Following on the ‘success’ of the World Championships Review articles, the author of the original, Michael Mattes and I decided to do something similar for the World League Finals. In this case, he has provided the statistical analysis to which I will add my thoughts. As an experiment, I have included links to interactive infograms at the end of each paragraph where you can have a look at some of the data in more detail. I would welcome feedback on them.
Part 1 is here.
SERVE – PASS BATTLE
I sometimes hear that to win in volleyball you have to win the ‘serve – pass battle’. In the broader sense that serving and reception are the foundation elements of the break point and sideout phases respectively, I could not agree more. In the literal sense that you need to serve and receive better than your opponents, I am far less certain. The figures from World League tend to back up my thoughts. Winners France ranked 3rd in ace percentage, 4th in serve efficiency (aces – errors) and 3rd in reception efficiency (in system receptions – errors). Bronze medallists USA on the other hand ranked 1st, 3rd and 2nd in the same categories. Brazil’s poor finish (if you can call it that looking at the actual matches) could however easily be explained by rankings of 6th, 6th, and 5th.
Interestingly, there were two statistics in this area in which the French were the best. They conceded the least number of aces and they had the best ace : aced ratio. Given that they were by the far best at siding out out of system, not conceding aces seems to be a important component of their success.
YOU HAVE TO MINIMISE ERRORS
I consider this statement similar to the other statements I’ve quoted here. It is an interesting guide and way of thinking about the game, but can’t be considered a hard and fast rule. After all for the vast majority of the game, the object is to win points. Back in the day, I did a very brief analysis of errors from the top 8 of the 2002 World Championships and found that the gold and silver medallists made the most errors, followed by the teams ranked 7th and 8th. Like everything, error rate mustn’t necessarily be low, but in balance. That is supported by the error rates from these World League finals. The teams with the least number of errors per set were Serbia and Italy. The highest error rate was from bronze medallist USA, while France was had the 3rd highest. A low error rate does not necessarily lead to more success, at least not by itself.
WHY DID FRANCE WIN?
Looking through the rankings in the different skill areas it is not immediately clear why France won, even though watching the matches live I thought they were the best team. They weren’t the best serving OR receiving team, although they had a positive balance in that area. They weren’t the best spiking team, although they were great at scoring out of system. They weren’t the best blocking team (in terms of percentage of opponent’s attacks blocked), in fact they were the worst. They weren’t the best at minimising errors. They were the best in point differential after 21, which seems like it should be important somehow. They were the best at forcing the other teams into errors. Although in neither area were they the best by so much that it would seem to be decisive.
My best guess is that they were the best at putting all the technical and tactical components together in a package that optimised their individual and group strengths. And they had the best intangibles, which you could see even on TV. Sadly we don’t have a useful stat for either of those things.
Maybe one day.
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