I came across the following observation with regards to determining a team’s defensive strategy.

There is a built-in statistical bias, I suggest, that triggers this middle up kind of defensive alignment. This bias occurs when we chart the successful attack “hot zones”. Most likely you have made such a chart too. The bias occurs, however, when (if?) the chart does not differentiates between “driven” attacks versus “shots” and “deflections”. The former being very very difficult to return, and the latter being routine. By creating a chart that accurately differentiates between the two types of attacks, only then can we see that middle up defense is typically a red herring approach.

In other words a defensive alignment favoring the easy defensive opportunities is not going to be middle up

For the reader who is unaware, a middle-up defense – also known as Red or Rover – is one where one of the back row defenders plays the middle of the court near the 3m line to defend against tips. Usually, it’s the defender in 1, but it could be the one in 6. It looks something like this:

As you can see, it generally leaves Zone 6 open on the assumption the block prevents driven balls to that area.

Returning to the quote above, imagine if you had a big split in the block all the time. Now imagine the other team has hitters who can pound the ball into the middle of the court. What do you think the odds are of a defender positioned 3-4m off the net digging those balls? Probably not great, right?

It’s worth noting that Gold Medal Squared proponents, and others, use shot charts to justify the middle-middle defense. That’s where the defender in 6 plays more shallow than they do in a standard perimeter system. The same rules should apply to heat map analysis there.

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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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