A question came up on Twitter one day. The poster ask what it would be like if beach volleyball went back to sideout scoring. My guess is longer sets, and probably the need to go back to a single 15-point game rather than the best of 3 that seems to be the dominant format now. With the smaller court now, though, maybe not.

Something I wonder is whether the motivation for the move to rally scoring is a moot point at this stage. FIVB introduced rally scoring in its efforts to try to make sets more predictable in length as a general move toward making matches fit better into a standard 2-hour sports television broadcast block. Of course the issue always ended up being the variation in length caused by the best-of-5 format, which they also tried changing with little success.

Should we really think about the traditional TV time slot anymore? It seems to me that online streaming has just about made that irrelevant. At least it’s a long way toward doing so. In that case, why should we care about match length? The focus should be on exciting play, I would think.

So that begs the question – is rally score more exciting than sideout? The follow-up to that is what sort of changes would we see if sideout was reintroduced.

Would serving get more aggressive because it wouldn’t cost a point? That’s a little hard to imagine in the men’s game where there so much bombing of serves to begin with. Perhaps on the women’s side, though? Maybe at the lower levels of the game as well where there sideout percentages aren’t as high, lowering the imperative to serve aggressively? If so, an interesting side effect might be the development of better passers.

Perhaps it would be the other way – teams being more conservative in serving so as not to squander point-scoring opportunities. After all, if the other team sides-out, it doesn’t cost the serving team a point.

Would serving teams get more aggressive offensively? Since there’s no risk of giving away a point, maybe we’d see a bit more creativity and speed in attack. I once read something Al Scates (long-time UCLA men’s coach) wrote where he described the Long Beach State women of the late 1980s and early 1990s as running an offense nearly as fast as seen in the men’s game. I’ve seen women’s teams these days run faster offenses than most men’s, so not sure that element would be much different.

We don’t see a lot of the middle of the court combination plays (Xs, etc.) we used to see, but there are a couple of reasons for that. One is the way blocking strategies developed (bunch and swing blocking in particular) to deal with those plays, which in turn led to the move toward faster outside sets. Another is the development of the back row play set providing an extra central attacker.

It does seem fairly certain that between at least relatively evenly matched teams there would longer sets. In the real mismatches, though, they’d actually go faster. A good team wouldn’t have to serve so many points to put a weak team out of their misery.

My feeling also is that sideout scoring more readily identifies the stronger team. In rally scoring, theoretically a team needs to only score a small number of “real” points to win a set. As such, it opens the door for more upsets, especially at levels where siding out happens at a high frequency. That might actually support the case for rally scoring in terms of keeping teams in a match longer.

Plus, even if the sets went exactly the same, play-by-play, a 15-0 score line looks much worse than 25-10. 😉

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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.

Please share your own ideas and opinions.