Jason Lochhead making a dig in Klagenfurt 2013

Are you a Ninja in Defense? 5 tips to back court brilliance!

Last Updated: April 5, 2024By

Have you ever had a game where every shot you played got dug? Like the defender could read your mind. If you have, you probably felt like the defender knew something that you didn’t… and you were probably right.

Defence is a tricky business. Good defenders are like Hollywood Ninja’s. You never know where they are, and they seem to appear out of nowhere, just in time to make a dig. But they are not mind readers. They do their homework, they plan their traps and they have perfect timing.

Here are 5 ideas to put you on the path a back court Ninja status.

Know your enemy!

If you get a chance to see your opponent play, or better yet get a few videos of them, then you already have a huge advantage. If you don’t then at least ask some other players for their opinions on attack tendencies. And that is basically what you need to know. What is your opponent likely to do or what does he want to do? (Usually the same thing).

If you have no information on the team you are playing at all, then you need to do this research as quickly as possible at the beginning for the first set.

Here is a list of useful things to know.

  1. Where is the standard attack from, or what sort of set should you expect. (Usually wide outside, inside or middle)
  2. What does he/she play most often? (Hard cross, line shot, cut shot… etc?)
  3. Does the player have good vision? (Is he/she watching the defense, or just guessing?)
  4. Are there any obvious “shows”? (E.g. Does he show his line shot by rotating his shoulder too early?)
  5. What are the differences between his or her approach when; The serve is down the line, the serve is through the middle, the serve is short middle or short line.

With this information, you can develop a good gamed plan.

Getting seen in all the right places and timing your defensive moves

Timing your defensive moves is 90% of the battle. Move too early, and the attacker will see you and drop the ball behind you. Move too late, and you’ll go the right way, but won’t make the dig.

I like to break it down like this:

  • Where do I want my opponent to think I am moving as he/she hits the ball
  • When does he/she make the final decision about where I am going?

With these two points in mind, you can plan exactly when to be seen doing what…

Let’s use a a simple cross over block as an example

Blocker starts line, then jumps in to block the cross court. Defender starts cross, and then runs to dig the line shot.

If you, the defender, move to early, then a half decent opponent will hit a rainbow or cut shot, and you’ll be left looking silly.

Question: So how do you move early enough to make the dig, but late enough not to be seen.

Answer: Set it up!

Before you run the cross over play, run two or three straight line block plays. This strengthens your cross over play in two ways.

Firstly; it gives your opponents a feeling that they know what you are doing, which hopefully makes them easier to trap with the cross over play.

Secondly; and more importantly, you have a chance to prepare for the trap. As a defender, you should be looking closely at the attackers eyes, and trying to work out when he/she stops seeing the defense. As a blocker, if the attacker hits one or two balls cross court, then you get to see the height and direction, and hopefully get a better idea of where your block needs to move to grab the ball.

As a back court defender, when you run this cross over play, you need to be very sure that the last thing the attacker sees before he/she hits is you sitting cross court, waiting for a hard driven ball. Against a good opponent this means you will have to be waiting so late, you will be diving for that line shot.

The most difficult thing about this is that timing is not something you can “learn” in training, because the timing will be different for every attacker. You need to learn to adjust your timing depending on your opponents ability to see you.

There is no point throwing a fake, if your opponent doesn’t see it…

Timing a fake

So now you have worked out exactly when your opponent stops seeing you before they hit, you can start having some real fun!

After you have made the cross over play, run a standard line block, but again move to the line. This time, move just a fraction of a second too early, so as to be seen, and then, after that moment when your opponent has stopped looking, run back for the cut shot.

If it works, you’ll make a great cut shot dig. If it doesn’t work, then assuming your opponent is as good as we thing he or she is, one of two things happened.

  1. You moved too late, and he or she didn’t see the fake.
  2. You moved too early, and your opponent guessed it was a fake.

If you think it was the second option, then consider the next idea…

The double fake

So you think your opponent is good enough to see and react to your fakes. Then there is a chance to try a double fake. Again, the timing is the key here, and you can probably guess how this works…

Move to the line, just a bit too early, then go back to the cut shot just in that last split second where your opponent can still change his/her shot, and then back to the line.

A tip on faking

A crossover step is much easier to see and usually more convincing than just stepping with your outside leg. I suggest trying to make your fake move with a crossover, where you actually turn your hips and shoulders in the wrong direction, to make it look like you have committed.

Be the bait

Sometime as a back court defender, your best option is to get a block…

An example of a play like this might be similar to the cross over ball we talked about above, but in this play, you just sit tight, and let your blocker jump in.

Let’s say for example that you are usually setting up with a standard line block and cross court defence. And your opponent is hitting cross court a lot. You might find that he/she is actually hitting at the defender. So by sitting cross court and waiting for the hit, he or she might see you and feel confident that the block is safely on the line.

This is a good option if your opponent is a strong hitter.

I hope these ideas are useful, or at least fun to try in your next training match. Let us know how you go in the comments below, or on our Facebook page!

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