Thinking about my use of stats

Back when I coached in England I came across a thread on a forum asking the members which statistics they find most useful in their coaching. It got me thinking about my own use of statistics at that time.

I’ve talked in prior posts about what was available to me when I coached collegiately in the States. I’ve also discussed the sorts of things I used at times when coaching in England. College volleyball coaches in the States use stats all the time. During matches they get print-outs after each set of the standard stuff. Many also keep serving and passing tallies, and sometimes other things as well. I definitely can get way into the numbers at times. I like to look at things from all different angles and perspectives (see this Boston Globe article for a discussion of advanced stats in the NBA).

In England there were no official stats coming my way during matches. Anything that I did have access to necessarily meant either myself or my assistant had to record them. I found that I had a very hard time doing that because it splits my focus too much. I did some in-training stats, mainly in the area of serve receive. The bottom line ended up being I didn’t use stats very much.

Actually, I didn’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, of course. 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. This 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 helped me be a better coach in those days. Because I didn’t have the crutch of the numbers, I was forced to pay much closer attention to patterns of play. Was my OH playing the way she did when she was attacking successfully? Or was her body language telling me this is not going to be her best hitting match? Was my libero going with purpose to the ball the way she did when she passed serve best? Or was she being more passive as she did when she passed poorly?

Basically, what was happening then is that I was not just looking at outcomes, but also seeing causality. If I was just looking at the stats, all I’d see is outcomes. 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 really firmed up during my time in England.

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

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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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