Technique – What If…?

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Photo Courtesy of FIVB
Photo Courtesy of FIVB

I just recently watched video of a presentation that French National Team coach, Laurent Tillie, gave at the US High Performance Coaching Clinic.  In it he talks about the technique he uses with his players for service reception.  Very briefly, he talked about how the platform was important and more easily controlled if you allowed the player to bend his elbows.  He also said that to be in a stationary position at contact was unrealistic and described the movement that he used instead.  When he described it, it seemed reasonable enough although it is, shall we say, an unorthodox idea.  Karch Kiraly, coach of the USA women’s National Team, certainly thought so, as in a later session he made a point of saying he disagreed.

It occurred to me that there should be an easy way to find out which was better.  For all the talk of efficiency and biomechanics and repeatability, the object of service reception is the play a serve to the setter.  A better reception technique should get the ball to the setter more times than a less good technique.  We can measure that.  And in other skills as well.  A better spiking technique will produce measurably more power, or measurably better results.  And it occurred to me that while we endlessly debate technique, I have rarely heard someone** support their argument with actual evidence of results. I wondered ‘What if we ask for supporting evidence when we are discussing technique?’  Ultimately the goal of technique is to serve the game, to produce better results. What if we asked for those results?

For the record, at last year’s World Championships France were the best receiving team.

** An earlier version of this post said ‘never’.  Gold Medal Squared have evidence on receiving from the centreline versus left / right side of the body.


  1. Is it really so easy to measure a good technique? Which measurement can proof that’s the platform that makes France’s reception the best? Why not their positioning to the ball, the angles oft the joints, their individual/group tactics etc.? We can say that at a given time their reception package was the best.


    1. That is a great point.
      But if we know that information that are the best, we need to use it.
      And conversely, if someone presents their technique as the best, they need to have something that backs that up.


      1. But if you like to learn from what you see and “copy” that technique – don’t you need to understand what makes the French reception so successful? And I´m pretty sure, it´s not because they are allowed to bend their elbows. Because this is what makes sense in several situations.

        Probably it´s easy to measure the results but I find it not so easy to find out what makes them happen…


      2. You are going too much into fine details. The post is not about France. Or reception.
        A technique exists to create an outcome. This is the same for every skill. If one technique were better than another technique for that skill there must be empirical proof of it. If there is no empirical difference between them, then the two techniques are interchangeable.
        If you propose a technique, show me that it is empirically better. Not theoretically better. Not biomechanically better. Not practically better. Not easier. Show me that it is empirically better.


      3. And how can you ‘be pretty sure it’s not because they are allowed to bend their elbows’? That statement sounds like you don’t want to believe there is a technical reason for their superiority.


  2. I would also wonder the quality/intensity of the serves received by all groups. I am working on a combined scoring metric measuing the difficulty of the serve and the quality of the pass to have a more accurate rating than a 3 on a easy serve is the same as a 3 on a tough serve. Thoughts?


    1. I think in the future better study of volleyball has to start to take that into account. The problem is you go more and more into the realms of judgement, which is by definition less empirically stable.
      But you are definitely right.


  3. Technique used by individual + physical/motor ability/ coordination = performance

    I believe within certain window, technique can be different as every individual is very different from each other. The art and science of coaching is to find those “fundamental principle” and “make adjustment” or “guide the player to find the most suitable technique by him or her”.

    Some player find easier to control the pass with elbow bent while some player find it easier to control the pass with the arm straight.

    Just some opinion. I welcome all comment and discussion.


    1. I agree that players are individuals and the combination of visual preferences, muscle types, anthropometry and other factors tends to suggest that each player has a unique technique. In this case, of course, it is important to understand what are fixed and fundamental principles and what are aesthetics. I am certain that many coaches confuse the two and try to fit the technique with a picture of what technique should be rather than what is appropriate and/effective.
      And I certainly agree with you that the coach should guide the player in his search for the best technique.


  4. Just the opposite. I wanted to point out, that if there is an empirical proof of the superiority, I want to know what exactly makes that particular part of the game better (I stock to reception and France because it’s easier for me to discuss things like this with a concrete example)? And I think it’s not automaticly only one particular difference in a technique. So I’m answering, I want to know exactly why this team is so good in that part of the game. No guessing. No theoretical arguments. I want empirical proof that it is the technique alone that makes the difference or that this particular mix of technique and individual or group tactics.

    And my remark about the ellbows was about my observation that most of the receiving players nowadays bend them if needed. So that alone might not explain their success in reception. Which closes the circle to my first comment.


    1. Second point first… I don’t think that most players have their arms bent in reception. They may relax them shortly after contact, but I would contend that almost everyone, who is good at reception, has a good, intact platform, with locked elbows for as long as the ball is in contact with their arms. Having watched and studied Grebinnikov a lot in the last two years, I can say with some degree of certainty, that he does not try to lock his elbows when playing the ball.
      Your first point is a good one. What I teach is that the technique and tactics are indivisible, and should be trained concurrently. So I would say that you can’t separate the two in this situation.
      And you are right to suggest that team reception statistics do not solely reflect technique. But I still think that if someone is trying to ‘sell’ you a technique you should ask for proof.


  5. the GM2 data is old and badly needs a refresh. It’s not the 80s anymore where the standing serve comes from position 1 and the ball has to go high enough to not touch the net or the blocker trying to stuff block it


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