Learning Lessons And Exploding Myths

Posted by

The worst coach I’ve ever spent time with once offered me a piece of sage advice.  After I commented that I couldn’t learn anything from a game we were watching he replied that ‘you can always learn something’.  To prove his point, he taught me one thing (in this context learning to do the opposite of everything he did doesn’t count).  The simple and incredibly useful piece of information he taught me was exactly why the team winning the toss in the rally point system should ALWAYS choose to receive**.  I was reminded of this reading an article in the most recent edition of the German Volleyball Magazin.  The magazine reported a study of the 2010/11 men’s German Bundesliga in which scoresheets for every regular season match (all 156 of them) were analysed.  They discovered that the team receiving first wins the set a statistically significant (p<0.05) 53.3% of the time.  Incredibly there are still professional teams who choose to serve first.

Some other interesting information was also presented that among things dispelled some myths about volleyball.  Some highlights…  The overall sideout percentage was 65.8%.  When the setter penetrated from the backrow the percentage dropped to 65.2%, while for the frontrow setter the percentage increased to 66.3%.  Conventional wisdom predicts the opposite should occur.  But we all know what I think about conventional wisdom.  I have heard a theory that when middle blockers serve, it is more difficult to score a point because the libero is not on the court and therefore the defence is weaker.  As it turns out, conventional wisdom is also wrong on that one.  When the middle blockers served the point scoring percentage was 34.6%.  For other serves the point scoring percentage was 34.1%. Given that middle blockers typically jump serve less than other positions, those figures could also talk about the importance of the jump serve.

One personal favourite of mine is the idea of changing momentum of the match through making substitutions and taking timeouts.  In sport, as in many other things, there is a lot of pressure to be seen to be doing something.  Substitutions and timeouts are the most obvious things that coaches can be seen to be doing.  So what do the figures say?  After a timeout the receiving team sided out at 66.2%, 0.4% over the average.  So it could be said that timeouts were (slightly) effective.  However, after substitutions the sideout percentage was dropped to only 63.8%.  The figures say that changing the team most often leads to a (at least short-term) decrement in performance, but are effective CYA moves.  On the other hand, substitutions while serving (serving and blocking substitutions) increased the point scoring percentage by 0.3%.  The one that I would really like to see is the effectiveness of the double sub.

It is all interesting stuff.  And certainly interesting to see if commonly held beliefs stand up to analysis.  I am happy that the one thing I learnt from that coach did stand up.  Otherwise I would have learnt nothing from the whole thing.

** The reason is… in any given set, the number or sideouts is equal, give or take one.  What decides the set is the number of points the teams win on serve.  The receiving team must win one more point on serve than its opponent to win the set.  The serving team must win two more points on serve to win the set.  Scoring a point on serve is more difficult than winning a point on reception.  Therefore the team receiving first has an advantage.


Read about the great new Vyacheslav Platonov coaching book here.

Cover v2


  1. I wonder what the frontcourt v backcourt sideout percentages would be if you took out the Setter in 1 rotation?

    A coach here reckons that in the women’s game, the slide attack allows for stronger sideout percentages so some of the frontcourt rotations are stronger in reception


  2. Interesting to see the stats, just goes to show, trusting the gut doesn’t always work.

    One thing I thought was interesting (if I’m reading the stats right) was the significant drop in siding out when it’s the first one in the fifth.

    They discovered that the team receiving first wins a statistically significant (p<0.05) 53.3% of the time.

    compared with

    The overall side out percentage was 65.8%.

    So in general it seems that siding out is significantly worse for the first point in the 5th. Since the percentage of 53.3% is the average, I'm sure if that stat was drilled down further, it would be likely that you would find a situation when it would be better to serve first.

    It could be that if the server serves a float serve they side out 58% of the time and if it's a jump serve they side out 48% of the time. The average is still 53% but if that's the case it would be better to serve first if your first server jump served.


    1. I have edited the post for clarity.
      The team receiving wins 65.8% of rallies. The team receiving first in the set wins 53.3% of sets.
      Before I try to answer the last part (I don’t know where you get the stuff about the 5th set from), perhaps my edits have answered the question already.


  3. interesting that if you were to put faith in the stats, then the setting double substitution should be to bring the setter on at 4!

    I would not be surprised to see the game develop to such a level that with the exception of the beastly middles and some opposites – the two ball players with the all around skills (swing hitters) would be able to function as setters when front court and allow for the setter to be a ball player too. 3 passer hitters who can set, plus the libero.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s