Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Read Blocking

One of the biggest differences in style of play that I've noticed between what I've learned in the States (particularly during my time in University) and what I've experienced here in Europe has to do with blocking.

Read blocking seems to be the key word throughout international volleyball right now. Everyone is doing it because it seems like the most effective way to block. Of course teams are running extremely fast offenses as well in an attempt to beat the bunch read blocking system. And basically, a good read blocking team has a great chance to beat almost any offense. Even if the passing is pretty good.

But, what I've noticed is that most teams don't really read block. In most cases, when you see good passing, the middles jump with the middles trying to take away the quick attack. It doesn't matter if the setter on the other side has not set the middle in the entire match. Somehow, taking away that quick hitter becomes the most important thing to do. Discard the fact that almost any setter will NOT set the ball to the middle when the pass is perfect, (this is another topic that I would like to discuss in detail in another post) why do middle blockers do this?

In college, we spent lots and lots of time on blocking. And I think the result was a group of much better blockers than the average. We were also smaller than most other teams so we were forced to be better disciplined. We were a true BUNCH READ blocking team. That means that you read and REACT to the other team. The idea was to never decide before the setter sets the ball where he is going to set it. Just read him, read his hands, look if he is leaning one way or the other and then react when he sets the ball. DO NOT GUESS.

Needless to say, this is easier said than done. But since I have been in Europe, all of my coaches have said that we are going to read block, and I truly don't think any of the middles I have played with have done that. And I don't think that any of said coaches have ever really attempted to force them to do it. I remember hearing, "DON'T GUESS!" or "WATCH THE SET!" over and over again. Middle blockers would be drilled over and over again. If they leaned the wrong way or left too early from their spot they would be out to the side to do push-ups.

I understand that this was really hard training and not an easy skill to master, but in the end, it really paid off. And I think that most of the teams I have played on could benefit from implementing the system. Because honestly, right now, too many middles just jump blindly with the middle. As a setter, this is exactly what you want, because then you don't have to do anything hard. All you have to do is set the ball to the outside or behind you every time and you will almost always have a one on one situation.

I don't know, maybe it's better to go on gut instinct sometimes and just do what you feel is right as a blocker. But I think being disciplined will get a lot more touches in the end.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Bodensee - A Nice Place to Be!

The German Cup tournament finally opened up this weekend for us with a match in a little city named Konstanz. Located on the border with Switzerland, the city is home to a lot of students who come to enjoy the incredibly nice, laid back atmosphere. Lake Bodensee, one of the biggest lakes in the area, is also close.

As it turns out, the gym was located right on the shores of a quiet river that flows into a bigger lake just nearby. One of the smaller halls actually had a huge windowed fa├žade facing the flowing water. After a short walk and a bite to eat I was ready to proclaim the city of Konstanz as the nicest in all of Germany.

The team from Konstanz was not particularly impressive. They weren’t supposed to be, playing in the third division, but I expected them to come with a little bit more than they did. The match was nothing too spectacular - we played fine and that was plenty to win. The most memorable moments were Dirk helping a serve that wouldn’t have gone over the net by bouncing it off his hand at the net and the referee not calling anything, Dirk also made a nice play when he had a short joust with the setter then proceeded to hold the ball in one hand after the setter let go (the referee failed to call this a lift, choosing instead to call a replay) and of course the Konstanz middle who had red contacts which made his eyes look exceedingly weird.

The biggest news came from the drawing of lots for the next round of the tournament which took place directly after our match. In probably the best scenario possible, we drew SCC Berlin at home on the 22nd of this month. I wrote last time that we would have to wait quite a long time to prove that we are a better team than Berlin. Well, it looks like that won’t be the case! I think everyone is excited for the match-up and hopefully we’ll be able to come out of this one with a big win.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Two Weekends - Two Losses

Last weekend, we hosted a four-team tournament. Eltmann from Germany, Opava from the Czech Republic, Marienlyst from Denmark and Us were the participants. Unfortunately for us, we finished fourth with Eltmann finishing first, Marienlyst second and Opava third.

It wasn’t our finest hour and there is little to say besides we are lucky that the tournament means nothing as far as official records are concerned. Hopefully we learned some lessons from the way we played and hopefully those lessons will have a positive effect on the rest of the season.

Personally, I played one set against Eltmann which we won, and then a full three sets against Marienlyst which ended 2-1 for them. I’ll be the first to admit that losing to a former team doesn’t feel good. On the one hand, I’m happy for all the guys on the team that I played with for two years, they played really well. On the other hand, losing sucks. Needless to say, the weekend was not a good experience for me personally. I didn’t play well, and the team didn’t play well, and that’s never a recipe for success.

So, congratulations to Marienlyst for the second place, and congrats to Eltmann for winning the whole thing. We’ll see you guys soon though in the Bundesliga…

On Sunday we finally resumed our Bundesliga schedule with a match against SCC Berlin, in Berlin. Traditionally, they’ve been a top team in the German league but this year there has been some talk of them slipping. At the end of November they lost 3-0 to Unterhaching and it appeared that they were in a bit of a crisis. As described above, we’ve been having our own troubles, but we had had a pretty good week of training and we came into the match feeling positive.

As it turned out, the match was hard to classify. We played well at times, they played well at times, we played poorly at times, they played poorly at times and generally, the momentum of the match swung back and forth often. In the end though, we lost 3-2 and have to feel upset about a lost opportunity. I say lost opportunity because there were certain points in the match where we had the chance to take it over and leave them behind. We had several leads, and we scored a ton of points in our own serve, but just as quickly we would give those points right back through our own personal errors.

Once again, I got a chance to come into the match later, playing all of the fourth and fifth sets. And I feel good about what I did while I was out there. I think that generally, the tide changed for us once I got the chance to do a few things, serving and running the offense especially, but I still made a few decisions that weren’t correct and it hurt us in a few spots.

We’ve got to take this match, take the positive out of it (we won a pressure filled fourth set 33-31 in a hostile environment) remember it and then use the negative (losing big leads several times) to motivate us for the future. We should also take confidence from this one and hopefully start to understand how good we are as a team. I think everyone feels that we’re a better team than Berlin, unfortunately, we’re going to have to wait quite a while before we get another chance to prove it.

Now, we look forward to our first Cup tournament match this Sunday in the far South. I know very little about the team we’re playing as they are from somewhere down around the third league, except that they played a close training match against Friedrichshafen (playing without either setter). In any case, nothing but a win will be acceptable.