The good and the bad of volleyball statistics

Coach Rey has an interesting post discussing the use of stats in modern volleyball. It includes an idea for his own sort of team scoring metric. I found his comments about how complex and advanced stats are these days to be quite interesting. I’d started having that feeling as well at times. I can imagine how overwhelming the mass of numbers are for some. In particular, Rey brings up how confusing things can be for players. I think that is probably something which varies from player to player. Some don’t care about stats while others get quite into them.Personally, from a player perspective, I like to use stats to help track development and performance over time. I also like to provide points of comparison where appropriate.

I can imagine coaches getting too caught up in the numbers. This is a little bit of the PhD in me talking. The fact of the matter is that as coaches we tend to get only small sample sizes. You need a fairly large number of observations to draw proper conclusions. This is fine in a situation where you can track lots of reps (like serve receive over several training sessions). It’s more problematic when you have to make quick judgements in the middle of a match. For example, when a hitter has 10 swings, 1 kill or 1 hitting error either way has a major impact on their hitting %.

And let’s face it. There’s a lot of stuff that goes on in a volleyball match which doesn’t show up in the stats. Having numbers at hand makes it seem like we can make nice clean assessments. The bottom line, though, is that we’re still dealing with people. People aren’t machines. Inevitably there are things they do (or don’t do) which aren’t so easily converted into neat objective measures. Some coaches seem to get so obsessed with the numbers that they forget this fact.

Don’t get me wrong! Stats are quite handy so long as one doesn’t get carried away.

While coaching in England I was jealous of the stats my coaching peers back in the States got. There is very little in the way of statistics there, and most of what does exist comes from coaches collecting their own. I did a bit of stat-tracking in training to give players progress reports and to do some comparisons. At one point I had an assistant who tracked some things during matches when he was available. That’s about as far as it went, however.

I struggle personally as a head coach to keep stats during matches because I find it distracts me from observing the big picture of what’s going on with my team (different when I was an assistant). I wouldn’t have minded having consistent box score type stats provided to me, though. 🙂

John Forman
About the Author: John Forman

John currently coaches for an NCAA Division II women’s team. This follows a stint as head coach for a women’s professional team in Sweden. Prior to that he was the head coach for the University of Exeter Volleyball Club BUCS teams (roughly the UK version of the NCAA) while working toward a PhD. He previously coached in Division I of NCAA Women’s Volleyball in the US, with additional experience at the Juniors club level, both coaching and managing, among numerous other volleyball adventures. Learn more on his bio page.

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