least because whatever you can find on YouTube from that time is probably TV footage and really, really difficult to follow in any meaningful way. A couple of things that you may pick up are the combinations, oh so many combinations, and blockers flying around in all directions seemingly at random. Not surprisingly those two things are linked.
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The combination part is pretty easy. You can see still some elements of it in today’s game. The basic idea is that two players attack the same part of the net at slightly different speeds, and the setter uses some kind of fake to try to get one or more blockers to jump at the wrong time. In the aforementioned 70s and 80s, the main variations of this was to have the first tempo play close to the setter and the ‘play set’ hitter to run at the setter, hiding his approach, until at the last moment (often after a verbal call) go either in front or behind the setter. This was very effective, especially as blocking technique at the time had blockers focusing on the approach of the spikers.
For every tactic, there is a counter, and the original counter to this kind of combination offence was developed by Vyacheslav Platonov, the famous Soviet coach. His ‘switch blocking’ had one blocker dedicated for the first tempo and the second blocker ready to follow the spiker, even moving behind the first blocker to change positions. The effectiveness of this tactic can be measured by the number of tournaments his team’s won (1 Olympics, 2 World Championships, 2 World Cups, 5 European Championships). That is, led by the legendary Aleksandr Savin, it was very effective.
Eventually the game moves on, the principle of overload remains in the toolkit of every setter (even if combination play does not. However, the switch block has long since disappeared. Eventually someone worked out that watching the setter was more effective and not chasing hitters around led to a more stable block. Nowadays it is even difficult to imagine what it looked like. So I have prepared a short video.
You can see one blocker following the first tempo and the second moving around. The last clip shows the USA team doing the same thing. From this clip you can even get an idea exactly how to beat the switch block.
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