In the game of volleyball, you may notice that the tallest player on the team is positioned at the middle front. This is the middle blocker, and they are the lead blocker on the team. This player’s primary job is blocking the ball from coming over the net.
In this article, we will discuss the responsibilities and roles of the middle blocker and other information that is important to this position.
What Is The Middle Blocker?
The middle blocker is the first line of defense against an attack from the opposing team. They are responsible for remembering how each hitter is hitting on the opposing team to be able to position themselves for the block. The middle blocker is also known as the middle hitter, so being a skilled hitter is necessary as they will get sets from the setter to hit.
The middle blocker plays at the middle of the court in the front row. This position is also known as the middle hitter because they are also responsible for hitting. Often, the middle hitter will receive quick sets from the setter to keep the game quick and hopefully throw off the opposing team.
As this player rotates in the front row, they will switch back to the middle front position as soon as the ball has been served. They need to be quick on their feet and always know where they are going to block. Not only does this player block in the middle front, but they also block for the entire front row by going to the left and right side to assist those players with the block.
History Of The Middle Blocker
The middle blocker position came shortly after the setter and hitter when it was decided that the game needed more defense at the net. There was so much hitting (spiking) going on that adding a defensive player would make the game more challenging. It needed someone tall and who could move from one end of the net to the other quickly and efficiently.
As these positions were evolving in the game of volleyball, the game itself started to become more popular. There were also more rules being implemented which helped to speed up matches. With volleyball becoming more competitive, the game quickly grew nationally and internationally.
Rules Of The Middle Blocker
When playing the middle blocker position, there are some rules that must be followed as to not give up a point to the opposing team. Below is a list of those rules.
- Middle blocker cannot touch the net. Body contact with the net is not permitted between the antennae and will result in a lost point.
- Middle blocker cannot step under the net. The middle blocker cannot step over the mid-court line into the opponent’s side unless part of the foot remains on the line.
- Middle blocker can touch the ball beyond the net while blocking. The outside hitter can block the ball beyond the net if it doesn’t interfere with the opponent’s play before or during an attack hit.
- Middle blocker cannot hold the ball while hitting or blocking. The middle blocker must be careful to not hold the ball too long when hitting and blocking otherwise the other team will get the ball back.
- Middle blocker must switch with another player after the serve. If the middle blocker is switching with another front row player to get back into their position, they must wait until the serve leaves the hand of the server.
- Middle blocker cannot block a serve. When the opponent serves the ball, the middle blocker cannot block it from coming over the net.
- Middle blocker can block the hit and then pass the ball. If the middle blocker blocks the ball and it ends up on their side of the net, they can pass the ball to another player.
These are the main rules the middle blocker must follow while on the court. These rules and more can be found at USA Volleyball.
Responsibilities And Skills Of The Middle Blocker
There are certain responsibilities a middle hitter must perform. They must also possess certain skills to be successful in this position. In this section we will discuss the important responsibilities and skills of the middle blocker.
There are four responsibilities that a middle blocker does that are very important to a team’s success.
- Covering the net
- Read the hitters
One of the most important goals of the middle blocker is to block the volleyball from coming over the net from the opposing team. The block is the first wall of defense, and the middle blocker should do everything possible to keep the ball from reaching the back row. The player in this position transitions quickly from the middle to both sides of the court to help the outside hitters block. They must pay special attention to opposing team’s setter to see where the ball will be set to the opposing hitters.
A good middle blocker communicates to the front row where the hit is going to be, so they can assist them in the blocking. They also need to have good timing on the block as to make connection with the ball.
The middle blocker is also responsible for hitting. Because they are usually the tallest player on the team, the middle blocker can easily hit over the block from the opposing team. They normally receive quick sets from the setter making it harder for the other side of the court to react in time to make a block. When the middle blocker hits, the ball is more likely to go straight down onto the court because of their height thus making it harder for the ball to be passed up from the other side.
Covering The Net
Being a middle blocker requires covering the whole net effectively. Middle blockers do this by paying attention to the other side of the court and being quick on their feet. They must help outside hitters on their team block by transitioning over to their side of the court quickly. There is footwork that must be learned to make this transition effective.
When the middle blocker does not receive a set from the setter to hit over, they should cover the hitter that was set. They must watch for the other team blocking the ball or tipping it back over quickly. If that happens, they are responsible for passing it back up to the setter.
Reading The Hitters
Being able to read the hitters on the opposing team requires the middle blocker to be very observant of the other team’s players. When the ball is passed to their setter, the middle blocker observes where the set is going and communicates to the front row blockers where the block is going to take place. If the block is not in the middle, they must move quickly to the side of the court where it is going to be hit.
Middle blockers also observe how the opposing team’s hitters are hitting and communicates that to the front row. For example, they may have noticed a particular hitter hits the ball cross court most of the time. The middle blocker will communicate to the outside hitter helping them with the block to adjust for that type of hit.
The middle blocker must have certain skills to be successful at their responsibilities. Below is a list of those skills.
- Quickness: able to move across the net quickly
- Strength: block with strong hands/arms, jump high
- Great blocking skills: able to read where the ball and move hands to block the ball
- Ability to read the setter: able to see what position the opposing team will set
- Ability to read the hitter: able to read how the hitter is hitting to determine the direction of the ball
Drills For Middle Blockers
Middle blockers can become better at their position by practicing some drills. Drills will help them improve and become more consistent. Below are three drills that a middle blocker can do to improve their skills.
Setting Up The Middle Drill
This drill focuses on running the middle in serve receive. Someone on the other side of the net tosses the ball to the players in the back row. They give a great pass to the setter. The setter then sets the ball to the middle hitter while on the move. The middle hitter adjusts to hit the ball the over the net. Take as many repetitions as possible of this drill to help get the players in sync with each other.
Someone stands on a wooden box on the opposite of the net and hits the ball at the middle blocker. The middle blocker blocks the ball while working on jumping and timing the ball. This is a good drill to get in repetitions of blocking.
Variation: The middle blocker can move to each side of the net with an outside blocker to work on blocking the ball. The hitter would be on the outside on the wooden box.
Blocking Footwork Drill
A middle blocker can do this drill just about anywhere to improve their quickness, pressing their hands, and transitioning to attack. The player starts in their middle blocker neutral position where their legs are shoulder length apart and knees bent. The player takes a big first step, then crosses over with their feet, and then plants their feet facing the net in a wide athletic stance. The player then jumps and presses their hands forward with elbows out for a block. After the block, the player can then go to their middle position to transition into hitting.
Equipment For The Middle Blocker
Being a middle blocker requires quick movement and making effective plays to score points. Choosing equipment that will help them do that is important.
In this section, we will share our top choices for middle blocker equipment.
- Flexible upper construction that can help feet bend more naturally and assist players in moving more freely
- Synthetic leather overlays that improve support in the forefoot and help athletes make confident cuts
- GEL® technology cushioning unit in the heel is functional for providing better shock absorption
When choosing shoes for a middle blocker be sure to look for comfort, durability, traction, and good cushioning for all those jumps. Having shoes with these features is essential for a middle blocker because of all the plays they need to make for their team. Below is our top choice for best middle blocker shoes.
The Asics Gel-Rocket 10 is a great pair of shoes for the middle blocker. These shoes come with enhanced cushioning and shock absorption to help the player with jumping. They also feature a rear and forefoot gel cushioning system to add to the shock absorption.
These shoes are designed with a lightweight mesh top to help the feet move more naturally. They are made with Trusstic System Technology which reinforces the middle section of the shoes. This reduces the weight of the shoes while keeping the durability intact. Because the sole is made with a more natural rubber, the grip works well when quickly going up to the net for a hit.
The Asics Gel-Rocket 10 shoes are affordable as well. They are often priced the same or below other volleyball shoes and contain more features specific to the sport of volleyball than other brands.
- Shock absorption
- Gel Cushioning for comfort
- Lightweight mesh top for more natural movement
- Affordable price
Knee pads are an essential piece of equipment for a middle blocker. They will play defense, especially when the ball is not blocked. There will be plenty of times when the ball will need dug up in the front row. Be sure to look for knee pads that are durable, comfortable, and provide protection. Below is our top choice for best middle blocker knee pads.
The Mizuno LR6 Knee Pads provide a middle blocker with the right amount of coverage while providing a greater freedom of movement. These knee pads are specifically made to be worn below the kneecaps to protect the knees from injuries. There is padding in high impact areas to absorb shock when digging or sliding for a volleyball.
Mizuno is a company that specializes in volleyball equipment, so it is no surprise that they have done a lot of research and testing to provide high quality knee pads. Some customers in the reviews say that wearing these knee pads are so comfortable it doesn’t even feel like they are wearing any. They also said that they feel their knees are well protected because of the design and padding of the knee pads.
- High impact padding
- Freedom of movement
- Protects knees from injuries
- Great design
One of our other top picks for knee pads are the Nike Vapor Volleyball Knee Pads . These knee pads are made of breathable material and have a dual layer gel cushion for maximum protection. While they are extremely nice, they are a little more expensive.
Famous Middle Blockers
Without a middle blocker, scoring points would be very difficult. There are some players that have mastered this powerful position in volleyball. In this section, we will discuss some famous middle hitters that have excelled to the top.
Lucas Saatkamp is a middle blocker from Brazil that has been awarded best middle blocker throughout the last decade. He is known for his power and explosion in this position. It is no surprise that he has won many world championships and world cups. One of his many accomplishments is scoring 19 points across five sets in the quarterfinals of the Rio Olympics where they took gold.
He originally began his sporting career as a basketball player and made the switch to volleyball when he earned a scholarship to play both sports at the age of sixteen. He married in 2015 and has a son named Theo. He is still playing volleyball and was in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics where Brazil took fourth place.
Yan Ni is from China and has been named best middle blocker throughout her volleyball career. She has played for the China National team since 2014 and won a gold medal in the Rio 2016 Olympics. Because she is such an extraordinary blocker, Ni was given the nickname ‘Northern Great Wall’.
After 20 years playing professionally, Yan Ni decided to retire from volleyball in November of 2021. She played until the age of 34. Her coach often referred to her as “the true first line of defense’. Her teammates learned a lot from her career and looked up to her as an excellent example of a volleyball player.
Robertlandy Simon is a middle blocker from Cuba who has been recognized as the best middle blocker for the last 15 years. He began playing for the Cuba National team when he was 17 and was the team captain for five years. Simon left the Cuban team in 2010 and played for other countries. He ended up being the most expensive player in the South Korea league from 2012-2016.
He returned to the Cuban men’s volleyball team in 2019 and was very happy with his return. He was hoping they would make it to the Tokyo 2020 Olympic games, but they fell short at the Pre-Olympic Championship in Vancouver. The Cuban team is working to prepare for the 2024 Olympics in Paris. Simon doesn’t know if he will join the team in Paris. His focus right now is to help the team gain more experience in volleyball to help them for the 2024 Olympics.
Haleigh Washington is a middle blocker who recently played for the U.S. Women’s Volleyball team in the 2020 Olympic Games. She was named “Best Middle Blocker” in the tournament to really solidify her name as one of the best players in the game.
Haleigh played her collegiate career at Penn State where she led them to the 2014 NCAA National Title as a freshman. In her senior season, she earned the 2017 Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year.
Haleigh has the honor of winning a high school state title, a college national title, and the Olympic Gold medal. She has had quite a decade and still has many years of volleyball left to play in her career.
Middle Blocker FAQ
Are middle blockers tall?
Middle blockers are the tallest player on the team. They should have a standing reach of 7’9”. The average height for women players is between 5’9” and 6’1”. The average height for men players is between 6’3”and 6’8”.
What is the main role of the middle blocker?
The main role of the middle blocker is to be the first line of defense against the opposing team by blocking a hit at the net. They are also responsible for hitting the ball at the middle front position. Often, you will see them take quick sets to throw off the opposing team.
Where is the middle blocker position on the court?
The middle blockers position is in the front middle of the court. They move from that position to help the right and left side hitters with blocking. They also hit from the middle front position.
Do middle blockers play the back row?
Middle blockers typically do not play the back row positions. They usually are substituted with the libero on the team. Sometimes, they will serve to throw off the opposing team.
How many middle blockers does a volleyball team have?
A volleyball team usually has 2 middle blockers. When one of them substitutes out for the libero, the other one will come in for a different back row player in the front row.
The middle blocker is a very important position on a volleyball team. They are the first the line of defense when the ball is being hit from the opposing team. When you watch a volleyball match, you will notice the middle blocker blocking the ball the most. It is a good feeling to them when that ball doesn’t come over the net because they stopped it.
If you are working on becoming a middle blocker, be sure to practice the position as much as possible. It is also a good idea to watch other middle blockers play the position and practice some of the drills listed above.