Tag Archive for substitution strategy

Player rotation and substitution limits

A reader asked the following:

If a team wants to use ten players in its regular rotation that means substitutions for three positions. Would this cause a problem bumping into the substitution limit for a set?

I asked for clarification and this is what I received:

What I am thinking about is six hitters, one setter, one libero, two DS’s and one of the hitters setting when she is on the back row. That is ten total players with only one playing all the way around.

We’re talking about a modified 6-2 system here. One of the two setters plays all the way around while the other is replaced by a hitter in the front row. Presumably, the libero replaces the middles in the back row and defensive specialists replace the outside hitters. Of course it could be the other way around. It’s doesn’t really matter, though.

Quick note: This type of approach is not possible under FIVB rules because of the substitution limits (6 total, one in/out per player).

This adds up to a total of 6 substitutions per trip through the rotation. The emailer coaches high school volleyball. His state follows NFHS rules, which allow 12 subs per set (some states use NCAA rules, which currently allow 15). That means he will be out of subs after two times around.

So here is the big question. How many times around do teams go in typical high school matches? If it’s more than two then it’s a problem.

There is one way to stretch things out a little. You can start the back-row-only setter in Position 2. Alternatively, you can start the hitter who plays front row for the back-row-only setter in Position 5 and have the other setter set from the front row for that rotation. This is especially useful when you are in receive to start the set. Either one saves you one sub at the outset.

That only gets you a little further. If you only need an extra couple rotations, though, it could work.

Anyone in this kind of position must look hard at their options. If running out of subs is a real risk, maybe you have to allow one or more of your hitters to go all the way around for part of the set. An option to consider is to rotate the DS’s. One of them plays across the back row the first time, while the second does so the second time.

Substitution strategy when winning big

During their 2016 Olympic semifinal, the USA men got out to a huge lead over Italy in the third set. I wrote about the idea of coaches on the losing end of blowouts like that subbing out players to give them a break. Italy did exactly that. The likes of Zaytsev and Jauntorena were pulled out midway through the set.

This sort of strategy is something you see in high level professional volleyball. You also see it at the international level.

Interestingly, though, you don’t see it very much (if at all) in American volleyball. I’m talking about college volleyball and about the national teams.

Maybe that reflects an American mentality to always keep fighting. Maybe it’s just a certain lack of sophistication.

I’ve already written about the reasons for following this kind of substitution pattern. Here I want to focus on the other side. By that I mean the dominating team. I’m not talking about when you are clearly the much better team. I’m talking about when you’re in a match with a roughly equal competitor.

Countering the substitutions

If you watched the Italy – USA match, you saw Zaytsev rip off a string of service points at the end of Set 4. Did sitting out the latter part of Set 3 contribute to that? Perhaps. We’ll never know for sure.

The question I have is whether it would have been good for the Americans to sub out players like Anderson. You’re up 10+ points and cruising. Is it a good idea to give your top players a breather? You know your opponent is probably going to play better in the next set. Would sitting someone a few minutes improve their level of play in the future, or will it slow them down?

I don’t know the answer to that question.

My feeling is that coaches leaving players in in that sort of situation are making the conservative call. They don’t want to risk losing the set or allowing the other team to develop momentum for the next one. Clearly, the amount of drop-off there is between starter and sub is a factor.

Still, often the conservative call isn’t the right one.

I’d love to hear some thoughts on the subject.

I made a coaching mistake the other day

In hindsight, I think I made a personnel mistake in one of my Svedala matches. Of course there’s no way of knowing what would have happened had I acted differently. I just think I missed an opportunity from a couple of different perspectives.

Here’s the scenario…

We were away to the team second from bottom in the league (we’re currently in first). It’s a team whose only victories have come against the bottom team. We beat them 3-0 at home on the first day of the season.

A big focus for us was getting a clean 3-0 win. This is for two reasons.

First, we hadn’t done that in a while – about four months. The team joked about how we always seemed to want to play extra. At the time we led the league in sets played. The not so funny part of that is the extra play does take its toll. We had a very small squad (just 8 at the time). With 11 matches between then and March 6th, and then playoffs to follow, limiting the pounding on the bodies could only help.

The second reason is you never know when it might come down to a set differential tie break.

We won the first set 25-20. The second set had a kind of ugly start, but we pulled away after the 9-9 point and won 25-17. In the third set we went up 11-5 and 13-7 before allowing them to slowly claw back. They got it to 19-19. We eventually went back out in front 23-20, but again let them back in and only managed to win 27-25.

It had been my hope to try to get my second setter some setting time during the match, rather than just being used as a defensive sub for our OPP. During the match, though, I was fixated on having her set while in for the OPP. That would see our starting setter hit, which she is perfectly capable of doing (it’s something I’ve thought about being an option should we have an injury issue).

Not thinking of doing a direct swap of setters was my big mistake. It led to two things I regret about how the match went. One is obviously not getting the second setter in to set – and not even getting in at all during the second set because of how things played out. The other is that I think we lost an opportunity to spread the ball around to more hitters.

It’s that second point that really got me thinking upon reflection that I’d goofed. Our starting setter didn’t spread the ball around as much as I’d have liked. I understand that the hitters who didn’t get the ball as much (OPP and M2) weren’t putting the ball away while the others were. From a “we want to win” perspective, which I’m sure the setter was thinking, that’s perfectly fine. From an offensive development perspective, though, we needed the ball spread around more.

I tend to believe the back-up setter would have done more of that. Actually, that can be something of a weakness in her game. She tends to be a bit more egalitarian in her set distribution. In this situation, though, that might have been beneficial.

In many ways I was looking at the match as a progression of the development work we did in training the prior week (see my log entry). Unfortunately, I was overly fixated on the match action and desired 3-0 outcome at the time, and overlooked my options.

Need to file that experience away to keep in mind for the future.

When should you “Sub Six”?

I’ve written previously on the subject of the substitution decision. In this post I want to talk about a strategy I’ve seen employed at times in professional volleyball. I’ve also read about in My Profession – The Game. I don’t recall hearing talked about in any other context, though. It’s the idea of making subs not necessarily to try to elicit a better performance from your team in the present context, but with an eye toward the next set.

Let me lay out the scenario. It’s the third set of a match which is tied 1-1. Your team is struggling. The score is 17-8. You’ve called timeouts. You’d made the subs you thought might improve things, but it just hasn’t worked. What do you do?

A lot of coaches just simply don’t do anything. After all, what can they do? They have what should be their best team on the floor, but it’s just not getting the job done. It’s time to think about the next set. Maybe spin the rotation. Perhaps flip OHs.

What about simply taking all your starters out – or at least those remaining – and putting your bench on to play out the rest of the set? My guess is you’ve probably not really thought about doing that (though you may have fantasized about it). There are a couple of reasons for actually doing so, however:

Starter Reset

Putting your starters on the bench for an extended break gives them a chance to reset. They get to step back from whatever troubles they were having on the court and break any negative feedback loops that were going on. Time on the bench gives them a chance to watch the other team from outside for a bit. They also get to rest up a little ahead of the next set.

Opposition Psychology

When you have your second team out on the court, naturally the general level of play is likely to be lower. This has a couple of potential of potential positive outcomes for you. First, if the subs do play at that level then the opposition players may start to coast, which could pay dividends in the next set. Second, if your subs play above themselves and actually make things competitive, it could rattle the confidence of the other team. The opposing coach is going to be hesitant to make radical changes for fear of risking losing the set. That means in either case you could gain a psychological edge to start when you have your starters back in next set. And of course if your subs somehow managed to pull out the win you’d be in the driver’s seat!

Playing time

While perhaps not a great situation in terms of putting your players in with an opportunity to succeed, a runaway set like this does give you a chance to get your bench players some court time. The nice thing, though, is they’ve got nothing to lose. They can go out and play loose.

I should note here that this cannot be something the starters will interpret as being punitive. I’ve heard stories about coaches who subbed out the entire starting six basically out of disgust at how they were playing. That sort of thing isn’t going to accomplish much. It will probably be harmful, in fact. Instead, it must be clear to the players coming out that this is a strategic device and that they should see it as an opportunity to regroup to start the next set.

If you want to try this out some time you have to think about the timing of it in advance and have a plan because my guess is you won’t automatically think about it in the heat of battle. Our inclination as coaches tends to be to try to fix things now – or failing that, think about what we’re going to do next set. This substition ploy works in the gap between the two, so you simply might forget about it as an option. If you actually plan it out – maybe talk it over with the team – you might be more inclined to remember. Failing that, you could give someone else the task of reminding you.