Switch Sports is a whole lot of fun, especially Volleyball. At long last, I can finally play my favorite sport in the comfort of my own home without facing the stigma that comes with dropping hours into Dead or Alive Xtreme 3. (Why is it so hard to make a good volleyball video game that isn’t about women wearing the smallest swimsuits possible?) That said, I wish my teammates better understood what they were doing when playing the game, specifically when it comes to blocking.
So here I am, on my hands and knees (because you failed to help me stop the ball and that means I had to dive for it) begging for y’all to start read blocking–using data pulled from observations of your opponent to limit how well a spiker can hit the ball as opposed to outright stopping it. It will make life so much easier for your partner when they’re preparing to receive the ball and bump it up.
Nintendo puts a greater level of importance on blocking (jumping up to stop a spike) than it should, given how it’s framed volleyball in Switch Sports’ Volleyball mode. Traditionally, two-versus-two volleyball is played on a beach, where sand balances out the lack of available receivers (defending players responsible for bumping up the ball so that it can be set) by restricting a spiker’s jump height (and thus the available places they can easily hit the ball to). Switch Sports, however, opts for indoor volleyball, which is traditionally played three-versus-three or six-versus-six. Getting more bodies on the court means there are more receivers covering more ground to counter a powerful spiker.
As Nintendo has blatantly ignored this pattern in favor of creating its own style, it means only one receiver has to cover the entire back half of their side of the court, putting a ton of pressure on the blocker to be at 100% all of the time. Instead of two receivers covering the left and right sides of the court, a blocker needs to cover one, allowing the receiver to focus on the other.
The easiest way to do this is read blocking. In volleyball, there are a ton of different types of blocks, each specializing in stopping a different type of spike. Switch Sports doesn’t include that level of variety, but that’s okay since there are only a few types of spikes you need to block. As far as I can tell, Switch Sports Volleyball has two types of blocks: read blocking and guess blocking. Too many people do the latter.
A guess block is pretty much exactly what it sounds like: You’re guessing where the spiker is going to send the ball and attempting to stop them no matter what, removing any need for the receiver to do anything. In Switch Sports Volleyball, the game automatically moves you when you’re blocking to be in front of the spiker. It’s essentially the game “guessing” for you, putting you in the path of the most likely attack.
If your opponent is only jumping and swinging, guess blocking works just fine–more often than not, you’ll be able to rely on the game’s predictive movement to stop inexperienced players. But it falls apart the second you go up against an intelligent spiker. Say the other team is setting up and their spiker is approaching from your left–the game will usually pull you over to the left to be in line with the spiker. Technically, you’re in a position to block, but the spiker still has options to get the ball around you if the set is good. The most logical path (especially if they are right-handed) is to spike across to the corner behind and to the right of you (this is called a cross shot); but they can also hit to your left, straight down the line to the corner behind and to the left of you (this is called a line shot).
In this scenario, the receiver behind you has to cover pretty much all of the court except for what’s directly behind you. That’s hard (though not impossible), and it’s easy to score against. I’ve been the spiker plenty of times in that situation and simply aimed for whichever corner is opposite the opposing receiver to make them scramble for it. Even when they do manage to get it, the bump is typically not perfect, meaning the opposing team can’t pull off the necessary “Nice” bump, set, spike combo pattern to pull off a powerful attack.
With only two people per side, a greater emphasis is put on the blocker to limit a spiker’s options, and in volleyball speak, that generally means read blocking. Traditionally, read blocking would mean reading a set to determine who is spiking and then reading the spiker to figure out how they’re going to hit, but since there’s only ever one hitter, you don’t have to do all that–you know which player to go block right from the get-go and should just move into position as early as possible.
Let’s go back to that aforementioned situation where a spiker is approaching from the left side, giving them the option for a cross shot to the right corner or line shot to the left corner. Unlike when you’re on offense in Volleyball, you actually have control over where you go on defense, whether blocking or receiving. Using the control stick, you can pick where to go instead of relying on the game’s automatic movement. So read the situation and respond accordingly.
In this case, the best option would be to deny the larger area–the right side where there’s more court for the spiker to hit to. So instead of lining up with the spiker, stand a bit to the right of them (their left) and jump on the hit. Now the spiker is limited–they can still go right, but they’re now spiking right into your block, so committing to the smaller area (the left corner) is actually a smarter option. But because it’s a smaller area, it’s easier for a receiver to cover on their own. In this instance, a receiver needs to know to use their thumbstick to move to the back-left corner, as relying on the game’s automatic movement will probably keep you on the right side, which the game would figure as the logical placement for the spiker’s attack.
There’s a good chance in this situation that you won’t actually get a block, and that’s okay. The point of read blocking is not to necessarily block the ball (if you do though, that’s great!), but to instead best defend your side of the court. If you just try to guess block, you’re trying to defend on your own, and if you miss that means the receiver behind you has to defend on their own. But if you’re read blocking and your teammate moves into position in response to you, then together the two of you can form a wall to defend most of the court. Is it perfect? Of course not. No defense in volleyball is foolproof, but your chances of stopping the ball will rise if you use read blocking to force the attacker into committing to the attack you want them to do.
Granted, this will take practice. Read blocking isn’t easy, whether in real life or in a video game, as there are more factors to consider beyond the simplistic set-up I provided. For instance, if your opponents pulled off a perfect “Nice” bump and set combo and then the spiker begins approaching from the left, that means a perfectly timed spike will see a strong attack coming from the left side. In that case, the ball is going to be coming at you pretty fast, so it might actually be better to read the situation and block the straight line shot to the back left corner. It does mean your teammate has to cover the much larger area–but the ball now has to travel a longer distance going across the court towards the back right corner in comparison to going straight ahead to the back left corner, and the longer travel time through the air translates into an additional half-second for the receiver to react.
Look at the Switch that you’re playing this game on, you’ll see what I’m talking about–put Switch Sports on standby for a second and pull your console out of its dock. You’ll see that the distance from the top left corner of the screen to the bottom right corner is longer than the top left corner to the bottom left corner. So forcing a spiker to hit diagonally can be a strategy too. Heck, maybe it’s for the best if you notice your opponent is left-handed. Remember, most folks will automatically spike across their body (it’s an easier arm movement), so in the instance where a left-handed person is approaching from the left, forcing them to hit towards the right corner is an awkward enough movement that they might actually mess up the timing of the spike, making your teammate’s job as the receiver even easier.
That’s all read blocking is–giving your teammate the best possible chance to receive the ball. It’s noticing how well the other team received your team’s spike, how well the other team set the ball, where the spiker is approaching from, when the spiker is jumping, and what hand the spiker is hitting with, and then reacting as best you can while trusting your teammate to be there after you’ve done all those mental gymnastics. It’s not nearly as glorious or satisfying as simply blocking an opponent’s attack and shutting down their spike, but if you have a supportive teammate, they’ll thank you for read blocking and making their job a bit more feasible.
Of all the sports in Switch Sports, Volleyball mode is one of the most involved, even featuring mechanics that the game doesn’t include in the tutorial. Like, did you know you can dive for a ball while receiving by wiggling the Joy-Con in the direction of a falling ball, allowing you to potentially get a few extra inches of distance at the cost of a subpar bump? Or that you can aim your spike at the tips of a blocker’s fingers, sending the ball ricocheting off their hand and out of bounds, getting you the point or putting the opposing receiver so far out of rotation (if they manage to chase it down) that they might not be able to get back in time to spike? And then there’s my favorite: The spiker actually sets the tempo for hits, not the setter. So if you’re spiking and jump before the ball even reaches the setter, it allows you to do a “Quick” spike, where your teammate flings the ball right at your hand, potentially giving you the chance to spike the ball before the blocker has even left the ground. It’s a great way to surprise your opponent during an especially long rally if you and your teammate have been doing slower tempo attacks a few times in a row and lulled your foes into following a rhythm.
But all of that doesn’t matter in the face of the importance of read blocking. If you’re playing Switch Sports Volleyball and you’re going online, please commit to practicing and utilizing read blocking. It makes things so much easier on your teammate. Getting a block that leads to a point always feels cool, but reading your opponent well enough to force them into doing the hit that you want them to do, giving your teammate a second or two more to get the ball up, can feel just as rewarding, and is honestly just a more reliable way to win.