Longer Rallies, Same Rules

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For the record, I don’t think that rallies are too short.  I also don’t think that service errors are bad for volleyball.

Short rallies are the result of an incredible level of skill, coupled with amazing team play and understanding.  Educating the volleyball and wider public in exactly what it takes to keep rallies short would be my first priority.

Service errors are fully formed rallies, with an emotional buildup, an action and an emotional release.  The quality of a rally is completely unrelated to the number of contacts it contains. Many long rallies are the result of poor skills or, even worse, chronic risk aversion.

I do understand, however, that I am in the minority in (virtually all) my opinions, so I will propose a solution to keep everyone happy.

The simplest way to increase the length of rallies is to enforce a rule that already exists.  The volleyball rulebook states that players must be in their correct rotational order as the server contacts the ball.  The convention by which we actually play, is that players must be in their correct rotational order as the server tosses the ball*.  On a jump serve, this can be a difference of up to two seconds and allows players to move large distances from their intended rotational order.  See the photo sequence below for an example.

If the game were officiated as it is written, a few things would happen.

  1. Setters would be forced to significantly delay their penetration to the net in at least three rotations. This would change the target for receivers, mostly likely bringing the ball off the net.  As the setter moves off the net, the advantage of offence over defence decreases and rallies become longer.
  2. Middle blockers would be forced to delay their move into position in at least one and probably three rotations. Reducing the attack options of the middle blocker will make the offence more predictable.  As the offence becomes more predictable, the advantage of offence over defence decreases and rallies become longer.
  3. Receivers will have to be more precise in their reception positions in at least one rotation. This would have the potential effect of putting receivers in more difficult positions.  As the receivers are put in more difficult positions and the quality of reception decreases, the advantage of offence over defence decreases and rallies become longer.
  4. If the rules game themselves encouraged the reception come away from the net and to make offence more predictable, servers would need to take fewer risks. As service risk decreases, there would be less errors and rallies become longer.
  5. A combination of the above.

Volleyball is the most dynamic sport in the world.  By a very large margin.  It is characterised by the speed of movement and action, outrageous skill with a ball, borderline violent actions, and unsurpassed team play.  Personally, I would focus my energies on promotion of the game as it is, and education of the public to create a better understanding of what is really happening (for example, by using expert commentators in TV broadcasts).  But if you told me I absolutely had to make rallies longer, this is how I would do it**.

The example below is an unusual in the sense that this exact rotation is rare, but there are many other examples in ‘normal’ situations.  Here you can see in the first picture that the players are in correct rotational order.  In the second picture, you can see that position 4 is roughly 4m!! out of rotation, and position 1 is only 1.5m.


Tagged – Volleyball Rules

* This might actually be overestimating it. At the Asian Championships that was just completed, I noticed on many occasions that the second referee was not even looking at the receiving side.

** Some people will say that this will lead to rallies being interrupted.  That would doubtless to true for a very short period of time until teams got used to the correct interpretations.

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