The position of middle blocker is where volleyball gets its name as the tallest sport in the world.
Middle blockers are seen as a formidable presence at the net, primarily responsible for blocking opposition spikers.
Offensively, middles run quick attacks through the center of the court in order to draw the enemy middle blocker away from the wing attackers.
As a former international level middle blocker myself, I know exactly what it takes to do a really good job in this position.
In this article we’ll take a deeper look at the roles and responsibilities of the middle blocker, as well as run through a few things you can do to be a better middle blocker.
What Does A Middle Blocker Do In Volleyball?
At the youth level, the stereotypical middle blocker is a great, big, freakishly tall player who is kind of slow to move and sort of… dopey…
They often don’t have incredible coordination and tend to make too many silly errors.
At the senior level, however, once they’ve filled out their frame and gotten the hang of the position, middle blockers are extremely athletic, powerful, and difficult to play against.
They operate out of the front middle of the court which allows them to move both directions to block attackers.
If you are unsure of what these numbers mean, check out my full article on positions in volleyball.
I’ll also be using the terms middle, middle blocker, and middle hitter interchangeably throughout this article – they all mean the exact same thing.
Middle Blockers Are Blocking Specialists
The middle blocker is a volleyball team’s primary blocker. Their main job is to make it really difficult for the opposition hitters to kill the ball.
The middle has to be ready to block the opposition middle, the setter (if they’re in the front court), as well as transition out to the sticks to block the opposition outside hitter and opposite hitter.
They also need to block back row attacks, meaning they’re involved in blocking just about every attack a team makes.
Middles Run Fast Paced Offenses To Spread The Floor
Offensively, the middle blocker is also responsible for hitting ‘quicks’ (high tempo plays) through the center of the floor.
These quick attacks are designed to force the opposing middle blocker to commit on them, which frees up the wing spikers to hit the ball without being faced with a double block.
Because of the quick tempo of these attacks, middle blockers don’t get set the ball particularly often as they require a fairly accurate set (and therefore pass) to effectively run that fast offense.
However when they do get set, middle hitters usually have the highest hitting percentage of any position on the floor, making them highly efficient offensive weapons.
Middle Hitters Only Play 1 Rotation In The Back Court
When the middle blocker rotates into the back court, after serving they’ll almost always be switched out for a libero. This means the MB really only plays in the front court.
After serving the ball, the middle blocker will usually run to position 5 (back/left) and play defense until they lose the point, which is when the libero steps in for serve reception.
Talented offensive middles may also play that single rotation from position 6 (back/center) which will allow them to hit the pipe (back row attack from center).
Because middle hitters get subbed off for the libero, they don’t have to receive serves and don’t end up digging many volleyballs.
They’re very much front court specialists.
What Are The Strengths Of A Good Middle Blocker?
There’s a pretty big difference between an average middle blocker and a really excellent one.
Below are a few characteristics of top tier middle blockers you should look to emulate.
Good Middle Blockers Move Efficiently
Blocking is all about movement efficiency.
The hardest part of blocking is getting out far enough to block a wing spiker without leaving a seam (gap) in the double block.
The only way you can accomplish this is by having extremely efficient footwork.
To get out to the wing, the middle blocker first needs to take a massive step with their outside leg, followed by a crossover step, and a jump.
If they hesitate for just a split second too long, or get the steps wrong, the spiker will punish them.
At the junior level, middle blockers are often slow and docile and struggle to develop the footwork efficiency needed to block really well.
This is possibly one of the biggest differences between junior and senior volleyball: the elites have filled out their frame and learnt how to control their body so their movement is fast and efficient.
Good Middle Blockers Are Really Smart
I hate to say it, but at the junior level, middles often have a reputation for being… dumb.
And I was a middle blocker at the junior level!
They often lack intuition, body control, and make poor decisions offensively.
At the highest level of the game, middle blockers are far more switched on.
Elite middle blockers have a lot of information to process every single point.
- The setter is in the front court, do I toe jump on him if the pass is tight?
- If it’s too tight, do I hit the overpass, dump/block the overpass, or dig the overpass?
- Do I commit block on the opposition middle, or read block? Which direction?
- How do I decide, in just a couple milliseconds, whether I’m blocking the setter, middle, or both, while still being able to get out and block the wing?
I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been in situations like these, basically having a conniption at the net trying to weigh up so many different factors in fractions of a second.
Once you’re experienced enough, a lot of this comes down to intuition and just ‘doing’ without really thinking a whole lot.
Good Middle Blockers Are Often Strong & Powerful
Middle blockers are typically described using words like ‘tall’ and ‘long’ but there’s a difference between a 7 footer and a 7 footer who is fast and athletic.
While technical skill and ability has to come first, some of the top middle blockers have made a name for themselves by being freakishly strong.
Robertlandy Simón is the current best middle in the world not just because of his technical abilities, but largely because of his sheer horsepower.
He can usually spike and serve the ball harder than anyone on the court.
Being able to hit the ball just 10-15% harder than everyone else can be the difference between getting a kill and a defender being able to dig your attack.
He’s also got remarkable speed which allows him to get out and block wing attackers really well.
Muserskiy was the same.
While you can make it to the top without being insanely strong or athletic (like Simone Anzani or Marko Podraščanin), you can also take the approach of Srećko Lisinac who got there with crazy athleticism as opposed to technical prowess.
Whichever way you slice it, being strong, powerful, and fast are traits well worth developing if you’re planning on being a middle blocker!
Good Middle Blockers Hit Efficiently
This one goes back to being really smart.
Weak middle blockers often tend to be too predictable in how they attack the ball.
They’ll often run the one play over and over and will quite often hit the ball in the same direction.
They tend try to hit the ball too sharp, because bouncing a spike clean off the 10 foot line is more important than winning the point!
These types of inexperienced middle blockers will usually have a fairly low hitting percentage compared to the elites who will often bat over .400.
Top middle blockers are capable of running a wide variety of offensive plays, not just A-quicks.
These players run Cs as well as B-quicks with solid accuracy.
They mostly put their egos aside and hit the ball deep into the back court because it’ll lead to more kills and less blocks than hitting sharp.
They’re capable of hitting the ball to either sideline, making them incredibly difficult for the opposition to block.
When you have plenty of tools in your toolbox and know how to use the right ones at the right time, and use them well, efficiency develops.
How Important Is The Middle Blocker?
Having a middle blocker who knows what their doing is one of the most valuable assets a volleyball team can have for many reasons.
Middle Blockers Reduce Opponent’s Hitting Efficiency
If your primary blocker is really solid, you not only win more points from stuff blocking your opposition, but you’re going to get more ‘touches’ which alter potential kills into diggable hits.
So your opposition goes from scoring kills to 0s and 0s to errors.
Middle Blockers Provide A Back Court Defensive Framework
A good middle blocker makes the back court’s life a whole lot easier.
If you’re doing a poor job blocking, it’s going to be very difficult to dig much of anything.
But if your middle blocker gets into position well, your defenders will have a much easier time keeping the ball off the ground.
Offensively, the middle blocker is more important than first meets the eye.
Strong Middle Blockers Make Your Other Attackers More Efficient
Being able to kill the ball with a high efficiency means your middle blocker can be relied on to score a point when your team needs to side out.
Also, just by being a well-rounded, dangerous offensive-minded middle hitter, the opposition middle blocker has no option but to commit to you on every play.
This means your wing attackers will find themselves in 1 on 1 situations more often which means your team will be more efficient offensively.
As you can see, even if you’re not getting set the ball that often, the fact that you pose a big risk whenever you are set means the entire team becomes more effective when attacking.
In terms of impact on the court, the middle blocker is easily one of the most important positions in the game of volleyball.
Is Middle Blocker A Good Position In Volleyball?
Having played middle blocker for over a decade, and having had a love-hate relationship with it for the entire time, I still think it’s a pretty awesome position to play.
The issue is that few people will ever be tall enough to play it at a high level and I always recommend to steering clear of playing middle as a youth athlete unless you’re projected to one day become tall enough to play it at the senior level.
Having said that, if you do choose to play middle, it can be a very exciting role to play.
You’re going to get more massive blocks than anyone else on your team, which is always fun.
You’ll probably be able to bounce some quicks into the attack line from time to time too.
And you’ll be involved in establishing who wins the war on the net: jousting, coordinating blocks, the occasional trash talk… it can definitely be a lot of fun!
Should I Be A Middle Blocker?
No, probably not.
The simple reality is that very few volleyball players should be a middle blocker, because you really do need freakish height to even have a chance.
When I say that, I’m referring to those who aspire to play professionally or at the Olympics – there’s a big difference between playing at that level and just playing for enjoyment.
Anyone who is decently tall can play middle for fun, but for now I’m going to talk about what characteristics you should have if you want to play middle blocker at the highest level of the game.
Physical Attributes Of A Middle Blocker
As you can imagine, the prerequisites for being a strong middle blocker are largely physical in nature.
I’ll quickly walk you through exactly what benchmarks you need to meet in order to succeed as an elite middle blocker.
Only 0.00013% of the male population are 6’8″ (203cm) or taller according to the calculator I think I just broke…
That’s basically how lucky/tall you need to be to think about playing middle blocker at the senior men’s level.
The average height of a men’s Olympic middle blocker is 206cm, so you’d actually be slightly undersized!
For women, you’re looking at being at least 6’2″ (188cm) to play middle blocker at the highest level.
These numbers are based off current and former international level volleyball rosters.
In another article I’ve gone into much greater detail on height as it pertains to middle blockers. So be sure to check that out for more info.
Unfortunately, the reality is that 99% of the people reading this article will never be tall enough to make it as a middle blocker at the highest level.
But can’t you be a bit shorter and just learn how to jump really high?
For every other position on the court, that works pretty well. But not for middle blocker.
Let me explain why…
The reason is because you need to be able to block quickly, which means sometimes toe jumping to block opposing middles and setters.
A really tall middle blocker with a 265cm standing reach doesn’t have to jump very high to get his hands above the net and contest the quick attack.
But if you’ve only got a 250cm standing reach, suddenly you need to be able to jump 15cm higher just to make the exact same block.
Moving 15cm in the air takes a lot of time, time you don’t have when the opposing middle blocker is running a quick.
You’ll simply be too slow to make the block.
I go into more detail about how difficult it is to overcome this disadvantage in this article on middle blocker height.
Long Arms Help A Lot
Wingspan is one of the most important stats for any volleyball player (aside from liberos and setters).
If you’re a 200cm middle with extraordinarily long arms, you might just be able to kick it with the best in the world, despite being 5-6cm shorter than most of them.
A large wingspan, or more importantly, standing reach is necessary for blocking speed – how quickly can you get your fingertips/hands/arms in front of the opposition blocker.
More length on your arms means you can get into position quicker.
For women’s middle blockers, ideally you’ll have a 241cm standing reach (7’11”) and for men, you’ll probably want to be north of 265cm (8’8″).
I’ll discuss more about these benchmarks a little later on in the recruitment guidelines section of this article.
Speed, Coordination, Strength/Power, Explosiveness
These are all the words used to describe exactly what most youth middle blockers aren’t.
The simple fact is that if you’re young and growing at an extremely rapid pace, you’re in what we refer to as the ‘baby giraffe phase’.
You can barely control your bodyweight, you probably have poor posture, you’re not so strong, you’re really slow, and probably not very athletic.
This is normal.
With time, you’ll improve in all of these areas and eventually you’ll need to have all of these things to succeed at the top.
If you’re relatively young still and have any of those attributes, you’re ahead of the pack and should double down on your strengths while bringing up your weaknesses.
If you’re still not sure if this position is right for you, check out my full article on what things you need to consider when choosing a volleyball position.
What Do Coaches Look For In A Middle Blocker?
If you’re a highly coachable middle blocker, you’re going to have a much better time in the sport of volleyball than if you aren’t.
Let’s take a look at what recruiters look for in middle blockers – most of which reflects the aforementioned physical attributes we’ve just discussed.
Middle Blocker Recruitment Guidelines
If you’re aspiring to play NCAA college volleyball as a middle blocker, there are some important benchmarks you should be aware of.
Jumping Ability & Arm Length
The below numbers are for women’s volleyball as per the NCSA website.1https://www.ncsasports.org/womens-volleyball/recruiting-guidelines
Unfortunately the same stat requirements aren’t public for men’s college volleyball, except for just 1…
The NCSA website stated that a solid men’s middle blocker attack jump would be 11’6″ or 350cm.
This stat is otherwise known as spike height and I can tell you right now that 350cm is considered world class and is exceptionally difficult to attain for most athletes.
Two of my top 5 ranked middle blockers in the world don’t even have a 350cm spike reach!
Since I’ve had plenty of experience measuring elite athletes standing reach and jumping ability, I’ve taken the liberty to construct the equivalent table for men’s volleyball.
These are my best estimates of what the men’s middle blocker recruiting guidelines would be.
Again, these are just estimates having trained and tested with numerous college level middle blockers in the past
Hitting percentage is a stat which measures how efficient you are as a spiker.
It’s unlikely that recruiters will have access to these stats, but a decent benchmark for middle blockers is to aim for 0.400.
Middle blockers usually have the highest hitting percentage of all positions.
Here’s the top 20 women’s D1 NCAA hitters in the US and as you can see most of them are middle blockers.
Recently I wrote an article addressing what hitting percentage is, how it’s calculated, and what figures you should aim for based on position.
Be sure to check that out for more info.
We discussed earlier the height requirements to play the middle blocker position.
For men you’re looking at being 6’8″ or taller and for women 6’2″ or taller would be ideal.
I’ve done an entire article going into much greater detail on the height of middle blockers, so be sure to check that out.
You need to have played a good amount of club volleyball for recruiters to consider you.
At least 2-5 years of decent level competition is what they’re after.
Basically you need to show them that you know what you’re doing on court.
How To Be A Better Middle Blocker
Now that your heart’s set on the middle blocker position, what things should you be focusing on to improve?
Having the genetic gifts just to get your foot in the door as a middle is one thing, but training efficiently so you can develop rapidly is a whole nother ballgame.
I could come up with a huge long list of tips and tricks for middle blocking, but instead I’ve decided to reveal the 20% of things which will get you 80% of the results.
Below are by far the 3 most important things you need to put your time and effort into to become a better middle blocker.
1. Improve Your Blocking Mechanics
Yes, blocking is so much less glamorous than hitting, but trust me when I say that a good 70% of being a solid middle blocker is about being able to block really well.
And yes, it’s also far less fun to train than spiking, but the return on investment you’ll see from drilling blocking will be significantly higher than working on offense.
First, ensure you have the footwork down pat.
If you’re making even small mistakes in your blocking footwork, you’ll be inefficient and too slow to be an effective blocker.
Know exactly what the sequence of steps are to go from the center middle position to out on the sticks where you’ll have to set up for double blocks.
You can practice this footwork on an empty net.
Focus on performing the whole movement extremely quickly – you want to simulate real-world situations as closely as possible, so speed is really important.
Try to improve your speed and reaction time as much as possible without starting to drift too far in the air.
Aim to keep everything as mechanical or robotic as possible.
When your team’s doing hitting lines next, ask if it’s alright if you block.
You want to start from the dead center of the court and only move when the setter has set the ball.
You’re always going to be slightly slow in-game because you have to read the direction of the set, so make sure you’re slightly slow/late when training.
Focus on covering as much ground as possible with your footwork and then putting up a solid block.
Be sure to check out my top middle blocker drills for some training ideas.
2. Improving Your Hitting Efficiency
Offensively speaking, you want to be that middle who’s killing the ball at over 70%.
First, start by mastering a variety of types of attacks.
It’s not good enough to just hit A-quicks over and over.
Focus on adding the B-quick to your arsenal by spending the majority of your time in training on these attacks.
Occasionally hit the C-quick or slide as well.
Once you’ve mastered the A-quick, I’d recommend spending 70% of your time running B-quicks and the remainder of the time you can sprinkle in As and Cs so you’re practicing all of them.
Once you’re able to hit all of these attacks fairly well, focus on increasing the directional range you’re able to hit the ball.
You should be able to hit As, Bs, and Cs to both the left and right sidelines.
That’s our end goal: to be able to pick and choose which areas of the court we’re hitting.
Make sure you’re aiming for the international hitting zones only.
This means forgetting about bouncing balls straight down and instead aiming for the back corners of the court – this will earn you more kills and prevent you from being blocked so much.
3. Constantly Be Improving Your Physicality
The last thing you want is to be a really tall, really weak and slow middle blocker…
You ought to be able to jump high, hit hard, and move up and down the net with speed.
This means getting in the weight room and lifting regularly.
Your primary objective should be to increase your vertical jump which will translate to a higher spike/block height.
A middle blocker with a 365cm spike reach is a lot more valuable than a middle blocker with a 350cm spike reach.
Don’t neglect your upper body either.
Be sure to do plenty of upper body strength movements like overhead press and pullups so that you’re able to hit the ball just that little bit harder than your opponents.
After you’ve been lifting for 3-4 years, it’ll actually end up making a huge difference on the court.
What Are Good Stats For A Middle Blocker?
There’s a number of useful stats to be aware of which track the individual performance of players on court.
For the majority of you who aren’t playing at a very high level, you won’t need to know any of these stats and you likely won’t have access to them either.
The main ones for middle blockers to be aware of are as follows…
Hitting percentage looks at the number of attempts, number of kills, and number of hitting errors a spiker makes.
It’s an overall measure of efficiency and a solid benchmark for middle blockers is .400 or higher.
Be sure to read my full article on hitting percentage for more information on this stat.
Another extremely common stat often used to track middle blocker performance is kill percentage, which is just a more rudimentary version of hitting percentage.
Kill percentage is simply the number of kills over the number of attempts.
A kill percentage of 60-70% is considered world class for middle blockers.
Blocks Per Set
This stat is an overall metric for how many kill blocks you’re racking up.
It’s not the best stat because it fails to take into account other positive blocking actions that don’t result in a kill block.
It’s impossible to get a really well rounded view of how well someone is blocking with the number of blocks alone, so there are a few other, better stats that could also be collected…
Block percentage is the percentage of blocks made by the middle against all attacks, which already makes this a little more useful than blocks per set.
A block percentage of 5.5 or higher is considered fairly decent.
Opponent Attack Percentage
The above blocking stats still don’t take into account the positive effects of a blocker unless they result in blocks.
Middle blockers who are able to get touches on more balls are going to be more valuable to have on your team.
These touches lead to a lower opponent attack percentage.
For that reason I view the OAP stat as the most wholesome way to track blocking effectiveness.
Anything below 45% is considered pretty decent for this stat.
Volleyball Middle Blocker FAQ
Most of the time your strongest middle blocker will start in position 6 which means they’re on the bench at the start of the set.
The idea is to spread out your best players so that the setter sits between your strongest outside hitter and your strongest middle blocker.
There’s absolutely no difference, the term you use is just down to preference more than anything. Tomato tomato.