One of the things I often hear from people who remember volleyball from history is that combination plays are missing from current volleyball. Often combination plays are equated with ‘creativity’.
It is definitely true that combinations are not used now as they were in the past (forgetting for now that pipe plays are combinations). And it is also true that there is no one single reason why that would be.
One of the biggest reasons for the lack of combination play now relative to the past is the development of the block, both technically and tactically. The greatest blocking team in history, the Soviet Union from the early 1980s developed a method of blocking combination plays called switch blocking. The blockers watched their designated spiker, and switched positions to stay in front of that spiker. The strength was always having a blocker’s hands in front of the spiker, the negative was that the blockers were moving. As the United States took advantage as they began their period of dominance.
To counter combination plays better read blocking was developed. In read blocking, the blockers no longer followed their spikers and moved, but stayed in the their zone and watched the setter. Thirteen years after the USSR was torched by the USA combinations, blocking against combinations looked like this.
For the attackers, suddenly there were more hands in front of them and those hands were attached to bodies who were jumping straight up and down instead of flying. It turned out that watching the setter instead of the spiker completely changed the way that offences and spikers had to operate. To get blockers moving again, offences had to use the whole width of the net. Which opened up the middle of the court for the pipe attack. Which is where we are now.
There could almost certainly be a few more combinations between front row players played now than there are, but not that many.
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