Blocking – to touch or not to touch?

To touch or not to touch, that is the question. There are a couple philosophies that I know of when it comes to blocking. First is the GMS, more hands are better than fewer hands. They know that hitting efficiency in the aggregate declines when you move from solo, to double, to triple blocks – therefore, defensively we’d like to have more hands in the attacker’s face whenever possible. The other stance coaches often take is that sometimes they’d prefer cleaner digging lanes so if a blocker knows she is late, just roll under for tips rather than throwing up hands to get tooled. For most of my time at Illinois, it was a block the line, dig the cross mentality. Perfectly valid with a libero like Brandi Donnelly back there. I’ve also popped into UCLA practices where Tony Ker is working with blockers/defenders how they’re going to handle the Go-Slide where they send the MB to the outside and go one on one with the slide to provide the cleanest look for the backcourt.

Here’s the men’s data from 2018 (touches are orange, untouched is blue, sorry).


**What you’re looking at is the efficiency of the defending team in terms of winning the rally on their 1st possession after the opponent’s attack was made *or earlier*. So if possession #1 is the opponent attacking at the defending team, your team’s block touch, dig, set, attack is possession #2. If you win or lose the rally in either possession #1 or #2, your data is counted here. So +1 for the defending team if they stuff block, dig to kill, or the opponent makes an error – naturally it’s -1 for the defending team if the opponent cleanly kills the ball, tools the block, or you dig the ball but make an error in transition.

The reason we include possession #2 here is because there might be a phenomenal touch by the blocker that leads to an easy transition opportunity for the defending team. We want to include that value in how we evaluate blocking. To be transparent however, better transition offense teams will naturally be better overall. If Long Beach State hits .300 on medium digs regardless of a block touch or not, that will lead to better efficiencies in the chart than Stanford who maybe only hits .150 in transition on a medium dig. Keep in mind that because we’re looking at the efficiency for the defending team, we basically live in the negative zone as the attacking team always has the advantage in winning the point, this logically makes a lot of sense. The defending team is more likely to lose the point than win it.

You’ll notice a decent sized gap between most team where they better overall after a block touch. This could result from a large number of stuff blocks, rarely getting tooled, or a nice job soft blocking. This also makes a lot of sense in the men’s game where strong attackers make digging clean swings consistently, very difficult. So below we’ll look at the women’s side of things from 2017.

Screen Shot 2018-09-08 at 10.37.51 AM

*Like many charts in the past, I’ve cut out Rutgers. But you likely didn’t notice anyway…

On the women’s side we do see two teams (Michigan St. & USC) who actually do better without touching the ball on the block. Perhaps they get tooled more frequently or just attack so aggressively in transition that losing the point on the block instead of getting a swing in trans is massively hurtful to their efficiencies. But either way, the overall trend holds for the women, with several teams doing a full 100 points better after a block touch than not. To dive a step deeper though, it would make sense to look at difference between the number of blockers on each attack.

Screen Shot 2018-09-08 at 11.41.41 AM.png

I know the efficiencies are tough to read without zooming – but here’s what the women’s side looks like when you split up solo, seam, double blocks. You’ll see the same chart as before in the all data section.

What we see here are huge differences primarily in solo and seam blocking when a touch is made versus not. For Stanford solo blocking last year there was a 270 point difference in their ability to win the point between touch and no touch. That’s crazy. Maryland was similar in that they were 300 points different in favor of touching the ball on the block in a solo situation. Even teams like Wisconsin who are only about 25 points in favor of touches overall, are a full 100 points better in the solo situation with a touch on the block.

The trend holds for most teams in the seam situation as well where a MB doesn’t quite close to a pin, but is in the air blocking. We still see differences of 100 points for many teams here.

Where the trend changes is in double blocks. This may be due to multiple factors. Attackers may make more errors when trying to avoid a double block – or hit easier shots to defend and transition with. The interesting thing here is that the difference between touch and no touch here is tiny, across the board. No team has greater than a negligible 8 points advantage between the two. No coach is going to freak out about .100 vs. .108 efficiency levels.

Anyway, this type of analysis has already affected the way I train my teams. We spend more time working on blocking footwork and eyework than I have previously devoted, with the goal of touching every single power attack we see. As always, thoughts and comments on this post are welcome and appreciated!