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Beach Volleyball Techniques and Tactics (Part 3)

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The Block
While the stuff block is one of the most intimidating actions in beach volleyball, it is only one aspect of an effective block. Blocking in beach volleyball is a very complex and demanding skill. Frequently, the blocker in beach volleyball will choose not to block but rather to back up from the net and assume a defensive position deep in the court. This option of peeling off the net is the major difference between beach blocking and indoor blocking.

Both the technical description and the skill progression for the block in beach volleyball are the same as the block in indoor volleyball. In beach volleyball, the blocker usually uses hand signals (behind the back) to communicate their blocking strategies - the left hand for the attacker on the left and the right hand for the attacker on the right. Most often one finger means a line block, two fingers means a cross court block, and a fist (no fingers) means the blocker will block the ball.

While the attacker is being set, the blocker must decide whether to block at the net or peel off the net to play defense. As the level of play improves, the percentage of blocking (versus peeling) will increase.

Starting Position
When preparing to block in beach volleyball it is necessary to leave the option open to peel off the net as quickly as possible. To make the peeling movement a blocker in beach volleyball should start 1-2m away from the net in front of the passer/attacker with one foot in front of the other.

Having one foot in front of the other will allow the blocker the flexibility to move quickly in either direction - backward (to peel) or forward (to block). It is preferable to have the outside foot forward so that the hips of the blocker face into the court.

Peeling Off the Net From the Starting Position
When peeling off the net the blocker pushes off the front foot and begins a sprint toward the backcourt. The blocker can either peel down the line or cross-court. Just before the attacker contacts the ball, a peeling blocker must come to a stop in the ready position with hips and shoulders squared toward the attacker. There are three possible ways to get back to a defensive position from the net: back pedal, turn, or sprint sideways.

  1. Back pedal off the net, stopping just prior to contact
  2. Turn 180 degrees, and sprint forward, then turn 180 degrees to defend
  3. Sprint sideways while watching the attacker, stopping just prior to contact.

Blocking From the Starting Position
When blocking at the net, the player’s front foot extends toward the blocking position at the net. This blocking position depends upon the signal to the defender, the location of the set, and the approach of the attacker. The back foot is then brought even with the front foot and the blocker uses side steps to align the body with the location of the set. A squat jump initiates a blocking action similar to the blocking mechanics in indoor volleyball.

There are 3 basic types of blocks:

  1. Line block
  2. Cross-Court block
  3. Blocking the ball

A spectacular defensive play is the most exhilarating of all beach volleyball skills. Whether digging a ferocious spike or making a spectacular lunge to keep the ball alive, a great defensive play always stirs up excitement. Defense is synonymous with beach volleyball and most successful beach volleyball players have excellent defensive skills.

The importance of defense - the ability to defend against attack - cannot be overstated in beach volleyball. In fact, a beach volleyball team can use superior defensive skills to defeat opponents who are significantly taller with stronger attacking skills. However, the importance of great defense in beach volleyball is matched by its difficulty - it takes years of practice to become a great beach defender.

Good defense begins with attitude - a player must want to dig the ball.

Defensive Ready Position
A defensive player must assume the defensive ready position just before the attacker contacts the ball. The defensive ready position is similar to the basic ready position:

  • feet are slightly wider than shoulder-width apart
  • knees are bent
  • hips and shoulders face the attacker
  • arms are in front and away from the body

Digging Below the Waist
For digging balls below the waist, the defender uses a standard forearm pass technique (i.e. clasps the hands together creating a forearm platform that redirects the ball into the air). In order to control the dig (preventing the ball from travelling back over the net, keeping the dig to a reasonable height) the defender may have to absorb some of the velocity of the spike.

Digging Above the Waist
The defender must execute an open-hand dig called a "beach dig". The hands are quickly raised to meet the ball with a position similar to an overhand set. The open hands must be close together (to prevent the ball from slipping through the hands), with the fingers and wrists strong and stiff. When the ball hits the hands there should be a slight squeezing together of the hands to absorb some of the velocity of the spike.

Digging A Soft Shot
To maximize control, soft shots, like hard spikes, should be played with two arms whenever possible. Here are different techniques for digging soft shots:

  1. Forearm Pass : The most preferred technique, defender with plenty of time to get into position. Shots above the waist, poor position for forearm pass.

  2. Double Axe Handle : It is very risky for a defender to play a soft shot above the waist because the referees in beach volleyball call the first contact very tightly on a soft shot or serve. The "double axe handle" is very common in beach volleyball.

  3. Poke (or Knuckler) : The knuckles are used to punch the ball up in the air. This emergency defensive technique is used for shots that are high over the defender’s head. Emergency technique to maximize the distance covered by the defender.

  4. Dive or lunge : Emergency technique to maximize the distance covered by the defender. The style of a dive or lunge is not important in beach volleyball. The soft sand significantly reduces the probably of an injury.

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