Movement off the ball


You have probably noticed that good players have a habit of being in the right place at the right time. This is often attributed to experience, and a players ability to read the play, but there is nothing magic about it. Reading your opponent is a skill just like any other.

So how do you become one of these magic players?

Firstly, you need to understand how these players seemingly know what is about to happen before it happens. And the answer is a combination of reading cues from their opponents, and calculating probabilities as a scenario develops.

Let’s use a common scenario.

Your team is siding out. You hit a ball from the right hand side, cross court, and they make a dig.


The dig is not controlled well, and their blocker needs to run across the net, and make a running bump set, back over his head.


The set is somewhere near the middle of the net and it is a little low and tight.

If the guy who made the dig (and is therefore the guy who will be hitting back at you) is right handed, then this creates a very predictable scenario, and one that is relatively easy to defend against.

The attacker is approaching a tight set, a little bit late, and he is approaching from right to left. His approach and position eliminates almost any option for a power attack to his right. The diagram below shows two areas of the court, A and B. Our attacker is far more likely to play the ball into area “A” than area “B”.


The smart blocker moves in front of the attacker, to take away the power spike directly in line with the attackers approach. The smart defender knows that the attacker has two comfortable options, deep corner, or short angle and is ready to move to either of these areas. (See the arrows in the first diagram below).


As the attacker gets closer, the smart defender is measuring the probability of the attacker cutting back to area “B”. This comes down to the attackers position in relation to the ball. If his body is still to the side of the ball, then he will find it very difficult to turn the ball back to area “B” and the smart defender can move early to area “A”. If the attacker is fast, and adjusts his approach so that he is behind the ball, and in good position, then the defender needs to be ready to cover a larger area. (See the second and third diagrams above.)

The moment of contact.

Up until now, we have been reading the play based on the attackers approach and the position of the ball. The smart defender should now be in the best possible position to deal with whatever the attacker does when he actually contacts the ball.

The diagram below shows the attacker a fraction of a second before he contacts the ball. The set is tight, he is reaching forward, and has no chance of cutting the ball back. He is clearly about to poke the ball either deep corner, or short angle. This is the moment when the smart defender moves early enuogh to make the dig look easy.


Focus should be 100% on the attackers hand at this point. The smart defender is looking for cues to further reduce the area of court that he needs to cover.

Here are a few common hand positions that you might see. (Please excuse my crappy drawing skills ;-)

This pokie looks like it will go straight. Probably deep corner.

This pokie looks like it will go straight. Probably deep corner.

Here the wrist has turned a bit, so it's probably an angle pokie.

Here the wrist has turned a bit, so it is probably an angle pokie.

The hand is closed, which suggests it will likely be a cut shot or straight roll shot.

The hand is closed, which suggests it will likely be a cut shot or straight roll shot


This hand is wide open. Maybe he’s going to try to play a Sinjin Smith cut shot back into the 10% area of the court.

Just like any other skill, the ability to read your opponent will become second nature if you actively practice it.

Golden Rule: In almost every situation, it is better to be stationary at the moment the attacker contacts the ball. Be ready in your mind to make a particular move, and perhaps you have taken a few steps left or right, just before contact, but at the exact moment of contact, your wieght should be centered, and you should be able to react to any unexpected events. Block touches, mis-hits, or net tapes to name a few.

Got questions?

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