Just by looking at them, the middle blocker is easily one of the most intimidating players on the volleyball court. They are usually the tallest players on the team, so the sheer height of them can be daunting.
Then you watch them hit a ball during warm ups. Their swings are explosive and the height they reach at the top of their hit is massive.
Then you get a glimpse at what the block looks like: two lengthy arms outstretched over the plane of the net ready to stuff whatever hit you throw at them and way too tall to tip over.
So how did the middle blocker come to be and what can you do to become a successful middle? Everything you need to know is below.
History of middle blocker position in volleyball
Just a few years after the game of volleyball was founded, the set and spike was introduced in the Philippines in the year 1916. This led to more people spiking which needed a defensive move to try and stop them at the net.
That’s where the middle blocker comes into play. They needed someone tall and someone who could move from one end of the net to the other quickly and efficiently.
What is the role of a middle blocker in volleyball?
Middle blockers transition to middle hitters depending whether their team is on the defensive or offensive. And in both offensive and defensive roles, they are big forces blocking hard-driven hits and running quick plays out of the middle.
In both roles, these players have to be quick and smart. They must have great ball reading technique in addition to being mobile enough to quickly transition off the net and be in position to attack the ball. If they can’t read the ball, then they can’t be in position to block the ball.
The middle is also one of the setter’s most versatile hitters, sliding behind him / her to attack from the right side or coming in for a quick hit in the middle.
Player height is another key factor to be an effective middle blocker / hitter (though, if you can jump high enough, you can still make a great middle) and this combined with leaping ability, agility and perfect timing makes the perfect player.
Rules of the middle blocker in volleyball
The middles are different from other players because most of the time, they only play in the front row and are replaced by the libero when they enter into the back row, instead of being traditionally subbed out by another player.
Since the middle normally doesn’t play back row, they are replaced by the libero, which means their substitution doesn’t count toward the team’s total sub count. When the middle reaches the back row, they will switch out with the libero behind the 10-foot line, and wait until the libero reaches the front row to go back into the game.
Since the middle is so active on the net, they need to be careful because if their jersey or shoes touch the net, they forfeit the point. They also have to be careful not to cross over onto the other team’s side of the court underneath the net because that also results in a forfeited point.
How can you be a good middle blocker?
Want to play like a pro? Here are our middle tips:
- Be up and available to attack on every transition ball. It doesn’t matter if you think the setter can get you the ball or not, be an offensive option.
- After your serve, expect the other team to tip, roll or attack to your zone. You are likely to be the ‘weakest’ defensive player in the back court now that you have replaced the libero. Smart players will be looking to exploit that.
- Stand tall, be loud and take up space at the net when your team is serving. Call out all of the opposing setter’s offensive options (including setter dump if she/he is front row). Remind your team of the blocking tactics for each player (verbally and with hand signals), and create a big presence to let everyone know you are ready and focused on the block.
Meet our Pro – Ci Michel
Ci Michel played college volleyball for the University of Miami in the United States from 2004–2008, where she was captain, and still holds the record for most career blocks. She went on to play for pro clubs across Europe and starred for Great Britain in the 2012 London Olympic Games.
Today, Ci is still playing volleyball, having been involved in the inaugural Athletes Unlimited Volleyball League in the USA and is a content creator, providing aspiring players and fans tips & insight via her YouTube channel and various podcasts.
Something that might be nice to have are these ninesquared arm sleeves. Especially once you’re jumping higher and getting your forearms over the net, they are going to take a beating from those huge hits going up against your block. These arm sleeves add an extra layer between your arms and the ball, so they are a great choice if you’re looking for something that looks sleek, but also prevents abrasions and swelling.
Famous volleyball middles to look up
Want to study blocking technique from the best? Try watching highlight reels of these middles:
Max Holt [USA]
One of the most well-known players on the U.S.A. men’s national volleyball team and has the track record to back up his notoriety. He won the title of “Best Middle Blocker” at two FIVB tournaments this year and was awarded that same title at the 2016 Olympic Games.
Irina Koroleva [RUS]
Known as one of the best middle blockers in the world with the awards to prove it winning the title of “Best Blocker” at the 2013 Montreux Volley Masters, 2015 European Championship, 2017 Yeltsin Cup and 2019 World Cup. At 6’5”, she is a scary opponent to try and hit against.
Lucas Saatkamp [BRA]
His hits are massive and so are his blocks. You can watch as his arms sway over the net in the direction of the ball to align perfectly with the hit. He has earned a gold and silver medal at two Olympic Games and has raked in over 10 gold medals at various international tournaments since he started playing for the Brazil national men’s volleyball team.
Yan Ni [CHN]
She is a great middle with the awards to back it up. She’s won the gold medal in the 2015 World Cup, 2016 Summer Olympics and 2019 World Cup with China women’s national volleyball team. At the 2018 FIVB World Championship and 2019 World Cup, Ni was awarded the “Best Middle Blocker”. In the 2014 AVC Cup, Ni won both the MVP and Best Middle Blocker awards.
Shōyō Hinata [Haikyuu!!]
Hinata is a very unique player in the sense that he plays the middle blocker position, but is not super tall. He can jump out of the gym and with a good setter placing the right balls, Hinata’s hits are unstoppable. His signature red hair matches his fiery passion for the sport. He can find holes in the opposing blockers’ wall and his huge verticals and hard swings allow him to find the floor on the other side in a seamless manner.
This middle blocker makes a grand appearance in the show with not only how tall he is, but how well he can read hits and make blocks. He’s a bit stuck up at points but is able to teach his teammate Hinata how to read the hits as well as him. He’s made big impacts on his team with his smart blocking.