###### What’s a handicap?

If you’re familiar with golf you probably know about handicaps. For the non-golfers out there (I’m not really one myself, but I know the game a bit), the handicap is basically a way of allowing players of different calibers to compete with each other on equal terms. To quote Wikipedia:

A handicap is a numerical measure of a golfer’s potential playing ability based on the tees played for a given course.

In stroke play, it is used to calculate a net score from the number of strokes actually played during a competition, thus allowing players of different proficiency to play against each other on somewhat equal terms. In match play, the handicap difference between players is used to determine the number of strokes the high handicap player should receive from the low handicapper during the playing of their round.

Basically, it works like this. Let’s say you have a handicap of 4 and I have a handicap of 9. If we play together, your score after 18 holes should be 5 strokes fewer than mine (e.g. 76 vs. 81). If it’s less than that, then I performed better for that round that you. If it’s more, then you performed better than me.

###### Handicaps in volleyball?

In volleyball we sometimes give the losing team credit for keeping it close. One example of this is the 3-2-1-0 point system. That’s where teams get 3 points for winning in 3 or 4 sets, but only 2 points for winning in 5. A team gets a point for a 2-3 loss. Another alternative is the system I’ve talked about being used in England. That’s one were in a timed game staying within 25% of the winning team’s score earns the losing team a point.

Now, in some cases these point systems penalize teams for not playing as well as they perhaps should have. They also reward teams for playing well. It’s not really the same as the handicap idea, though.

Think about how many situations there are where we see meaningful mismatches in competitive level in matches. There are high seeds vs. low seeds early in tournaments. There are highly funded teams vs. low funded ones in professional leagues. As a result, there would seem to be at least some potential value exploring the handicap idea.

The question is how to actually get the handicaps determined in a fair and reasonable fashion. This is especially true when there isn’t a large playing sample from which to calculate them.

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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.