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Formations & Plays

Defense 1: Middle-up defense with no blockers

At the beginning level of play, where hard driven balls are few and far between and there is little or no specialization, most teams use a "middle-up" defense with no blockers. In this particular defensive scheme, the setter (who is in middle front or switches to middle front) is at the net, with the other two front row players positioned near the sidelines, just behind the 3m line. The middle-back player is "up" at the 3m line (hence the name "middle-up"), while the other two back-row players split the back half of the court. These positions create a "W," not including the setter. Players generally stay in these positions throughout each rally -- that is, there are few defensive adjustments to make according to where the opponent sets the ball, nor are there many differences between defense and offense.

Defense 2: Middle-back defense with three blockers

Most mid- and upper-level teams, because the opposing hitters are better, use all three front-row players as blockers. More often than not, these teams are also running a 6-2 offense, which means the setter is coming from right back, though some teams elect to use a 4-2, with the setter playing in middle or right front. In either case, the starting defensive positions (or "base" positions) for a middle-back defense usually look like the diagram on the right.

The front row players are at the net, preparing to block. Back row players are relatively shallow in the court, in case the opponent bumps the ball back over on their first hit or "dumps" the second hit over the net. As soon as the the opponent sets the ball to one of their hitters, everyone will have to move these "base" positions to an assigned defensive responsibility.

A common strategy (but by no means the only strategy) for defending attacked balls include these general rules:
  1. The blockers should position themselves so that no balls can be driven into the center of your court. Double block the outsides and single block the middle.
  2. The offside blocker (meaning, the front-row player not involved in the block) will pick up all tips.
  3. The outside back-row players must dig around the outside of the block.
  4. Middle back positions him/herself in the "seam" of the block, usually a step or two cross-court.

RF: Home at the net, block on right and middle hits, get all dinks on left, spike the ball.
MF: Home at the net, block on all, get all second shots, set to LF or RF.
LF: Home at the net, block on left and middle hits, get all dinks on right, spike the ball.
RB: Home behind the 3m line, back up on right hits, short step back for middle hits, stay home for left hits.
MB: Home in front of back line, move slightly right on left hits, stay home for middle hits, move slightly left for right hits, "in charge" of first hits.
LB: Home behind the 3m line, back up on left hits, short step back for middle hits, stay home for right hits.
Keys to defensive success
  1. Blockers must realize their job is not to stuff every hit; their job is to keep balls from being driven into certain areas of the court -- that is, they are blocking a zone, not the ball.
  2. Whoever has tips -- whether it's a back row player or the offside blocker -- must stay low and run after every tipped ball. This frees the backrow players to worry only about driven balls.
  3. Cross-court diggers must position themselves so that they can clearly see the ball and the attacker around the outside of the block. If they position themselves behind the block, where no balls can be driven at them, they become useless players.
  4. Middle back players must first defend against hits through the seam of the block, but they must also be prepared to run after soft shots to the center of the court and balls that ricochet off the block.
  5. Do not think of defense in terms of "tape-on-the-floor." Just get to your assigned position quickly and then react to every ball.
  6. Call downballs and freeballs loudly and early. Move to the appropriate position quickly. Don't relax on freeballs.
  7. In a freeball situation, make sure the setter never passes the ball.
  8. Lastly, and most importantly, everyone must do the basic individual skills correctly: blockers must get their hands and forearms in the opponents' court, and diggers must be low and moving forward before the hitter contacts the ball.
Let's have the MB person be "in charge" of the first hit (particularly for the serve). He/she has the right of way and will call "Mine" or "Yours".
The MF is "in charge" of the second hit. He/she yells, "Mine" or "Yours".