If a back-row player participates in a collective block (two or more players next to each other), it becomes a back-row block when the ball contacts a player in the collective block. A libero (foreground) may never attempt or complete a block. Photo Credit: Alan Look

Back-row blocks are more common than one might think. To the casual observer, blocking is thought to be a player(s) at the net with hands above the head, palms facing the net and then jumping to prevent an attacker from sending the ball across the net to the opponents’ side.

All rules codes basically define blocking in a similar way with the emphasis on four key points: 1) the player(s) must be near the net; 2) the player(s) must be reaching higher than the net; 3) the player(s) is/are attempting to deflect or intercept the ball coming from the opponent; and 4) the ball does not need to be higher than the top of the net when the blocking contact occurs, but the player(s) need to be reaching higher than the net. The rules verbiage varies slightly among the three rules codes, but those four elements are all integral parts of each.

Unlike attack rules, blocking rules do not consider the location of the ball in relation to the height of the net. Only the reach of the player(s) at the moment of contact with the ball is addressed. Contacting a ball coming from the opponent while reaching higher than the top of the net at the time of contact is a block. When the player is completely below the top of the net at time of contact, it is a team’s first hit. Many referees consider “close to the net” to be within arm’s reach.

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Back-row players usually know their status and rarely participate in blocking action because they are taught that it is not legal. They are usually ready to either receive an opponents’ attack or play it off their front-row blockers’ deflection.

When a back-row player participates in a blocking action, it does not become an illegal back-row block until the ball contacts the back-row player, or the ball contacts a player in a collective block (two or more players next to each other who meet the definition of a block) if a back-row player is involved. If neither the back-row player or a teammate very near the back-row player contacts the ball, play on. An exception to that rule occurs when the back-row player is the libero. A libero may never attempt or complete a block.

All rules codes have similar verbiage and interpretations for a player who is near the net, reaching above the height of the net, and how opponents legally cause the ball to contact him or her. In that situation, the player is considered a blocker. A back-row player attempting to play a ball above the net is considered an illegal back-row blocker if the ball is attacked or blocked by an opponent into the back-row player while that player is reaching above the height of the net. That also includes simultaneous contact by the back-row player and an opponent with a ball that is in the vertical plane above the net.

Visualize the following scenario:

Play: A3 overpasses the ball to the setter, A5, who is a back-row player at the net. A5, with her back (or side) to the net, reaches higher than the net and attempts to set the ball to a teammate while the ball is in the plane of the net. An opposing blocker contacts the ball at the same moment A5 contacts the ball. Ruling: Illegal back-row block by the setter. Likewise, if that opposing blocker contacts the ball first, and hits or blocks the ball into the back-row setter while she or he is reaching above the top of the net, it is also an illegal back-row block.

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Keys to calling back-row blocks:

  1. Know the rules verbiage so you can clearly communicate the call to a captain and/or coach when your call is questioned.
  2. Know whether each team’s setter is currently in the front or back row. The setter is often the numberone suspect during such a play.
  3. Know whether the back-row player is reaching above the top of the net when contact with the ball occurs. The height of the ball does not matter during a block. If the player’s hands are below the top of the net at the time of contact, the contact is one of the team’s three allowable hits.
  4. When a player passes the ball to a back-row setter near the net, peripherally read the trajectory of the ball as you focus on the setter. If you anticipate that the ball will enter the plane of the net, be ready for the ensuing action by the setter and opposing blocker(s) to rule on the play. If the ball does not enter the plane of the net and the blocker(s ) reach beyond the net, you will have to rule on a potential over-the-net fault.

As you can see, back-row blocks may be more common than expected. Rarely by design, they are more by accident due to an overpass to the back-row setter at the net.

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Note: This article is archival in nature. Rules, interpretations, mechanics, philosophies and other information may or may not be correct for the current year.

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