Earvin N’Gapeth has rightly become an internet sensation (or at least as sensational as a volleyballer can become) for his spectacular actions. The most famous one is when he is the backrow he fakes attacking the second contact and instead sets to an outside spiker. For example, this action.
This is just one of the many great actions in all phases of the game. So I was excited to get the chance to watch him (and all his French teammates) at the European Olympic Qualification Tournament in Berlin in January. I don’t know exactly what my expectations were, but what I saw really surprised me. On video it looks like he chooses particular solutions to be spectacular or high risk. Live in the stadium, in looks different. To see the game in context, i.e. the whole court and all the players simultaneous, the solutions he chose were actually obvious and simple and only minimally risky. He never spiked a ball for the sake of spiking it or that he wasn’t in position for. But importantly he never set on the second contact just because the convention dictates it. Simply, if the ball was on his approach he hit it, or was prepared to hit it. If not, he did something else.
There is nowhere in volleyball rules that say how the game should be played, or how many contacts you must use. It only says you may not use more than three. The convention of always using three contacts is exactly that – a convention. Admittedly it is a widely accepted convention and every coach and player risks ridicule or worse by not following it. But ultimately conventions are not rules. The greatest risk N’Gapeth is taking is not following conventional wisdom. On the court, he is just doing is the simplest thing possible.
Here are some highlights from said European Olympic Qualification Tournament.
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