If you follow my blog and YouTube channel, you probably know that I really enjoy blocking.
I spend a lot of time blocking in my coaching sessions and it’s a shot I use when playing matches.
I love the feel of the block. Using early timing, soft hands, good ball placement and minimal physical energy to block the ball back. My opponent puts in all the hard work. A good block can turn a point around, force an error or hit a clean winner.
But how much should you block when you play matches? Can it be an effective playing style? How far can a good blocking game take you? At what level does too much blocking stop being effective?
I’m not going to explain how to block effectively in this post, as I have covered this elsewhere.
If you want to improve your blocking skills, I recommend looking at these videos and articles…
- Video: How to block heavy topspin
- Video: Brilliant blocking skills (with Paul Drinkhall)
- Video: Blocking tactics to mess up your opponent
- Article: Frustrate your opponents with steady blocks, aggressive blocks and trick blocks
How effective is blocking?
Good blocking technique is very useful for any player at any level.
However, the effectiveness of blocking changes depending on what level you play at.
Lower local league
At a lower local league / amateur level, blocking is incredibly effective. I would back myself to win most matches against players at this level just by pushing and blocking.
This is because players at this level don’t have particularly strong attacks. The speed and spin they produce are comfortable to block back.
Plus, at this level, players don’t usually have the skills (yet) to put consecutive strong attacks together. So a good block will often win a point, as the other player struggles to recover after the initial attack.
Higher local league
At a higher local league level, playing a blocking game becomes harder. Advanced players attacks are usually more powerful, with more spin and better placement. This makes it more challenging to block the ball back in the first place.
Advanced players are also better at putting consecutive attacks together, so you may need to block several times to win a point, which is obviously much harder. A good quality attacker is going to have the advantage.
At this level, I have still been able to beat some opponents relying on my blocking skills, but I have lost many as well. Against the better attackers, there is the danger of becoming too passive and blocking too many balls, making it too easy for my opponent to keep on attacking.
So it is possible to use lots of blocks at this level, but you need exceptional blocking skills to win lots of matches.
Elite / pro level
At the elite and pro level, a blocking playing style is not very effective at all. Players are simply too good at attacking. Too many blocked returns are an invitation to unleash big topspin attacks.
I’ve played with Paul Drinkhall and Craig Bryant over the past year. And quite honestly, my blocks have been entirely ineffectual! They didn’t trouble them one little bit!
All pro players will block. You see this all the time. And some players will block more than others – Samsonov, Boll, Walder, Koki Niwa – and Desmond Douglas back in the day. But they don’t use blocking as a playing style. Rather, a block is a useful shot to use when under pressure, which may help them turn a point around.
You don’t see pro players trying to block several balls in a row. Instead, they tend to block once and try to get back onto the attack with the next shot.
How much should you block?
So let’s go back to the original question. How much should you block?
If you play at the amateur / local league level, a block is a wonderful and very useful shot to have. You can increase your win percentage, move up divisions and challenge stronger players.
It is possible, I believe, to have a blocking playing style and compete at the top level of local league. You need to be very, very good at blocking, but it is possible.
But at some point, typically between advanced and elite levels of play, blocking stops being effective as a playing style.
It’s just too passive. A good attacker will take advantage of too many blocks and start winning fairly easily.
At this level you need to do more than block. You need to learn to transition from block to counter attack. Or cut the blocks out altogether and counter-topspin instead.
So really, it all depends on your playing standard and your aspirations. If you play at local league level and just want to improve your win percentage and move up a division, then develop your blocking skills. Using more blocks in matches can help you achieve this goal.
But if you play at a higher level and aspire to play even higher, then you probably should limit how much you block during matches and focus on your counter topspin skills instead.