It’s long been part of soccer that an inferior (or away) team who doesn’t like their odds of winning plays for a draw. Obviously, we can’t do that in our sport. It got me thinking about how teams could still “get a result”, though.

There are opportunities to create that sort of psychology from a coaching perspective. Sally Kus talks about it some in her book, Coaching Volleyball Successfully. One of the ideas she offers is to create an alternative scoring system based on something you want your team focused on in a match. For example, with a young team it might be playing three contacts. If they do that more often than the other team, it’s considered a victory. That concept is based on what we coaches do anyway (hopefully) in terms of giving our teams and players areas of concentration for their development. It’s quite useful, but that’s not really what I’m talking about here.

I’m thinking more along the lines of the point system they use in the South West Championships in England. It’s a tournament with teams from National League Division 1 all the way down to the regional level (or lower). That means a lot of match-ups between squads of quite different levels of play. The matches are played as 20-minute timed sets. Winner gets 3 points. If it’s a draw, both teams get 2 points.

They use a wrinkle to keep things interesting, and the lesser teams motivated against the better ones. Maybe the other way around as well. If a losing team finishes within 25% of the score of the winning team, they get a point. So if the winner scores 28, then the loser would need to score 21 or more to get a point.

That one little thing can turn a potentially “They are going to wipe the floor with us” mindset to a “If we play well we can get a point out of this” one. And believe me, players get excited about that point. You see very similar reactions to getting it or falling short by a single point as you do over a win or loss.

I can’t help but think there must be ways to use a similar idea for other tournament and/or league formats to make things a bit more interesting when there is a disparity of talent. Yes, things like point and set differentials are used in many cases. That lacks, however, the immediacy of something like the bonus point mentioned above. When you’re playing for that extra point now, it’s quite different than thinking about cumulative differentials (e.g. set differentials or ratios). You really have no control over those comparisons.

I’d love to hear what you’ve seen or heard about – or thought of – along these lines. Leave a comment below if you’ve seen something interesting like this.

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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.

    3 replies to "Getting a result in volleyball"

    • John Forman

      I have seen leagues where points are given for sets won. As you say, it would be interesting to see if there is any difference. What would be really interesting is some kind of handicap-based point system.

      Cup competitions are of course a problem in this context because it’s generally straight knock-out. In such a case it becomes more about the coach and team having some kind of goal – get double digit points each set in the case of a major mismatch, for example.

    • Oliver Wagner

      Last year they changed the counting system in Germany from the top league down to the last. If you win two sets you score a point and the winner only two instead of three. I have seen no statistic if that changed anything but my feeling is that many teams tried harder then before to win this second set. It looks like there are two goals now in each match: first to win two sets then the whole match. If the difference in the level of play of the two teams involved is huge (for example if in a cup match on the early stages a first league team plays a third league team) this won’t help at all.

    • John Forman

      Just listened to American play-by-play guy Paul Sunderland rant about the point system used in the World League after the USA could have missed out on advancing had they lost despite having a better match record than either of the next two teams. They do 3 points for a 3-0 or 3-1 win, only 2 points for a 3-2, with the loser of a 3-2 getting a point as well. The USA had a few 5-setters that would have cost them. Sunderland’s gripe was that that point system is great for a league season, but he doesn’t like it for tournaments. Not sure I agree.

Please share your own ideas and opinions.