My thoughts on World League are, at the best of times, mixed. On the one hand it is high level volleyball in the period in which I am free to watch more or less as much volleyball as I want just for the fun of it. On the other hand, the halcyon days of World League have passed volleyball  and it isn’t the highest level. For the most part teams approach the event as high level friendly matches. Friendly matches that they want to win? Absolutely. Friendly matches that they need to win? Not if it costs them the chance to be at their peak for the bigger tournaments (World / Euro Champs, Olympics ) later in the summer. Of course, that can make the matches more interesting, as coaches experiment with lineups and systems, sometimes providing a glimpse into the future.
I have watched quite a few matches from the first two weekends. Some live streamed, some after the event. A few things have piqued my interest.
– As I wrote a year or so ago, some teams are making some tentative steps away from complete specialisation. Germany sometimes use their opposite to receive in place of one of their outside hitters. USA have been playing with an outside hitter (Anderson) as opposite to allow a young outside hitter to play (Sander). This worked really well against Bulgaria. Sander received in some rotations and Anderson in others, with Priddy and Shoji taking the main load. They looked really good doing it as Anderson and Sander are both dynamic attackers. It will be interesting to see how the injury to Priddy affects how they approach that situation.
– Speaking of Priddy, that was nasty.
– My prediction before the season was the Argentina would be the surprise package. With Julio Velasco as the new coach, I thought they would have a strong form upsurge, at least in the short term. They have indeed been surprising, winning only one of their first four matches, all at home. The last of which was to a German team in full experimental mode. But even more surprising was Velasco’s statement that they needed to change their offensive concept. Honestly with two world class setters, De Cecco and Uriarte, both coming off great club seasons, I would have thought that would be the least of their problems. But they have really struggled and even played Conte as opposite in the last two matches.
– Poland under new coach Antiga/Blain took their young guys to Brazil … and won the second match 3-0, deservedly so. Poland has played the last three seasons with basically the same 7 or 8 players. Maybe there will be some changes in the near future. I have a feeling it won’t hurt them as much as they fear it might.
– Brazil also played their first four matches at home, which should be a pretty good advantage against European teams who have more or less not had a break after their club seasons. From those four, they have won only one. They are going through biggest generational change since Bernardinho took over the team in 2001. It doesn’t seem to be going too well.
– Italy have played astoundingly well. I’m sure that it helps their four key guys (Zaytsev, Parodi, Kovar, Travica) have played a lot together and have all won championships this season. With Russia playing their 2nd (3rd?, 4th?, 5th? team) in the first matches, Italy must be favourites to win for the first time in many, many years.
The next few weeks will be intriguing.
 In the early days of World League, regulations required that countries fielded their strongest team at all times. Velasco once proudly told me this was the ‘Velasco Rule’ because the Italians at the time tried to rest some of their players during that period.
 In 2012, all three medallists rested key players (and even coaches) for part or all of World League. The two top teams from World League, i.e. the teams that tried to win it, arrived at the Olympics worn out and were knocked out in the quarter finals.
Just curious if that’s a noticeable pattern year to year that teams placing high in world league tend to not succeed in Olympics/ World Championships etc. Seems like a bold statement but I don’t have any argument against it so I was wondering if you had some more clout than the most recent Olympics to back it up – it would be very interesting to see. To me it seems the level across the world is rising and the traditional powerhouses (while still generally atop the world) are getting pushed harder from other countries. I think the a lot of the parity and shocking wins/losses are created from positive gains from countries your not used to seeing, not merely the top countries resting stars for bigger tournaments.
I think everyone can understand periodized training to peak at the Olympics or World Championships and the rationale and importance to that level of planning. I cant speak to the early days of the world league and the rule you mention as if I saw it with my own eyes, but if that was rule was in place one would have to imagine you would have had players going half heartedly. Watching volleyball (or even in professional sport outside of volleyball) there is nothing more disappointing that watching players go 75%. Give me younger guys playing to stay on the roster and wanting to be there, playing hard and with something to prove.
The 2012 Olympics / World League was the clearest occurrence. Russia and Italy actually sent teams with none of their top 12 players and without any of their coaching staff to some of the World League weekends, while the main group stayed home and, presumably, trained. However, it happens to some degree every year. Even in Velasco’s day.
My interpretation of the current parity is different from yours. I think parity is increasing because the overall standard of the teams is decreasing. With the exception of Russia there are no outstanding teams at the moment. By that, I mean that best players are spread over more teams and there is less depth in the better teams. In the past Italy and Brazil, had 12-15 top quality players and could bring young players into the team in the group phase while still qualifying for the finals. Then all the stars would play in the finals. Right now Italy has a strong top 7 and Brazil also. As soon as they rest starters they are in trouble. The Polish team is interesting because they are starting with 4 players who were not in their top 12 for the European Championships qualification two weeks before, and matching Italy and Brazil who are playing more or less their top teams. The Russian roster for the first two rounds has 8-10 guys playing who won’t be at World Championships.
Just by looking at the rosters for each match and comparing them with the last important events, you can see big differences for some teams.
Great post! Why is it that World Cup often gets omitted as an important tournament. The round robin consecutive format is not ideal, but the first 3 Olympic slots (after host nation) are up for grabs. You get nearly a year to prepare for the olympics if you medal! DO countries take this tournament seriously as world champs?
The short answer is almost as much. There is certainly no experimentation or resting of key players.
I kind of like the round robin as a variation. It means you have to be good for the whole two weeks and it is brutally difficult.