Back in 2013, I took some time to attend a preseason tournament. It featured a group of area men’s teams preparing for the upcoming NVL season in England. The hosts were Exeter Storm.  That’s the club with which the Devon Ladies team I coached the prior season merged. I took advantage of the live match play to try out a couple of volleyball stat apps on my iPad with an eye toward finding a good one to use while coaching the upcoming season. I also wanted to be there in support of the club generally, though.

Storm was new to the NVL that year. The were newly accepted into Division 3 (the club itself is only a couple years old). In the final match of the day they played a team which won promotion to NVL1 in a playoff the prior season. Despite the difference in level, it was a tight match most of the way through. Though, to be fair, Storm had played that same team close previously.

The captain of the men’s team I coached at Exeter University the prior season was an OH for the club. At a certain point in the match I observed that he was targeting a specific player on the opposing team with his serves. This player was most definitely the weakest passer they had. He was also by far their best hitter – an absolute beast who proved virtually unstoppable all day long.

Normally, relentlessly serving the other team’s weak passer is a good strategy (depending on your server). This time, though, not so much.

You see, in this particular rotation the serve was down the line (1 to 5). The result was often a 1 or 2-pass which forced the setter to come toward area 4. Normally, that would be a good thing as it would make the offense predictable. In this case, however, it meant the setter was virtually assured of setting this big hammer of a hitter swinging outside. The sideout percentage was very high despite the poor passes. The setter may have still set the same player if the pass went somewhere else or came from a different direction. Personally, I’d have at least wanted to give him the option of making that (bad) decision, though.

Now, in this instance the player made the call on where he was going to serve. I know because I asked him after the match. In another instance it could have just as easily been the call of a coach thinking too much about the normal percentage play. The Storm coaches didn’t seem to normally call serving targets for the players, so I’m reluctant to suggest they fell victim of that mentality. I can easily see other coaches doing so in other situations, however.

Just goes to show that sometimes doing the right thing can be the wrong thing. And doing the wrong thing can be the right thing.

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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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