Thinking about my use of stats

I came across a thread on a forum recently which asked the members which statistics they find most useful in their coaching. It got me thinking about my own use of statistics recently.

I’ve talked in prior posts about what used to be available to me when I was coaching collegiately in the States and the sorts of things I’ve used at times since I’ve been coaching in England. When I was coaching at Brown we used stats all the time. During matches I got print-outs after each set of the standard stuff. We also kept serving and passing tallies and sometimes other things as well. I used to get way into the numbers, looking at things from all different angles and perspectives (see this Boston Globe article for a discussion of advanced stats in the NBA).

These days there are no official stats coming my way during matches, so anything that I do have access to necessarily means either myself or my assistant are recording them. I have found that I have a very hard time doing that because it splits my focus too much. I’ve done a bit of in-training stats, mainly in the area of serve receive. The bottom line ends up being I don’t use stats very much.

Actually, I don’t find myself missing them all that much. Granted, stats are very good for giving you an objective view of things – assuming you have enough reps to have a meaningful set of numbers. That bit tends to be a problem. There is a tendency among at least some coaches (and players) to jump to conclusions based on a limited sample, which is a really bad idea. Stats are good for seeing broad patterns, not for making quick analysis.

I actually think not having all the stats I used to have has helped me be a better coach. Because I don’t have the crutch of the numbers, I’m forced to pay much closer attention to patterns of play. Is my OH playing the way she does when she’s attacking successfully or is her body language telling me this is not going to be her best hitting match? Is my libero going with purpose to the ball the way she does when she passes serve best, or is she being more passive as she does when she passes poorly?

Basically, what’s happening now is that I’m not just looking at outcomes, but also seeing causality. If I’m just looking at the stats all I see is outcomes, and there are a lot of things which influence those that are out of a player’s control. It’s a process vs. result type of focus, which is something I’ve always had to a degree, but have really firmed up these last couple of years.

Having said all that, I do think it would be better for volleyball in England if there were consistent stats available from competitions like BUCS. They would provide the basis for telling better volleyball stories to expand the exposure of the sport.

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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