Home » Library » Enjoy » Off the Beaten Path

Backward Shaping in Spiking and Blocking

Filed in - Off the Beaten Path

Backward Shaping: Some Basic Principles

By exdir [at] rowingcanada [dot] org (Alan Roaf) Director General of Rowing Canada

What Is Backward Shaping?

1. Backward shaping is a teaching procedure whereby the last step in a learning sequence is taught first and mastered. Then the next to last step is taught, mastered, and then built onto the final step. The process is systematically added on back to the initial stage of the sequence. The desired sequence is taught in reverse.

2. This does not teach someone to perform the movement backwards. The procedure starts with the end point action and merely develops or shapes the movement from that stage. Everything is focused on building into the final point. Gradually the form of the entire action takes place.

3. The probability of learning interference from previously mastered skill is eliminated.

  • a particular action is taught and mastered
  • a preceding movement is subsequently learned, mastered, and then "fed into" the previously learned and mastered action
  • learning the new sequence is not confounded by errors involved in the performance of the preceding skill as in normal forward shaping

What Is Shaping?

1. Shaping is a procedure used to establish a particular behaviour that is not currently performed by and individual.

2. The instructor describes and then demonstrates the desired action.

3. The athlete then attempts the movement.

4. The coach reinforces a response that at least remotely resembles the final desired movement.

5. When this initial response is repeated reasonably frequently, the coach stops reinforcing that level of ability and reinforcing a slightly closer approximation of the final desired movement pattern.

* the final correct action is eventually established by reinforcing successive approximations of it.

Advantages of Backward Shaping

1. It overcomes all the disadvantages of the forward progression method.

2. Interference does not occur

  • each new element precedes all previously "learned" elements
  • the learner thinks of the new technique item first and then does what has been done successfully before

3. Each progression does not increase in difficulty through interference since undivided attention can be focused on the new step element to be learned.

4. There is an obvious lack of tension in the learner because of the simplicity of the task and its steps.

  • emotional problems do not occur in the subjects while the step sizes are small
  • the incremental steps are clearly understood by the learner
  • a high rate of success creates a feeling of accomplishment and self-worth

Suggested Procedures

1. The progression from one step to the next is only followed when the step is performed adequately.

  • a recommended minimum criterion for adequacy is five executions of a particular movement.
  • better to be too strict rather than too lenient

2. If errors are continually demonstrated, return to the previous satisfactorily executed step for further practice and successful performance.

  • then modify the sequence so that that the next step is not as difficult as originally planned

3. Since several practice sessions will probably be undertaken, each session should begin with a quick review and practice of all steps.

4. The instructor must be very demonstrative, positive, and congratulatory for every trial that is successfully completed.

5. The step sequence for backward shaping will have to be modified according to the attributes of the individual learner

  • better to have too many rather than too few

Backward Shaping as one method of teaching Volleyball skills.

by viclindal [at] shaw [dot] ca (Victor E. Lindal)

From the attached article by Alan Roaf you have read some of the reasons for using backward shaping or chaining to teach individual skills. This is an alternative to forward progressions. For more information on the use or non use of progressions contact one of the great world class Volleyball coaches carl_mcgown [at] byu [dot] edu (Dr. Carl McGowan) . For still more information you can contact one of the leading sport scientists in the world brushall [at] mail [dot] sdsu [dot] edu (Dr. Brent Rushall) at San Diego State university or visit his excellent home page "Coaching Science Abstracts"

We have used backward shaping to teach Volleyball skills for the past 10 years, after attending a presentation by Brent Rushall. We mainly use the technique to teach spiking and blocking but have used it for all the skills. The key to the method is related to the EPV system of picturing the end first and making sure that you have that skill increment down perfectly before moving on, or in this case backwards.

The Spike:

Start on a chair or bench:

1.Teach the landing which is the conclusion of the spike. Land softly, toes heels and knee bend.

2. Teach the action of the hand at the very end, when you have contacted the ball and send it to the appropriate spot on the floor. Be sure to indicate where the ball is to go. Be sure to emphasize the snap. (ball can be held or tossed)

(The increments that you use are up to you and will vary with individuals.)

3. We like to make the next move related to the elbow high and leading as you continue to the striking of the ball. Be sure to use the opposite hand in an action that brings it back and into your side. The action of the opposite hand and arm must be vigorous as you pull it into your side. The opposite hand actually pops up just as you strike the ball. This is a technique that we learned when we had a Karate instructor attend our national team practice to help us get more power on our spikes.

4. This step will depend on where your hand is just before the high elbow. If you use the bow and arrow technique, then the hand is drawn back and you proceed from there. If you use other preparation patterns then proceed from there. For middle hitters it might be best to have the hand high and drop the hand back to the back between the shoulder blades just prior to the snap.

5. Now, move to the arm swing and the lift of the arms to the ready position. Note: with each step we use a ball and finish the move. The ball can be held by a partner standing on a chair or on the other side. For more advanced players you can toss the ball from the other side. When you go to tossing the ball it is a good idea to toss from the other side of the net. It is easier to time a ball coming at you.

6. Move the hitter to the floor. From the floor you take a position close to the net with your arms back prepared to jump. Now jump and hit the ball (held or tossed). Go through all the sequences.

7. Move back to standing on your left foot (this is the position just prior to take off). From this left foot position, proceed to the take off and go up and hit the ball. The take off can be a one/two count or a one count. ( We prefer the one count particularly for middle hitters.)

8. Next rock back on your right and step onto your left and go through the whole motion.

9. Right foot ahead step onto the left and go through the whole motion.


As in spiking, start on a chair. You may wish to start on the floor and lower the net or put your hands through the net.

You may want to start with the landing. We must stress the importance of our landings. In landing the important concept is soft, and on both feet. Start on a bench and pretend that you have completed the block, now drop off the bench to a soft landing, and move off the net. (You have a variety of choices here.)

1. The key is to teach the hand position first (after the landing). Have the players feel the position of the hands just after the contact. The ball has landed on the floor in a particular spot. Use EPV, that is you see and feel the result of the block. Important to see a straight stuff and see a block into a deep spot on the court. You will also want to feel the control block to your side. Notice the name change from soft block.

2. Now throw the ball (you may hit the ball if you wish), into the hands and get the feel of the contact. (If players throw the ball, they must throw overhand)You are best to have the players on the chairs. One hitter on the chair and one blocker on the chair. Important to have a third player in a covering position. The third payer helps for recovering of the balls (is also good simulation on covering your spiker). When the player contacts the ball you have them reach over the net and tighten the fingers, chin in, pike and put ball down. The recovering player recovers as in a real game.

3. As in step 2, but you lower the hands (Mickey Mouse position, wrists just above eye level). As the person hits the ball you raise the hands and make contact. Push the thumbs up, and spread the fingers. Now you have to think of the position that you are in, in relationship to the court. If you are in position 2 then have the hitter simulate coming cross court and you going up and holding the ball in with the right hand in. It is very important to have all parts of the drill closely simulate the real game.

4. Now on the floor: Knees bent. The hitting player is on the chair. Give the blocker time to get ready, toss ball and hit into block. You can have the digger toss the ball to be hit by the chair player. Progressions or the size of the increments are up to you and the level of the players. Backward shaping can use increments very small or very large. The key is to get the first skill mastered before going on to the next skill.

5. Now, do the whole action with a spiker approaching. Use a toss to the hitter and shorten the approach. Hitter must attempt to hit the hands of the blocker. We like to actually have the hitter go for a wipe off in order to give the spiker good practice. All sets in the beginning need to be close to the net. Later you can move the sets off the net and vary the distance from the side line. Teach the blocker the timing. Get them to say pause and then go up. The length of the pause is critical to great blocking.

This only covers the single blocker. Use similar ideas to teach the middle blocker to close.

© 1997 Vic Lindal - All rights reserved

Victoria Volleyball Association
1941 Taylor St.
Victoria, BC V8R 3G5
(250) 360-0383
Fax: (250) 414-0392
vva [at] shaw [dot] ca (VVA [at] shaw [dot] ca)

Post new comment

  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <cite> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd> <embed> <object> <div>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
  • Glossary terms will be automatically marked with links to their descriptions. If there are certain phrases or sections of text that should be excluded from glossary marking and linking, use the special markup, [no-glossary] ... [/no-glossary]. Additionally, these HTML elements will not be scanned: a, abbr, acronym, code, pre.
  • Each email address will be obfuscated in a human readable fashion or (if JavaScript is enabled) replaced with a spamproof clickable link.

More information about formatting options

To prevent automated spam submissions leave this field empty.