The Danger Of Volleyball

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Apparently during World Championships action today two players suffered ankle injuries in a single set.  With the foot injury suffered by the Bulgarian Yosifov earlier in the tournament (see video below), the ‘spate’ of injuries prompted a reader on the facebook page to comment that the FIVB needs to change the centre line rules.  I didn’t see either of the current actions so I don’t know if they were the result of legal or illegal actions so I’ll assume for the moment that they were both legal actions.

The first thing I will say is that Ruben Acosta tried to address this issue about ten years ago but despite his not inconsiderable power, he couldn’t even persuade people to have a discussion about it.  So the groundswell of support to change the rule is essentially zero.

Another thing that is essentially zero is the chance of incurring an ankle injury.  So the second thing I will say is that there is no reason to change the rule.  This week three players suffered very visible injuries.  Therefore we have the danger of net actions at the forefront of our mind.  But how dangerous are these actions in reality?  We know that in a men’s volleyball match each team has about 100 spikes per match.  Each of these theoretically creates an injury risk by having spikers and blockers jumping very close to each other.  So in a match we have 200 spikes.  In this tournament there are 103 matches.  In total there will be about 20,000 ‘injury risk moments’ of which three have led to injury.  That means there is an injury roughly every 6,500 actions.  The probability of injury is a number very, very close to zero.  If you look at it another way, the teams will play 206 matches this tournament.  That total of three injuries means a team could expect to have a foot injury about once every 70 matches, or an individual could have one about once every 420 matches.  In my team I have had one ankle injury during a match in the last five seasons, about 170 matches.

I think when an ankle injury occurs we should not think about how many of them there are, because there are actually hardly any.  We should be thinking of how few there are and how insanely improbable it is to happen at all.

The phenomenon of incorrectly judging probability is very common.  The most visible example being that of shark attacks.


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  1. My ankles do have a habit of twisting multiple times during a match, but that’s from turning, not landing at the net… I’ve seen a fair few injuries happen from landing like that at training though, a lot more than in matches. (and then there are the times I’ve landed completely sideways on my ankle dancing, but that’s different 😛 )


  2. I’m with you. The incidence of injury is really small, and I would imagine this tournament actually might be an outlier. I would think it is even less likely than what we have seen. I think there is a much higher incidence of overuse injuries and cases where the player comes down bad on his own. I once saw a player turn his ankle during warmups without coming into contact with anyone else on consecutive seasons. Rule changes aren’t going to touch this kind of freak accident.

    While I’m anecdotal, I turn my own ankles a lot more often in basketball without a net between teams. The times I have turned my ankles in volleyball actually involve coming down on my teammate’s foot after a block attempt. Center line contacts I have personally seen usually involve tripping while moving in transition.


  3. Since you began forcing the issue of not blaming the rules, Mark, I had some continuous thought about it. And I became aware that wrong blocking technique might be a factor here as well. If a blocker is supposed to keep his distance from the net for stability, reaching over the net etc. then it should not be a problem if the opponents hitter is stepping on the center line. So you are right, it is on us coaches. But the rule still says (if I got it right) that you are only allowed to step on that line if you do not endanger anybody on the other side of the net. So if the blocker f.e. is using a wrong technique and is landing close to the center line, then nobody would be allowed to step on that line close to him. He would be protected by the rules. And even though I (finally) agree with you that there is no need to change the rules I think that referees need to enforce the rules for players safety. And it doesn’t matter if there are many injuries or not. I have two B refs on my team and they both agree that my understanding of the rules is correct, but if we are all wrong, then it is just on us coaches.


    1. Below is the section of the rule book that refers to the area under the net. The relevant point is There is no mention in the rule about interfering or endangering an opponent. The centre line is a free area. There is no element of interpretation there. A foot touching the line is legal. A foot completely over the line is illegal.
      11.2.1 that does talk about interfering with play, refers to the space under the net, not the line itself.
      Those rules have been in place at least since I did my first referees course in 1982. They have not changed in that time.
      The part of the rule that has changed is Other body parts are allowed to contact the court over the line. But that is not what we are talking about here.
      It seems like the change in the net touch rules has led to some confusion about the issue. In reality this rule has not changed and is very clear.

      11.2.1 It is permitted to penetrate into the opponent’s space under the net,
      provided that this does not interfere with the opponent’s play.
      11.2.2 Penetration into the opponent’s court, beyond the centre line: to touch the opponent’s court with a foot (feet) is permitted, provided that some part of the penetrating foot (feet) remains either in contact with or directly above the centre line; to touch the opponent’s court with any part of the body above the feet is permitted provided that it does not interfere with the opponent’s play.
      11.2.3 A player may enter the opponent’s court after the ball goes out of play.
      11.2.4 Players may penetrate into the opponent’s free zone provided that they
      do not interfere with the opponent’s play.


  4. I didn’t see the two injuries from yesterday’s action, but I did see the Zaytsev one. That had nothing to do with the opponent and everything to do with his own teammate, so no potential rules question at all there if you want to narrow the percentages down further in terms of those where opponent safety is brought into question.


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