Should I Stay or Should I Go: Peel Footwork for Blockers


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Blockers block in beach volleyball, right? They're the big goons at the net who are supposed to stay at the net. Correct? 

Yes and no. 

In an ideal world, a blocker would never have to leave the net -- or peel, in volleyball vernacular. In the ideal world, a blocker stays at the net, and the defender covers whatever the blocker doesn't in the back court. Simple. 

But if you've played beach volleyball -- and if you're reading this blog dedicated exclusively to beach volleyball -- you know that ideal worlds are not meant for this sport. It's messy and chaotic and pure pandemonium almost all the time. 

Which brings us to peel digging. 

Typically (hopefully), a blocker will only leave the net, or "peel," if the offense is out of system -- if there's a bad set, the attacker isn't in a position to swing well, there's a free ball coming, if you read a certain shot or swing, etc. 

There are a few general rules to adhere to when it comes to peeling. 

1. Always face the court.

If you're on the right side, your first move should be to open up with your left foot, then cross over with your right, finish the full crossover step with the left, and then be in a defensive position. Do this, but in reverse, on the left side. 

Why do we face the court the entire time? It's likely that your touch off a peel won't be perfect. When you face the court, your touches have a higher chance of going back into the court for your partner to set, making it easier to transition the dig. 

2. Peel into your call.

If you're calling a line block, peel into the line. If you're calling an angle block, peel into the angle. This way you and your defender are still on the same page defensively. 

3. Stop your feet. 

It's tough enough to dig a ball. Try digging one while you're still moving your feet. Even tougher. When you peel, get to your spot as fast and controlled as possible, then stop. By having your feet stopped, you'll be ready to change direction to pick up a shot either way, and you'll be planted to dig a hard driven ball coming your way. 

Allow the video to show you what a perfect peel dig looks like. 

Peel Footwork For Blockers

Today we’re going to talk about Peel Footwork, or how to go from defending the net to playing ground defense in the back of the court. We have very efficient footwork that allows us to do that, but we have a lot of different patterns, and they can apply to different types of athletes.

We have to get somebody close to the net to defend the net. We’re going to call this person a net protector or a rover. Let’s say that you have two people who are shorter, they’re never going to block in their life, but they will still play ground defense and they can still be competitive.

You can be competitive by protecting the net. It’s unforgivable to allow an overpass by the other team or an over set by the other team to earn them a point. We just can’t allow that, so we always have to assign a net protector who stays between those two players for the entire point, which means you don’t have a right or a left side defender.

When you’re on defense, you give your signs and that’s the part of the court that you need to defend. If we have an athlete who’s never going to block but they still need to protect the net, we’re going to put them in surfer position.

I’m going to be more than an arm’s distance away and I’m going to put myself at about 5 feet from the net. This way I’m not a blocker but I’m a lot closer to the back court so that I can play defense easy. After I see that the set is not coming over, it’s not a 50/50 where maybe I can battle at the tape, or it’s not coming on to my side, then from my surfer position, I can go cross over-plant-plant. So, from surfer position, I’m here and it’s cross over-plant-plant. Now I’ve gotten to ¾ depth on the court and I can be in a balanced position.

One of the things that happens when we do our crossover-plant-plant footwork is that people get off balanced when they start to set up their feet. So, we’re here to cross over-plant-plant and then they keep backpedaling or they get off balanced. You need to train your feet, your body, and your core so that you can move and stop in a totally balanced position. So, at full speed I’m here then crossover-plant-plant, and now I’m neutral and I can change direction, I can start from anywhere. But if I’m still going backwards or my torso is leaning back, I’m going to be vulnerable.

When we’re doing our peel footwork, whether we’re doing cross-plant-plant, open-cross-plant-plant, or back-pedaling, we need to keep our palms and our eyes on the attacker at all time. The eyes will give you all the cues for what the attacker is about to do, they’ll see you what’s most available. Somebody’s going inside and you can see a cut shot, you can stop your footwork pattern and start pursuing the cut shot. You see them leaning back, then you’ll know that that ball is probably going to travel upwards, high deep.

So, if you’re not looking, and if you turn your eyes from the defender and you run like this, you’re not going to get that valuable information. Also, when we drop our hands, we’re peeling because we don’t believe that this person can hit down into the front two-thirds of the court, that’s why we’re peeling, we can’t block.

Your hands need to be up facing the attacker and your eyes need to face the attacker at all times. From this surfer position, I protect it, I see that the sets not coming over, now crossover-plant -plant and I’m balanced and my chest and hands are facing the attacker so that I can react to them. A lot of players get caught in mid-crossover in this position, the most important part about playing defense when you peel is getting your chest square to the hitter, that way you can react in all sorts of ways. If I’m facing the camera or the attacker like this, I’m vulnerable from here all the way to here and this side and we’ll not have much room to play defense. By the time that hitter attacks you need to make sure that your chest is facing them and your hands are up.

Sometimes we need to play in a way where we are going to block a certain amount of time, but the majority of the time we’re going to peel. Let’s say there’s a hitter who when he/she’s in a perfect situation, they can hit, but they get themselves in trouble a lot so they end up shooting a lot. I need to be close enough to the net to block so I’m within hands reach of the net, but I’m staying in my surfer position. I’m staying in this position because I’m more likely to peel. I’m more likely to leave the net. From here I can bring my other foot forward and close the block, or I can do a very efficient move and a giant crossover plant-plant.

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I get this question a lot; “How far do I need to get to play defense when I peel?”. You only need to get as far as those steps take you. Cross over-plant-plant. Practice it and see how powerful and long you can get it because if you only do this, you’re not going to get anywhere. But if you take big powerful athletic steps, you can get pretty far in the court, right from the blockers position, giant cross-plant-plant and I’ve already gotten ¾ of the court covered. So, practice it. Get powerful with those steps and see how much distance you can get.

Last piece of footwork for blockers that most World Tour men are using; We’re staying square to the net and we shuffle along the net consistently. So, everything is a shuffle step allowing my defender to know where their windows are, and it helps us take these micro adjustments so that our block position can be exactly right.

When we need to peel and we see it nice and early – we’re talking advanced level men here, people who can hit hard and overpower you from at least half court – then we need to stay as long as we can and when we know that it’s coming into a shot, or they’re not a front two-thirds threat anymore, then we can allow ourselves to peel. So, from this squared position to the net, now I open, cross-plant-plant, and I did that improperly because I took my eyes and my hands off of the net. So, from this blocker’s position here, my hands and eyes stay forward the whole time and it’s open, cross-plant-plant and I’ve gotten to three quarters of the court. For high level men, this is only when you have enough time.

Sometimes we have a perfect in-system pass and our setter will make a very slight error. A setter just makes a slight mistake in the hands, or we see that the attacker comes in just a little bit early and is now underneath the ball, they’re no longer a serious threat where I should block, so I can peel but I’m probably not going to have enough time to cross over-plant-plant and have my chest facing the attacker before the attack, because I’m only going to have maybe that much time to adjust, and in that situation, in-system pass and just a slightly offset, or a slightly early attacker, now I can do a big drop step, and then continue a light backpedal, and I can just coast until about half court making sure that my chest stays on the attacker. Out of system pass, most likely to be a terrible set, then as a blocker, I can open cross-plant-plant.

If I have a great pass and then last minute I just noticed that the set is falling off, or that the attacker is coming in early, then I can just take a big drop step and leave my hands forward so that my chest stays on the attacker and I can react with my hands to create that dig.

If you’ve ever faced a player who just likes to poke short and over the blocker around them – maybe they don’t use the deep part of the court, but they can use the area around the blocker very well – or they like high lines and those loopy shots, we can bait them into hitting to us by doing a squat and drop footwork pattern.

When the attacker is about to attack, I want to show them that I’m in a normal jump pattern, so I’m going to sink just like I’m jumping, and I’m about the block, but then I lightly backpedal away from the net once I notice that there head is up and I’m probably hidden from their vision, so my body shows them that I’m squatting to jump but then I’m quietly – like a ninja – peeling away from the net and expecting a short loopy ball to come over my hands. This can mess with a lot of hitters because people who want to shoot do not like people who peel, they’ve cut off a lot of their court for their slow shots. So if you ever have somebody who’s attacking you and they’re using all of the areas around the blocker, and they’re shooting a lot, don’t peel early, see if you can bait them into hitting into the blocker by squatting and then dropping with hands up ready to make a pokey or tomahawk defense.

There are times when we can backpedal, there are times when we can open cross-plant-plant, and there are athletes who are only using cross-plant-plant. You should know all of the footwork patterns and you should know when to use each one because there are opportunities to use them.


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