Tag Archive for volleyball statistics

Old school analysis

In modern volleyball there are any number of applications and technological tools that can be applied to coaching. DataVolley, for example, is widely used for statistical and video analysis. There is also VolleyMetrics, for those who want to outsource this time of work. These things cost money, though, and not everyone has that – or the staff to put it to use. That means sometimes you have to revert to old school methods.

That’s what I found myself doing once when I coached Svedala in Sweden. I wanted to do a thorough analysis of a recent match. It was a disappointing loss. We were up 2-0 and had leads late in both Sets 3 and 4. Not having a better option at hand, I went through the video. I wrote out the rotation, pass/dig rating, set, attack type, and result for every non-serve ball played over the net by us and the opposition. I then plugged that into a spreadsheet so I could break it down.

Yeah. Fun stuff! :-/

We did have official match stats, though they are of dubious value – especially the first version of them. We also used SoloStats on the bench during matches to track serve reception stats and examine rotation performance. I needed, though, to be able to drill down and cross-section things to get a better handle on what we’re doing well and what not so well.

I hoped we could eventually come up with a better way to do all this, but it was a small club with a limited budget. More or less, I had to go that route for all our matches where I wanted more detailed analysis.

What were my findings, you ask?

The big one was we needed to be much better out of system. We got kills only 8% of the time and it was either errors or blocks on 20% of the plays. And therein is the value of statistics – even very basic or hand tallied ones. They give you ideas for things to look at more closely or to spend more time on.

Coaching Log – Oct 26, 2015

This is an entry in my volleyball coaching log for 2015-16.

Generally speaking, the weekend league results went probably about as might be expected. Gislaved won 3-0 over the youngsters at RIG and Lindesberg won 3-0 over Sollentuna. We might have expected Örebro to have a harder time with Engleholm than a 3-0, but they seemed to be able to contain Engelholm’s main attacker. This was of interest to us as we played the latter on Tuesday.

Those results have the league table looking very top-heavy, though Hylte/Halmstad and Svedala remain on top despite playing one fewer match.

ElitserieTable-18 Nov. 2015

Click for full-sized version

Obviously, it’s too early to make any real strong forecasts, but the distribution of results so far does tend to suggest it will be a 6-team race for the four places available in the Gran Prix. Those spots are based on the first half of league play, which basically means up to the December break.

As noted, Engelholm was on our schedule for Tuesday – at their place. This is one of the domestic matches which also counts toward standing in the Oresundliga. A win would see us go top of both that and the Elitserie.

Had a sick player, so only 9 healthy bodies in training. I allowed the players to determine a warm-up exercise to do. They opted for a new variation on volley tennis. From there the focus was on preparation for Tuesday’s match, but mainly from the perspective of working on long-term developmental needs as well.

After getting their shoulders warmed up for serving, I had them do some serving against a 4-person reception formation, which is what we were expecting to primarily see in Tuesday’s match. I used boxes to have them work on hitting the seams.

From there we did some serving and passing with one setter and a MB in to have the latter working on hitting the corners. This is something that we observed would likely be successful against Tuesday’s opposition, but is something I’ve wanted to get our MBs better at generally anyway.

After that we did a cooperative cross-court drill with the attacking from 2. I had the two MBs and the libero rotating around through the setting positions on both sides. The two starting OHs stayed in 6 while the Setters and OPPs flipped back and forth between positions 1 and 2. Again, this was to work on something defensively for Tuesday, but we also could stand the work on defense on that side of the court in any case.

Next up was back court attack Winners 3s. The last part of the session was a team serve reception through all 6 rotations with 3 blockers. Myself and the team manager were the servers. The focus was on attacking to certain areas of the court.

Overall, I think it was a good preparation session for the next day’s match.

Really tough match. We went up 2-0 in the match, and were up late in both sets 3 and 4, but ended up losing. A case could be made that we didn’t deserve on our own merits to have the 2-0 lead, but the other team made a lot of mistakes – especially in serve – to keep us in contention. At different points they swapped both their setter and libero. We definitely struggled to contain their strong OPP but my feeling overall was that we tightened up at the end of the 3rd and 4th sets and were playing not to lose.

The official match stats are a joke, so I can’t really use them for much in the way of analysis. Our bench stats point to major struggles scoring in Rotations 1 and 6 (using the international rotation labeling system based on where the setter is). In prior matches were were consistently above 50% overall, but this time only Rotation 5 was that high. That was our starting rotation, so it’s a positive from that perspective (and we sided out at 77%). Those other two rotations were below 30% in terms of point scoring, and in the case of Rotation 1 we sided out less than 50% as well. Despite passing only 1.80 for the match as a team, we still managed to side out at 57%. Admittedly, that was boosted by all the opposition’s missed serves.

I’m going to need to really go over the video and re-stat the match myself (probably at least the other Elitserie matches we’ve played as well) to do a thorough analysis . Generally speaking, though, we continue to suffer from a lack of composure. There were a number of inexplicable errors and poor decisions.

Despite the loss, we still temporarily went to the top of the standings in the Elitserie on the basis of earning a point for winning two sets. We also got a point in the Oresundliga, where we now sit 3rd.

I sat the team down before training to talk about the previous night’s match. It was a positive, productive meeting. There was a sense of anger about losing, but no one was down about it. Everyone was eager to move forward and get better.  I started it off by getting the observations of the players who were on the bench. Communication and defensive responsibility issues were mentioned. We talked about playing not to lose and getting too conservative in crunch time.

One of the more interesting parts of the discussion was on ways to improve training. There was talk about trying to incorporate more positional relationships in the game-like exercises – meaning making the line-ups more closely approximate match-day rotations. The issue there is not overworking players and trying to give them opportunities to be challenged in all their roles, which is the tricky part of having such a limited roster. I need to give the MBs breaks and I need to give my OHs the chance to play back row as well as front row.

We also talked about incorporating more drills in training. Not surprisingly, the desire for “more reps” motivated this from the player perspective. In parallel, though, my American OH expressed her feeling that the load of the game play exercises was too high for her – that by the latter parts of training she was telling our setter not to give her the ball. The players may not have realized this, but we have actually been doing more drills in training since the season started. The point on the game-play load is one I need to think more about. In particular, it occurs to me that perhaps the small-sided stuff I usually do before we shift to full-team games could be dropped or cut back – or counted as part of the game-play portion of training if I’m using them to focus on specific elements.

The actually training after the meeting was meant to mainly be recovery oriented – work on a few technical things and generally keep the bodies active. After they warmed-up and played a bit of volley tennis, I split out the setters to do some reps. For the American setter it was to work on the consistency of her sets for the OHs – each of which needs a slightly different height. For the young Swedish setter it was about working on her mechanics, in particular on her back sets. While that was going on, the rest of the players played 2 v 2 games of 2-touch.

After that, I brought everyone together for what was a serving and passing focused game at it’s core, but with a couple other elements. Each side had a MB and Setter front row, with an OH, Libero, and OPP in the back row. The teams alternated serving. The primary objective was to run the MBs on front and back quicks, but if that wasn’t on, they could attack out of the back row. We thus had the passers focused on getting good passes so the MBs could run their attacks, and the middles had a chance to attack against a solid 3-person defense to work on finding the gaps. The energy and attitudes were good. The passers did well, resulting in the middles getting some really nice swings.

I had planned for a few weeks to give everyone this day off. We don’t have a match until next Saturday and for the most part haven’t had more than a single day off at a time since we started training. The Swedish players primarily work or go to school, so for them it was a break to do some of their own things. For the Americans it was a few clear days to do whatever (they had talked about taking a trip) – and to allow aching bodies to recover some. I told them after Wednesday’s training to make sure they stayed active so that Monday’s training wasn’t some kind of shock to the system.

Thoughts and observations
Losses are great motivators for change. I’ve been feeling like in some ways we were winning despite our performance. To a certain degree, that was even true in the first part of Tuesday’s match when we won the first set in large part because the other team made so many errors. I’ve identified some of the broader issues in need of focus before (e.g. lack of composure), so in this case it’s not about a major change in concentration.

That said, I do feel like I need to really map out where I want the team to be going into the play-offs. Then it becomes a question of getting buy-in from the team and plotting the path toward that destination.

Other stuff
I spent a lot of the latter part of the week trying to sort through video and statistical analysis options, applications, and efforts. We have access to a very basic version of DataVolley (Media) which has no video integration. Part of what I was trying to do was learn about the options we might be able to use to overcome that and to get to the point where I can do a more specific analysis of different segments of play. Because of my internet access limitations, it took me a LONG time getting the match video from Tuesday downloaded so I could share it with the team and go through an do my own analysis (and eventually to pull individual player clips).

I was approached by our second team coach on Friday about using up to 6 of the first team players on a Svedala team for a national U23 tournament the first weekend of November. We have no matches then (because of said tournament), and nothing until the following Sunday, so no issue on my end. It’s up to the players if they want to take part.

Coaching Log – Oct 12, 2015

This is an entry in my volleyball coaching log for 2015-16.

Based on the stats from the first match, there were a couple of areas of focus I had in mind for this week’s training. One was hitting. Our kill % from the Örebro match was only 30%, and we probably need to be at 40% or better. Also, our hitting error % was right around 18% (not counting blocked attacks), which is too high. It probably needs to be around 10%. These targets are based on last year’s statistics. A big part of this is increasing our effectiveness out of the middle. We only had 6 kills on 30 swings, which is way too low for that position.

By comparison, the official passing numbers look quite good, with a nearly 50% perfect rating. Our bench numbers have it at less than 40%, though, but one match with the vast majority of balls going to one player isn’t really enough to go on. That will remain an area of focus regardless.

The flip side of that is serving. We could be doing better there in terms of focusing on our targets, hitting seams, etc. Örebro is listed as having a 55% perfect rate, which no doubt is at least as inflated as our own, but still goes to show that we could put more pressure on the opposition.

I got the player’s impressions on Saturday’s match and shared my own at the start of training. We also walked through the 6 serve reception rotations to look at ways we can change things up if needed, and took a look at the rotation defense. That’s something we’ll probably do some work on in the future to have available in case we want to use it.

The talking and walk-through ate up some time in an already shorter session (Monday’s are 2 hours). I wasn’t worried about it, though, as I wouldn’t have wanted to go very long anyway since my plan was to put a heavy focus on the MBs.

After warm-ups I had them play the Amoeba serving game to work a bit on serving accuracy and to get the competitive juices flowing. That resulted in a discussion about over-thinking things because they were making assumptions about rules that were never stated or intended, which came back around later in training in a different context.

I had them play Winners after that, but with a new wrinkle. This time I had both the setters and middles be fixed. The rest of them were split up into teams of 2, so the final result was that they played 4s. I also had them run it on a narrow court to encourage rallies and to force the hitters to find more ways of scoring. About midway through I had the MBs switch to work with the other setter.

From there we progressed to a 5 v 5 playing 3 up and 2 back (Zone 6 was designated as out of bounds). In this game only the MBs could score. They got a point by either getting a kill or a block, or by the other MB making an error. If someone other than the MB scored, that team earned the right to receive serve. The first game had the setters in 1 for the purposes of serve reception.

What I ended up observing was that balls were being forced to the MB in positions where their chances of getting a kill were virtually nil. Again, the players were over-thinking as I never said only the MBs could attack. We talked about the decision-making and how sometimes the better play was to not go for the point. After that, I moved the setters to 4 for serve reception and had the MBs switch teams. The second set ended up being much more competitive.

I had them do some target serving to finish training.

I didn’t take any stats on it, but I felt like the focus on running the middle attack had the passers more locked in. It also served to force a bit more creativity and invention in the attack, and might have provided a few ideas for use in matches. That was the point, so good outcome from that perspective.

We had a couple of guest players for training to bring our number up to 12, so I took the opportunity to work in some 6 v 6 activities. After warming-up and doing some ball-handling I had them play Speedball. As with Monday, though, I had the setters and MBs fixed, so it was 4 teams of two playing with them.

We then moved on to a combination of games. The primary one was Baseball, which we played through all 6 rotations. That was to work on transition play. Because I only have two MBs and they would have to play front row all the time, after each inning I pulled them out to serve for a 3 point wash-game. It featured alternating serves to get a bit more serve reception work, with the winner of the initial rally getting a second ball. If they won that rally as well, they got the point. I saw a lot of good defense in those games.

After doing some target serving, I finished up with a couple rounds of Scramble to work on staying focused on the job at hand (letting mistakes go) and developing more calm during scrappy periods in matches.

Back to the core group. After a physically demanding session on Tuesday, and having weight training beforehand, this was a somewhat lower intensity practice. It actually started with a discussion about the stats from Saturday’s match. They were substantially adjusted at the league level. Our team hitting efficiency jumped up to .268 with a near 40% kill rate. Although the numbers for our middle attack were better, they still weren’t where they need to be, so I wasn’t operating under a false evaluation in my earlier sessions.

On the flip side, our passing numbers went totally the other way. Our perfect pass percentage was 11%. The thing about passing numbers, though, is they are heavily reliant on the characteristics of the setter. My suspicion is that the revised figures were strict interpretation rather than reality based. Regardless, we’ll be focusing on our own bench stats for consistency’s sake.

After our usual warm-up game, we did some positional digging in pairs. That was followed by serving and passing with setters and MBs getting some work on their connections. From there we went to back court attack winners 3s, and then Speedball with fixed setters. The remainder of the session was 5 v 5 play using a wash game. We played 3 front, 2 back. One side had defenders in 5 and 6 and the other had them in 1 and 5. The empty spaces were declared out. I rotated players around so they were attacking and defending in both ways.

We had a guest male player to get us up to 11 for this training, which actually was in our Monday gym because of a community event in our main hall.  After warm-ups, we did Continuous Cross-Court Digging to keep working on digging technique and general defensive mentality. I’ve seen definite improvements in both areas of late, particularly in the mentality.

To carry the defensive stuff over into game play while also starting to prepare for game play later, we next played back court attack Winners 3s with fixed setters. That then shifted to narrow court Winners 4s with fixed setters and middles to continue the week’s work on developing our middle offense.

From there we did a pair of alternating games. First was Bingo-Bango-Bongo to work on transition play. Because of the strain that puts on the MBs, though, after each round of that we shifted the MBs into a serving and defense roll and played a wash game of 5 v 5 with no middle blockers. The session finished with a regular game of 5 v 6.

Our match was at 15:00, after the second team played theirs. It was against Sollentuna, which is another one of the northern teams in the league. My review of their match from last weekend pointed to struggles in serve reception and a very shallow defense which made them vulnerable to deep attacks. The feeling was that the main focus should be on serving effectively and putting up a good block against their strong OH.

Unfortunately for the home crowd, it didn’t turn out to be the most exciting match. Aside from a couple of tricky patches, we were the dominant side in a 3-0 win. As expected, Sollentuna struggled in serve reception, which resulted in a lot of high outside sets. Our block was a bit off to start, but adjusted and forced their best hitter into quite a few errors.

Thoughts and observations
We continue to get overly excited in our play. It’s getting better, but we’re still making errors of the over-aggression type – like wanting to win the match with a single swing. Need to keep working on that.

Defense generally showed good improvement over the week, especially in the commitment perspective. I’d like to see more 2-armed digging efforts, though, to improve ball control.

I’d like to see us do a little more bettering the ball at times.

Other stuff
I finished up with initial individual meetings this week, which I think went pretty well. I could see immediate effects from some of the discussions in training during the week.

The second team coach asked to use two of our non-starters in their match, which was before ours. Both got a lot of playing time, especially since the match went 5.

Coaching Log – Sep 28, 2015

This is an entry in my volleyball coaching log for 2015-16.

Here’s how things went over the final week of pre-season:

I had one player message me on Sunday night saying she’d miss the first couple trainings of the week because she was back home in Stockholm with her family having a think about her situation because of some stuff going on off-the-court. Not exactly the sort of thing a coach wants to be getting after the fact. I told her in the future that I wanted to hear about this sort of thing ahead of time so that maybe I could help, and if not it would at least not be a surprise (a view echoed by the team manager). Needless to say, this went to the top of my list of things to talk with the team about that night.

We actually talked about a couple of different things at the start of training. Most of it was related to Saturday’s match. I let the players talk about what they thought and then added my own impressions. The two main ones were becoming a more aggressive, committed team on defense and making an adjustment to how we do hitting in the pre-match warm-up to encourage more reaching and hitting high rather than hitting balls right over the top of the net.

Only 9 players for training. I did a mix of slower tempo and faster tempo activities. It started with 21, which is on the slow side. The players struggled to complete it and I eventually stopped the drill to talk with them about the need for focus on skill execution in that sort of circumstance. In the end, only one of the three groups finished before I moved on to new things.

I introduced the Belly Drill next. After going through a non-scoring period to get them familiar with how it works, I tried something I’ve never done before. We did a kind of negative scoring system where a team earned a point for losing a rally. The first team to 21 ended the drill. We did back row attacking only, so there were some lengthy rallies. That made for a slightly longer game than I had planned, but it was fine. I liked how it played out in terms of encouraging a lot of scrambling on defense and forcing players to try to problem solve winning rallies. I also liked that it gave me an opportunity to give players a second ball right away after they’ve made an error.

We slowed things down again after that and did some serving and passing. Initially, I had the setters working with the middles off the passes. After that I also rotated the pin hitters through.

The last 10 minutes was spent playing Winners 3s on a narrow court.

Had 10 again for this training. After pre-hab, some partner pepper, and a serving warm-up, I did a serving and passing drill. On each side there was a setter, a pair of passers from the group of OHs and the Libero, plus a target for the setter and a server from the MB and RS group. I had the passers in 5 and 6 with the server first going from 1 and then from 5. The initial server did 10 good balls, then swapped with the target. The objective was to keep the passers working on communication, while giving the other players a chance to work on their own skills.

From there I had them do Speedball 2s (with fixed setters) on a narrow court as a game play warm-up. The rest of training was work on Rotations 2 and 5 (setter in 2, setter in 5), which were ones I identified from the rotation scoring stats of Saturday’s match as likely needing some attention. I did this through a series of mini games to 7 points with one side in each of the rotations. The Rotation 2 side had a libero back row with the setter, so they played 1 & 6 defense. The Rotation 5 side had a MB and OH back row playing in 5 & 6. I had the teams only attack in the direction of the defenders. Each mini game featured only on side serving. They played two of those games, then I rotated the 3 MBs, 3 OHs, and 2 setters alternatively. I think that means we played 5 or 6 pairs of games in total.

It was a pretty loose session in terms of the players being pretty relaxed and having fun (and the watching parents having a few laughs), but I still did a fair amount of coaching in terms of stopping things quickly at times to make a point or to talk through a positioning question.

Only 9 at training again this time. We share the gym with the second/Juniors team for about 30 minutes these nights as they wrap up their session. Because the players have basically just come from weight training, there’s not much need for a real warm-up. Because we’re on a side court with limited space on the ends and one side, what we can do is constrained. I’ve taken to beginning things with a game – a 2-ball, doubles version of bagger tennis (volley tennis). Basically, each team has someone underhand serve to the other side so that two balls are in play at the same time, with two players on each side. The players love it and get quite competitive.

After that, still working on the side court, we did did team cross-court pepper. Having 9 players with just one setter, I set it up to the setter was fixed on one side for the first half, then switched to the other side. That means the other side had a player rotating through setting. I also had fixed liberos in position 5.

My original plan was to play Winners 3s on the full court once the other group was done, or maybe the Belly Drill. We did play Winners, but with a twist. We grabbed some of the Juniors and mixed them in with the squad to make teams of four or five. The younger players could mainly only stay for about 15 minutes, so that was how long we let it run. It was a good, positive environment.

After that I had the players work through rotations 2, 3, and 6. With only 9 bodies, I had to set it up as MB, RS, OH, and L on each side. I set the mini games up so that one team served each ball, and the receiving team had the setter. After the initial ball, I then hit a down ball to the libero of the serving side. Along with working on those particular rotations, these games also involved a lot of work on out-of-system attacking.

I was done with what I wanted to do after about 90 minutes, so I gave the players the opportunity to work on some other stuff. They ended up doing a bunch of serving and passing with the MBs doing some hitting and blocking work in conjunction. I had my young MB play around with running a front slide.

Off to Denmark to start the Time Vision Cup preseason tournament, hosted by Brøndby Volleyball Klub. The opposition for our first match was Swedish defending champions Engelholm. We’d heard they were struggling a bit in their preseason matches, but that doesn’t necessarily mean anything. The team were looking forward to the match, though.

The tournament structure was round-robin pool play (2 pools of 4) over the first two days, with cross-over matches on Sunday. Each match was three sets to 25, regardless of results. My plan was to rotate the players more or less regardless of results. I began with what I expect to be our starting 7 in the first set, which we won fairly easily – mostly thanks to effective serving. Our young middle began the set with several points straight away, many aces, and that set the tone.

In the second set I swapped out the setter, libero, and right side positions. This set was closer, but we still won without too much difficulty. In the last set I started with the first set line-up, but brought in the second set subs midway through (except setter, as our young setter was a bit sick). We ended up dropping a close one, mainly because we struggled to get our block right against their one very strong attacker (OPP). That had me thinking about whether I should have played around with the match-ups a bit to see how it would have gone with our stronger hitting and blocking OH against her most of the time.

This was a two match day against the two Danish teams in our pool. We got to see them play a bit before our match on Friday. Neither could really match us in terms of the power of our attack, but both were pretty scrappy. This day I had an extra MB and had my second libero mix in a bit at OH to give some players a break. What I decided to do was to go starters in the first set. In the second set I put the reserve MB in for the younger MB, and then put the younger one in for our American MB in the 3rd set. I had the two liberos split the first two sets, then switched the second one to OH for the third set and had her go in for the American OH. The two RS players each played a full set out of the first two, then about equally split time the 3rd set. The American setter set the first two sets with the young Swedish one acting as a serving sub. The latter then set the third set herself, meaning it was an All-Sweden third set for us in both matches.

Team Køge was up first. Not a particular big team, but solid on defense. They gave us some trouble and fought really hard. We won all three sets, but it was 22, 23, and 23 and we had to come from behind each set. The serving subs I used did a good job and really helped get us over the top.

Amager was the opposition in the second set. We’ll see them again in the Oresund Liga. They beat Team Køge the prior day thanks to having a bit more offense. We made pretty short work of them in the first two sets, though, mainly through strong serving. We did lose the third set 26-28, but had needed to come back to get it to even make it that close. There might have been a bit of a focus slip there, as having won all three matches already by winning the first two sets, we had already assured ourselves of being in the title match.

The interesting question is what I would have done if we hadn’t won the first two sets. My plan all along was to rotate the MBs and the OHs to give the American players a bit of a break. If we needed to win the third set I probably would have kept the American setter in, especially given that the young Swedish one was still under the weather.

Hylte/Halmstad won the other pool, so was our opposition in Sunday’s final match. Like Engelholm, they are a team we’ll see at least 4 times during the Swedish season. We saw them play between our two matches on Saturday. The impression was that they were a good blocking team with some legit weapons in attack. I figured it would make for an interesting challenge for the team.

My approach to this one was treat it like the championship match it was in terms of playing to win, though for me it was still very much an evaluation opportunity. We again began the match with the presumed starters in, and promptly fell quickly behind. The energy wasn’t great. The players weren’t talking so much. We got blocked a couple times early. In the end we dropped that one 15-25.

I kept the same line-up to start the second set, but rather than starting with our setter in 5, I spun the rotation and had her start in 3 to get our stronger OH at the net. We ended up winning easily, 25-19. The rotation change may have been a factor in terms of favorable match-ups, but I think more important was the players talking through adjustments, who to go after in serve and attack, etc.

We were pretty in control for most of third set as well, using the same line-up and rotation from the second set. I did call a timeout at I think 21-20 when we’d let them creep back on us, but we ended up winning 25-22. We ended up with 15 blocks in the match, which is more than we had all of Saturday.

I would have liked to have won the first two sets again to allow me to give the back-up players a full set in the third, but I think getting slapped around in the first set actually may end up paying off in terms of getting the team to be more engaged from the start. I used all three of the bench players in at least two sets each (the first went so fast I didn’t really get a chance) and they were all effective, which is good.

Thoughts and observations
It’s always nice to get the season off to a winning start, especially when you know you aren’t playing anywhere near where you’ll be later if the players stay healthy and all that. My big focus in preseason was in getting the players working together as a unit, which they definitely did during the tournament. Now the focus will shift to working on developing some specific technical abilities, improving and expanding our defensive tactics, and refining our offensive capabilities.

Other stuff
Saturday is our first league match of the year against Örebro. We haven’t played them, so our scouting will have to be from player recollections and some video of them playing in preseason that is apparently available.

The team manager was with me on the bench for all the matches using SoloStats 1-2-3 on my iPad mini to keep track of passing and the rally-ending plays. That doesn’t give us the figures to come up with something like hitting percentages, but it does produce a fair amount of useful information on performance and rotational analysis. I’ve played around with it before, but this is the first time it’s gotten serious use. We’ll have proper stats during the matches moving forward, but it might be worth keeping in use anyway. We’ll see.

The importance of different skills in volleyball

There’s an academic paper worth having a look at titled Skill Importance in Women’s Volleyball. It is based on analysis of data from the 2006 BYU Women’s team and looks at most of the primary skills involved in volleyball. I was able to get hold of it as part of the discussion/debate surrounding the It’s best to set the ball tight post from last week (it also came up in the discussion of defense around the What’s the objective of defense in volleyball? post). This is apparently the analysis which is the basis for the USA teams favoring sets off the net – and passes as well.

Be warned, the paper being academic, it’s quite technical in many ways. One of the more interesting aspects of it is the list of references, which includes several evaluations of skills from different volleyball competitions.

It is important to understand that academic analysis of this nature can be quite reliant on the methodologies involved and how the data is collected and prepared. I should know. I’m in the middle of just that kind of thing now working on my PhD. Also, this study includes only one team in one season. As such, it may be picking up things which are specific to that squad (idiosyncratic).

Short-coming aside, it is always of value to understand the parts of the game which are the most important in your team’s success.

Hitter attack angles

Mark Lebedew once wrote on the subject of when hitters make the decision as to their angle of attack. That is whether they go line or cross with their swing. The post was a follow-up to a poll he ran asking when people thought hitters made their choice: before the set. When he sees the block starting position? When he sees the set, when he sees the blockers’ hands? Or at some other point? Basically half of respondents said when they see the hands.

Mark’s view is that mechanically there’s not much chance of a hitter truly being able to set themselves up to hit with power both line and cross such that they could decide between the two in the last instant. I would contend that when the decision is made depends a great deal on the talent level of the hitter (leaving aside the question of the set for the moment). At the low end, hitters probably make the decision before the play even starts. I know this first-hand from working with them! At the upper end, vision and experience tends to allow for later decision-making.

At the 2015 HP Coaches Clinic there was a session which nominally was about scouting, but ended up being focused on training hitters to be able to hit multiple angles. Hitter attack angles were defined as:

Straight: In line with approach
Hard-Cross: Attack with a cross-body arm swing
Straight-Cross: Midway between Straight and Hard-Cross
Hard-Away: Aggressive wrist-away attack
Straight-Away: Midway between Straight and Hard-Away

It is important to note that these attack angles are all relative to the approach of the hitter. If, for example, we’re talking about an OH with about a 45-degree approach, then the straight attack would be on that 45-degree line. Hard-Cross would be the line swing. Hard-Away would be a sharp cross-court attack. The two mixed attacks would be in between, as shown here:
Here’s what it would look like for an OPP with a straight approach. Notice how the hard away shot is actually out of bounds. Clearly, that shot isn’t available. The straight-away shot might not be either.
AttackAngles2Obviously, the exact angles of these swings are going to vary from hitter to hitter. Some attackers will be able to hit more radical “cross” or “away” shots than others. I’ll share some of the training exercises they presented in the not too distant future.

Returning to Mark’s view, we had a conversation about it a couple weeks back when I was in Berlin. I personally as a hitter was a late decider in that I looked for the block, but I was very much a straight to hard away hitter, at least as an OH. Didn’t really have much of a cross-body swing from that side. I could mix one in from the right on occasion.

The point I made with Mark was that in theory a hitter can leave the decision right up to the point of elbow extension. That’s when they decide where on the ball to strike. But at what point do you start calling those angle shifts shots rather than full attacks, and can those angles really provide the same full range as going cross-body?

Serve first or receive first?

Your team wins the pre-match coin toss. Do you take serve? Or do you take receive?

At the upper levels of the sport the answer is very simple. You take receive. Why? Two reasons.

First, the sideout percentages are quite high for top level teams. Mark Lebedew shared some stats from the German men’s Bundesliga (top league) a while back which indicated that teams scored just about 2/3rds of the time when receiving serve. So from the perspective of getting on the board first, you don’t want to be serving.

Second, as Mark points out, the receiving team actually has less to do to win a set than the serving team:

“…in any given set, the number or sideouts is equal, give or take one.  What decides the set is the number of points the teams win on serve. The receiving team must win one more point on serve than its opponent to win the set. The serving team must win two more points on serve to win the set. Scoring a point on serve is more difficult than winning a point on reception. Therefore the team receiving first has an advantage.”

Of course the considerations are quite a bit different at the other end of the talent spectrum. There serving is much more dominant. If you’re coaching at a level where the sideout percentage is only about 1 in 3, then you’re going to want to have the first serve. The frequency at which points are scored on serve will tend to make what Mark outlines above irrelevant.

If you’re coaching in the middling zone where sideout rates are close to 50%, then other considerations may come into play.

Regardless, this is one area of coaching where knowing the relevant statistics can make for quite clear-cut decision-making.

Coaching Log – Sep 24, 2014

This is an entry in my volleyball coaching log for 2014-15.

This was the first official team training of the new season after final cut-down was made on Tuesday. The main idea was to set the overall tone of expectations for training and how I want the team to play.

I actually already started that on Monday and Tuesday in terms of being on time and what happens at the start of the session while the net is being put up. I expect those not involved to ball-handle lightly or do other volleyball-related activities until we’re good to go – not just stand around watching and chatting. They were told about how we had to institute consequences for tardiness last season and how I hoped that would not have to be the case this year.

Additionally, on Tuesday I introduced them to my balls-don’t-drop stance. That was something I wanted to reinforce at the start of training.

The key thing I was looking to start to develop, though, was the “gym as a safe environment” philosophy. By that I mean we are all supportive of each other and we are accepting of making mistakes – both our own and others – as part of the learning and development process. And not only do we support our teammates, but we accept support from them.

In terms of the volleyball, there were a couple of things I wanted to focus on:

1) Serving technique – This is mainly for the B team group where specific training is likely required to get them using consistent mechanics, but even with some of the A team players there may be an issue here or there.

2) Start to identify likely primary passers – This is mainly for the A team group as they will be the first to start competing (first SWVA in 2.5 weeks, then BUCS in 3 weeks). For this I wanted to do some statting of serve reception.

3) Evaluate blocking – I wanted to take a look at footwork and the other mechanical elements to see where work needs to be done.

Here was the plan:

– Blocking footwork patterns along the net as initial warm-up
Passing triplets and quads as a continued warm-up
– Target serving (zones 1, 5, and short)
– Get two serving and passing
– Game play

Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending in your perspective), three of the players were not dressed and ready to go on-time, so training started off with consequences. These players were 5 minutes tardy in being ready to go, so we did 5 sets of 4 (4 length of court sprints). Last year we did stuff at the end of training (not sprints, generally), but because this was the first day I wanted to reinforce the “be on time and ready to go” immediately – as well as the fact that it impacted the team, not just the individual.

Following the sprints, to let them catch their breath, I talked with them about the stuff I mentioned above. I told them about the positive gym atmosphere. I talked about how pushing themselves helps push the team forward, and mentioned the way improvements in last year’s team along the way made for increasingly competitive and intense training sessions as the season progressed.

After the talk, I had them do blocking footwork along the net – first single step shuffle, then the step-crossover-hop move. A fair bit of work will need to be done with especially the B-team players to make those patterns automatic. The blocking technique itself wasn’t horrible, though we don’t have any particularly big blockers.

I had them first do the passing triplets/quads. They started with overhand throws to act as an initial shoulder warm-up and to simulate a float serve with more control than we were likely to have if they simply served to start. After I think two rotations through, I did then have them go to short serves (meaning from inside the court, not that they served the ball short). This allowed me to observe common issues to address with the group, and to focus on certain things with individual players.

From there I had them do target serving. They had to put 5 balls in each of deep zones 1 and 5, and if they did that, to serve short. Again, I used the opportunity to do some individual player corrections.

After that it was the team serving and passing. Unfortunately, several balls dropped, so the team had to face the consequences (immediate set of 4). I had the players keep track of their passes so we could mark down each time through how many good out of how many total. In this case, I defined good as middle third of the court in front of the 3m line, so it wasn’t about perfect balls. Predictably, some players struggled. Others did quite well.

I finished up by having them play narrow court (about 2/3 width) Winners 4s. There was some ugly stuff, of course, but the captain told me afterwards she was pretty pleased with how competitive the players were. Along the way I reinforced both the value of taking risks and the need to communicate – particularly hitter availability when out-of-system.

Overall, not a bad session and not a great session. It was probably about what I expected. I’ve decided that at least for a while I want to have the A team players doing serving & passing together because the B team players were clearly struggling with some of the strong serves a couple of A team players have. I want to slow things down a bit for the B team players to let them focus on their technique a bit more and gain some confidence. They will still get to face the tougher serves at times in game-play situations.

We have out next training session tonight – 90 minutes in the big gym.

How important is blocking?

There’s a forum thread at Volley Talk on the subject of the influence of blocking on results. It was motivated by a blog post which suggests blocking may not be that important. Specifically, blocking is said to be the facet of the game least correlated to wins and losses. The 2012 University of Oregon women’s team is used as a prime example. That team played in the NCAA Division I national championship game, but actually was at or near the bottom of the Pac-12 conference in blocks per set during the regular season. Clearly, blocking isn’t all that important!

Are you convinced?

Blocking is not just about blocks

Of course the big issue with this discussion is that blocking isn’t just about blocks which score points. It is also about forcing hitters to change shots. It’s about funneling balls toward our best defenders. And it’s especially about slowing down hard hit balls. Unfortunately, it’s quite hard to objectively measure those sorts of things directly. We can only get there indirectly by looking at opponent hitting percentages and things like that.

What we can do, though, is ask the question what would happen if we don’t block at all. Once one reaches a sufficiently high level where attacking players hit hard and/or accurately enough to overwhelm the defense it clearly becomes the case that blocking is very important. Even a weak block is generally better than no block at all from this point onwards.

Blocking because that’s what you’re supposed to do

That said, below that point where offense overwhelms defense in the absence of a block, it is quite legitimate to ask whether blocking is worthwhile. We as coaches – and by extension our players – often get caught up in the feeling like we have to do things a certain way regardless of the situation. This is another element of the discussion in Using 2-touch games to challenge your players in terms of being able to be effective vs. doing things the “right” way.

How often do you see double blocks put up against teams with no strong hitters? How many times do your own teams do it? I am certainly guilty of that. In all honesty, in part I let it be because I see a risk in making things more confusing for the players if I tell them to only single block or to not block at all. Of course, that just means I should train them to deal with that situation.

So at what point do we want players blocking – singly or doubly? Should we always have players block in a developmental context?