I watched more volleyball in the 2016 Olympics than has ever been the case before. I had to use some alternative methods to do so, but it was well worth the effort. There were a lot of good matches – both men’s and women’s.

I joked on Facebook and Twitter a bit about commentators who just don’t know the sport. #volleyballdrinkinggame.

What I didn’t talk about in those social media posts is some of the rants being offered up by commentators. Specifically, I refer to Paul Sunderland and Kevin Barnett on NBC.

Set points

The first is Sunderland’s persistent rants about the set point system. Basically, that’s where teams get 3 points for a 3-0 or 3-1 win, 2 points for a 3-2 win, 1 point for a 3-2 loss, and 0 otherwise. Sunderland has moaned about this system at major tournaments for years. His primary argument is that while they are fine for long seasons, they aren’t for short-duration events.

Even if you agree with that, here’s the rub. Set points in the Olympics was not the first decider of pool position. That was match win/loss record. Set points was the first tiebreaker. Sunderland seamed not to realize that.

Double Sub

The other rant that’s cropped up was both Sunderland and Barnett going off on the double sub. That’s when a front row setter is replaced by an OPP, with the back row OPP being swapped out for a setter. You can only do it once a set because of FIVB substitution rules. As a result, it tends to be done in the latter stages of sets.

The guys both said they really don’t like the double sub. Fine.

Here’s my problem with that, though. In the Brazil v Argentina men’s quarterfinal it was Berardinho vs. Velasco. Both are coaching legends. Both were lauded by Sunderland and Barnett for being among the best ever.

If those coaches are that good, don’t you think they’ve analyzed their team’s performance? Don’t you think they’ve identified some benefit to making the switch?

The coaches are playing the percentages and those percentages tell them they are better – perhaps only slightly, but still better – when they do that switch than when they don’t.

Is it always going to work? Of course not!

Does it always work having your starters in? Nope.

You can’t say a decision was a bad decision simply because of the outcome. You can make the right choice and still have things work against you (see this post).

This is probably a good case of confirmation bias.

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John Forman
John Forman

John is currently the Talent Strategy Manager (oversees the national teams) and Indoor Performance Director for Volleyball England, as well as Global Director for Volleyball for Nation Academy. His volleyball coaching experience includes all three NCAA divisions, plus Junior College, in the US; university and club teams in the UK; professional coaching in Sweden; and both coaching and club management at the Juniors level. He's also been a visiting coach at national team, professional club, and juniors programs in several countries. Learn more on his bio page.

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