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Defensive Tips for Beach Volleyball

Defense in volleyball is about one thing above all else: Desire. A willingness to hit the floor for any ball and a drive to dig everything that comes your way will take you far as a defender. Here are five tips for making great defensive plays.

See the Ball

The concept is simple: If you want to dig the ball then you need to be able to see it.

It may seem like a fundamental and obvious point, but defensive players often lose sight of the ball while preparing for the dig. So if you find yourself directly behind your blocker or in any position that obscures the ball, move quickly to a sport where you can see. Defense is hard enough—there’s no need to add an invisible ball to the equation.

Shift Your Weight

A defensive player needs to be ready to spring into action in the shortest amount of time possible. It is much easier to react quickly when the majority of your weight is on the balls of your feet (versus standing flat footed), so get in the habit of staying on your toes and you'll always be ready.

Keep Your Hands Neutral

The introduction of the overhand dig changed the face of volleyball. A defensive player who has mastered the overhand dig technique can cover a larger area than one who only uses a forearm technique. Why? Because using a forearm dig off a deep ball takes significantly more time to execute than an overhand dig, and time is not something that volleyball defenders have to spare.

Traditional defensive technique teaches defenders to receive a hit with their arms hanging down loosely in front of them. While this technique adequately prepares a defender to execute a forearm dig, the low hand position is not conducive to the overhand method, so now players are being taught the neutral position. This is the optimal stance for both the underhand and overhand dig.

Be Stopped Before Contact

A brief review of elementary physics will help shed some light on why a defender should be still before a hitter connects. Newton’s first law of motion states that an object in motion tends to stay in motion unless acted upon by an outside force—essentially what we laymen call momentum. When this principle is applied to the volleyball court it is easy to see how the principles of Newton’s law can easily get a defender into trouble.

Say a defender playing middle back watches the opposing setter play the ball to the outside hitter:

  • The defender quickly moves to the left sideline to prepare to dig the ball, and is still in motion when the hitter contacts the ball.
  • If the ball is hit in the opposite direction of where the defender is heading, she has to exert extra effort to reverse her motion before moving towards the ball (since an object, or player in this case, in motion will naturally continue to be in motion).
  • Essentially, it takes more time to change the direction of one’s movement than to make the initial jump from a stopped and balanced position. And as a defender, every second counts.

Maintaining the stopped position before the hitter contacts the ball is the best thing you can do to immediately improve your defensive output. It is even better to be slightly out of position but stationary, than frantically in motion and closer to the correct spot. If that isn’t convincing enough, being stopped on defense also allows you to better see and read the hitter, which in turn will help you predict the path of the ball.

Watch the Hitter

The best defenders always make sure to watch an opposing hitter’s approach and their subsequent arm swing because these details help a defender anticipate where the ball will be hit.

As a defender, there are two main things to look for when watching a hitter’s approach:

  1. The direction of the approach: By taking notice of a hitter’s approach, a defender can determine the probable direction and speed of the hit (for example, a slow approach usually results in an off-speed hit).
  2. The angle of the hitter’s shoulders: The angle of the hitter’s shoulders also factor into the equation, because hitters are likely to hit the same direction that their shoulders are pointing.

Check the Speed

A hitter’s arm swing can also be a gold mine of knowledge for a defender who knows what to look for. What you really want to take note of as a defender are the hitter’s arm speed, the height of her elbow, and point at which she contacts the ball:

  • A slow arm swing generally results in a tip or an off-speed ball.
  • The same thing can be said of a hitter who drops her elbow below her ear.
  • In order to hit a ball that has a downward trajectory, a hitter must make contact on top of the ball, and a dropped elbow makes that type of contact nearly impossible.

Arm speed can be a great indicator of what an opposing hitter is planning to do.

Putting it All Together

Now that you’re armed with five tips that are sure to improve your defensive game, it’s time to put them to the test. So grab a ball and a few friends and hit the beach; the sand courts are calling your name.

From hand positioning to proper weight distribution, this beach volleyball guide is packed full of tips on how to improve your defensive production on the sand courts.
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