## Thoughts on FIVB’s 7 sets to 15 proposal

As you may have heard, the FIVB is planning to experiment at the upcoming U23 World Championship (August for the men, September for the women) with a new match format. This was reported by Volleywood based on this article. Flo Volleyball also reported on it. The proposal is to play best-of-7 set matches, with all sets going to 15 points.

Not surprisingly, the news triggered a lot of opinion.

Mark Lebedew was very blunt in his response. He thinks it’s a stupid idea. That was his immediate response on Twitter, but he followed up with a more reasoned blog post. In it he talks about match time concerns.

I would love to see some stats on match times. Mark (and others) seem to think the expressed problem is matches lasting too long. Personally, I think match length variability is the real issue. You can have anything from a 3-set blowout lasting maybe an hour up to a 5-set battle going longer than 2 hours.

###### What’s the set breakdown for match length?

I went through all matches played in 2016 by Lone Star Conference (LSC) teams* to look at the breakdown. It added up to 236 matches, and here’s the outcome split.

3 sets: 122 (51.6%)
4 sets: 69 (29.2%)
5 sets: 45 (19.1%)

It occurred to me that conference matches might be more competitive than non-conference ones, so I broke them out. Here’s the split for just the conference matches, of which there were 118 (including the conference tournament).

3 sets: 67 (56.8%)
4 sets: 28 (23.7%)
5 sets: 23 (19.5%)

It’s interesting to observe that 5-set matches are basically the same. There is, however, a higher proportion of 3-set matches between conference foes. I can’t help but think that is a function of how coaches schedule non-conference matches.

###### Match time length

If we assume each 25-point set takes about 25 minutes to play, and a 15-point set is about 15 minutes, we get an indication of approximately how long matches take. That is about 75 minutes, 100 minutes, and 115 minutes respectively for 3, 4, and 5-set matches. Obviously, that’s a rough guide.How long a match goes is a function of how competitive it is, and whether it’s consistently competitive (tight sets rather than trading off lopsided scores).

Everyone talks about the 2-hour TV time block as being the sweet spot to make volleyball attractive to broadcasters. If every match lasted four sets things would work out pretty well for that. The problem is less than a third of matches, based on the numbers above, actually hit that mark. Roughly half fall well short, and about 20% potentially run too long.

This is why I say variability is probably the biggest issue.

And I’m not just talking about that in terms of TV. It also impacts the on-site spectator experience – and the one for players and coaches as well. I can tell you from personal experience that it’s a real drag to travel hours for a match and have it last an hour. It’s very easy to wonder why you bother to make the trip.

###### Where does FIVB idea take us?

I don’t see going to a best-of-7 set format altering things much in terms of time variability. Yes, it most likely keeps matches under 2 hours if we continue to assume 15-minutes per set. Unfortunately, you still have the problem of a match only lasting an hour. That would be the case for a 4-setter.

This might be fine in the case of a big tournament like World Championships where teams play multiple matches and there are lots of them happening each day. As a stand-alone, though, all it would seem to do is solve the problem of matches running more than 2 hours. I personally don’t see that as being a major TV issue, as I’ve written about before.

###### More upsets?

There’s another side to this that I am really curious to see. That’s whether the 15-point sets lead to more set upsets. Generally speaking, the more points you play the more likely it is for the better team to win (same with playing more sets). Playing shorter sets means you have a greater influence of simple randomness. That could let to more instances of the weaker team winning sets than is currently the case. Presumably, the best-of-7 format would offset this, but I’ll be curious to see how it plays out.

###### Different mentality?

Also, there is the question of playing and coaching mentality. Is it different when only playing to 15 points? Making the high percentage play is probably the right strategy when you play a large number of points. When you play fewer points, though, there’s less time for the percentages to work out. How does that influence strategy and decision-making?

Also, what kind of impact does having to repeatedly get mentally up for the next game have on players? To an extent, with the longer sets players can play themselves into the action. They don’t have to worry too much about things not going well early. With the more sprint nature of shorter sets, though, that cushion goes away.

The bottom line is we have to see this new match structure in action to really gauge its implications.

Follow-up: John Kessel wrote the following about this format proposal. It matches much of what I noted above.

There are three things going on in these experiments.** 1. lengthening average matches. Currently world wide in best 3 of 5, 61% of the matches end 3-0, leaving fans going home “early” and TV having some 50 minutes of time left to “fill”; Junior play being best 2 of 3 means they fit in an hour time slot. By going to 4 of 7, and shortening the sets, then more upsets/longer matches still in the 2 hour window are more likely, see #2.. The move to rally meant shorter matches, but more upsets – and that is true statistically – refer to Finite Markov Chains for more on why this happens in all sports. The chance for upsets to occur means smaller nations/more nations might upset the top teams, and, as seen in soccer/futbal, that is a good thing to grow the game world wide.

* – The LSC is one of the stronger conferences in NCAA Division II women’s volleyball. In 2016 its top two teams finished the year in the Top-25 of the AVCA coaches poll.

** – The other “experiments” he is including are disallowing players to land in front of the service and attack (3m) lines on jump serves and back row attacks respectively.

## More volleyball coaching education this week

This should be an interesting week.

On Wednesday I head off to Kettering. I haven’t been there since last summer when I helped out with England Girls Juniors and Cadet trials. This time around the focus will be on coaching development. Nominally, I’m attending the FIVB coaching seminar on Outside Hitting and Serving. There is also a setting seminar going on at the same time. It was a tough choice picking between the two. I ended up going with the hitter one because I’ve spent less time focused on those area in my coaching career than on setting. Also I’ll get to heckle my Volleyball Coaching Wizards partner, Mark Lebedew, who is presenting the seminar. Sue Gozansky, is running the setter one.

After the FIVB seminar, on Sunday, will be the Volleyball England annual Coaches Conference. Sue and Mark will both take part in that as well to talk about team aspects. There are also a couple of technical seminars and it looks like one on strength and conditioning. This is the official agenda.

During the week I’m hoping to have time to get Sue’s interview for the Wizards project recorded, and maybe a couple of others as well. Honestly, being able to interact again with my fellow coaches is at least as big a motivation for me as the educational sessions. Look forward to a report.

## Proposed FIVB rules changes ahead

There’s a lot of talk going around the volleyball community globally about the rules changes FIVB is looking at potentially institute in the future. Here’s one bit of analysis (and opinion) from The Art of Coaching Volleyball, and another from former US national team coach Hugh McCutcheon.. Volleywood has a post which tracks the recent changes regarding new rules for the current cycle, which includes the rule against taking serves overhead that was going to go in, but got postponed.

Here are some of what is being talked about by the powers that be:

• Require servers to land behind the end line
• Back row attackers must land behind the 3-meter or 10-foot line
• Eliminate open-hand tip
• Penalties for a missed serve
• Free substitution – any player can sub for any player at any time
• Any contact with the center line is a violation
• Any net touch by an athlete is a violation
• Decrease the number of points per set

Personally, I’ve long been opposed to the rules changes allowing center line touch/penetration and net contact. Aside from it being a question of player safety, I also think body control is a key skill in volleyball and letting players swim in the net and such detracts from that.

The requirement that players land behind the end line on a jump serve probably wouldn’t have much impact (except in gyms where there isn’t all that much area behind the line to start with). Not allowing back row attackers to broad jump to hit things like BICs would be meaningful, though.

I’m not sure about dropping the open-hand tip. Sounds like it’s mainly intended to eliminate setter dumps with the idea being they are rally killers. I may be OK with it on that basis (though my immediate question is why not just play better defense?), but I’m mixed in terms of taking the tip away from hitters. Some suggest a roll shot can be used instead, which is fair enough, I suppose.

On the penalties for missed serves, I understand that they want to cut down on what is a pretty dull play and reduce the amount of time players just go back and bomb away. Missed serves are already penal, though, and not just in terms of giving the other team a point (see my post about when not to miss your serve).

In terms of free subs, you can see something moving in that direction in play in the US women’s collegiate game – which always seems to play just a bit differently than everyone else. There they use the libero (who can serve in one rotation) plus have 12-15 subs (it seems to change periodically). That obviously creates a lot of specialization opportunity. There is something to be said for having the best possible line-up on the court at all times for the highest level of play. I’d want to see exactly how this would be instituted, though. I personally would like to see the core rotational nature of the game being maintained.

And of course there’s the no overhead passes on serve receive rule which was to go in this year but his been pulled back for further review. I personally like cleaning up serve receive passing to get rid of the doubles, though completely ruling out the overhead pass seems unnecessarily restrictive. The hard bit will be having a whole generation of players who’ve come up playing with their hands suddenly having to change.