Can You Block a Serve in Volleyball?

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In a rally, volleyball players will stretch to their limits while attempting to block a spiked ball. However, they always appear a bit too passive when the opposing team serves. This phenomenon has caused many viewers to wonder if the lack of a serve block attempt is strategic or precautionary. The resulting confusion begs the question: can you block a serve in volleyball?

The volleyball rules state that players are not allowed to block a serve. They are also prohibited from attacking the serve when the ball is in the front zone and at a height higher than the volleyball net. The rules only allow players to pass the ball or return it from the back zone.

In this post, you’ll learn everything related to the rules about serve blocking in volleyball. You’ll also get insights into receiving services like a pro.

Here’s a rundown of this content:

  • What the Rules Say
  • Why this Rule Exists
  • How to Properly Receive a Serve in Volleyball  
  • Conclusion

We’ll begin by helping you understand the rules.

What the Rules Say

According to section 14.5 of the FIVB’s latest official rules (2021-2024), volleyball players are forbidden from blocking the opponent’s service.

This statement appears simple enough, but for clarity, we should define the term “blocking.”

In this case, blocking entails stretching to obstruct an attack ball from crossing over the net to your side of the court. So, in essence, any attempt to stop an attack ball before or when it reaches your half of the court is a block.

The act of blocking is a legal and useful part of the game during a rally, but it’s a violation if you do it immediately after service from the other team.

Blocking a serve is not considered a legal block and it will give your opponents a point immediately, so players do their best to avoid this violation. Even when some cleverly try to stand with their arms raised over the net before the opponent’s serve, it’s still considered a violation.

You are also not allowed to return service with a direct attack hit of your own when the ball is still in the front zone and above the net. This move is referred to as “attacking the serve,” and it is illegal in volleyball.

Major leagues acknowledge the rules above. If you check the USA volleyball block rules, you will find similar statements.

Other than blocking or attacking a service, you can use any other move to receive it. The two common methods are:

  1. Returning the ball over the net and back into the opponent’s side
  2. Passing or setting the ball for your teammates

The first method is not common in professional games because it could easily place your team in a disastrous position. Lobbing the ball over the net, is a soft slow play that gives the opposing team’s setter a chance to create a devastating play for their hitters to pounce on. There’s also a chance that the ball could be smashed right back into your side. This strategy can work, especially in beach volleyball, but it’s very situational and difficult to pull off.

The second allowable play is a lot more effective as it allows your team to set up an attack of their own. There’s the risk of a double hit, but it remains the safer, smarter, and more common play among the two. That’s why learning how to receive a service as a back or front-row player is vital. We’ll reveal more about that later in this article.

Why this Rule Exists

Imagine if this rule about serve blocking doesn’t exist. Would it change the game for good or worse? That’s a question that this section will answer by examining some of the reasons the FIVB implemented the rule in the first place.

To Maintain the Attacking Threat

Right now, players can send their service closer to the upper tape or as high as they want. There’s a level of unpredictability when it comes to service, as there are multiple options.

This makes it more entertaining to watch players serve because it allows for some creative plays, including moments such as the serves in this video.

Now, imagine every team could position their tallest players at the net with their arms raised. Volleyball servers will have only one option: play the ball high enough to go over the blockers and land on the opposition’s back-court.

In essence, the only viable option would be to lob the ball. Such a play will be easy for the opponent’s defense to turn into a counterattack. Hence, serving will no longer pose a significant attacking threat.

When you take away its attacking sting, the service becomes a disadvantage to the serving team, which is the exact opposite of what it should be.

To Make Serving Easier

The most fundamental skill to learn in any level of volleyball is serving. However, it can be a challenge to learn to get the right amount of power needed for a good service. It’s even harder to learn to do so consistently. If you’ve ever struggled with this, you may understand.

Now, imagine how impossible it would seem if you had to serve the ball over a net with a tall player on the other side waiting to block your strike. For novice players, serving would become a nightmare.

Volleyball is a game that was created to have a low entry barrier. It’s supposed to be enjoyable for people of all ages, gender, and body type. Allowing players to block serves goes against the core culture of the game.

Pro players with lots of experience under their belt might have no problem with service blockers, but the rookies, youths, and casual players will have a hard time. When you consider that serving is critical in all forms of beach and indoor volleyball, that hardly seems fair.

To Prevent Over-aggressive Play

Aggression in sports has its perks, especially at competitive levels. However, too much aggression makes games less fun to watch and play.

That’s why even highly aggressive sports like MMA, boxing, and American football have set rules to control over-aggressiveness.

Volleyball may not be a contact sport, but there’s some level of aggressiveness in it, which is controlled by not allowing players to block serves.

If players can block a service, one team can position themselves for each serve and just spike the ball back into the opposing team’s court with excess force.

The sport will become monotonous, with the most common play being to spike serve balls as hard as possible.

The occasional hard spike is fun to watch in a competitive game, but too much of it could ruin the game.

How to Properly Receive a Serve in Volleyball

So, if you can’t block a service, how do you receive it in a way that gives your team an advantage?

In this section, we’ll reveal pro tips to help you become a better serve receiver.

Follow this guide when receiving a service, whether it’s an underhand, overhand, topspin, or jump service:

Anticipate Where the Ball Will Go

Sometimes, it’s best not to wait until the opponent makes contact with the ball before making a move. Try to predict where the server will send the ball by analyzing their movement just before spiking.

Align Your Shoulders with the Net

Form a square with both shoulders before you connect with the ball. Doing that better prepares you to receive the ball and make a pass in one swing.

Keep Your Eyes on the Ball

You should never take your eyes off the ball, even for a millisecond. This way, you don’t get distracted or surprised by the trajectory of the ball. It allows you to react in real time based on how the ball is traveling.

Place Your Weight on the Forefoot

Place one foot two to three inches in front of the other. Do not place your body weight on your back foot. Instead, rely more on your forefoot (typically the right foot). This tip helps you to maintain flexibility.

Create a Straight Platform

Turn your right hand into a fist and wrap it with the left while ensuring both thumbs point downward. That way, your arms create a straight platform to receive the ball by making a pass.

Stiffen Your Elbows

Your elbows should remain straight while you receive the ball. Doing this will help to optimize your control.

Don’t Use Your Hand or Wrist

Never make the mistake of contacting the served ball with your hands or wrist. You should aim to meet it with your forearms, the area just above your wrists and below the elbows. This is to give you better ball control. We recommend that you join both wrists together before the ball touches your forearms.

 Press Your Arms Together

Don’t strike the ball with one arm only. By pressing them together, you increase your chances of hitting the ball with both of them simultaneously.

Don’t Swing

Serves can be forceful, so swinging will only affect the accuracy of your pass. By keeping your arms straight and stiff, you’ll simply redirect the ball using the momentum of the initial strike.

Place the Platform Below Your Shoulders

Receive the serve low using the forearm platform you created. It will allow you to maintain control.

Reposition First

Don’t reach out to meet the ball. Rather move quickly to stand behind it and meet it squarely as it arrives. 

Final Thoughts on Can You Block a Serve in Volleyball

The best way to get better at serve-receiving is to practice. All you need is a new volleyball to practice with at home.

Generally, the rule against blocking or attacking a serve is not controversial. People see the benefits for both teams and understand why they exist. The best you can do is to learn to use it to your advantage as much as possible.

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