In a Facebook coaching group discussion someone asked whether anyone had a non-standard volleyball tournament format. The coach in question was looking for something other than the classic 1 pool of 4 per court, with the top two finishers advancing to bracket play – and maybe the bottom two going to a lower bracket (gold, silver, etc.)

Back in the days when I was running the Blast club, we hosted a big inter-regional volleyball tournament during Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend (third weekend of January). Since it was the first tournament of the year for most clubs, I wanted the focus to be on trying to maximize playing time for everyone, not just the winning teams, and having them play lots of different opponents. That, combined with the need to maximize the available court space, led me to develop a 3 pools of 3 over 2 courts structure.

I shared this idea in the group and was immediately asked for the format by several different members. I don’t have the exact format on-hand anymore, but it would have looked something like this.:

Court 1               Court 2
A1 vs A3 (A2)    B1 vs B3 (B2)
A2 vs A3 (A1)    C1 vs C3 (C2)
C2 vs C3 (C1)   B2 vs B3 (B1)
A1 vs A3 (A2)    B1 vs B2 (B3)
C1 vs C2 (C1)

The letter indicated the pool designation, with the number being the team’s seed. So A1 is the top seed from Pool A. The team in parenthesis is the work team.

You’ll notice that this volleyball tournament format actually takes less time than a standard 4-team pool (5 rounds vs 6 rounds). That allows time for playing two rounds of pool play in most cases – depending on time constraints – in place of running a cross-over bracket.

After the first round you would generate a new set of pools based on the results. For example, you could have all the first round pool winners go into Pool AA. The second place teams then go into Pool BB, while the bottom teams go into Pool CC.

It’s a bit more complicated if you’re doing more than 2 courts. In our case we were running either 4 or 6 courts over two days. We did two rounds of pool per day, so everyone got 8 total matches. The tournament champion was the team that finished top of the highest final pool on the second day.

Obviously, I developed this volleyball tournament format for a specific need. I really like, though, that it doesn’t put any teams at a developmental advantage. Think about how in a standard top-2-advance format, arguably the teams that need the most developmental time are regularly playing less than the better ones.

By the way, you could use a weighted pool format with this structure.

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John Forman
John Forman

John is currently the Men's & Women's Head Volleyball Coach at Medaille College, as well as Global Director for Volleyball for Nation Academy (formerly Charleston Academy). His previous experience includes the college and university level in the US and UK, professional coaching in Sweden, and both coaching and club management at the Juniors level. Learn more on his bio page.

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