The 1984 Olympic Games was a key moment in volleyball history, being the major tournament in which ‘specialisation’ was introduced to the world. Specialisation was a revolution and changed everything about volleyball from how to identify players, through to how to practice all the way to how the game looked. As much as it was misunderstood, it is now part of the fabric of our lives. But how did it look in 1984? I am glad you asked.
I recently watched and scouted two matches the USA played at the 1984 Olympics, both against Brazil (here and here). In those posts you can read some of the tactical differences and more bits and pieces about the matches. I have included here the charts, and a video edited by rotation from the TV footage. Note that the TV footage is not uniformly good quality, so you may have to be patient if you want to watch the whole thing.
Some notes, in no particular order.
Reception – Famously they use two receivers in every rotation, #15 Kiraly and #12 Berzins. Except in one rotation, P2, Kiraly receives on the left and Berzins on the right. This is a key part of their offence. From good reception, Berzins hits exclusively combination sets, either in front or behind the setter. Kiraly, from the left, can also hit behind the setter which he does several times in the first match, but only twice in the final (being set once). There are two exceptions to the two receiver formation. In the first match with #4 Sunderland as opposite, they received the Brazilian jump servers with a third receiver. In the final with #13 Powers playing, they focused more on blocking the serve and let Powers take only the sideline. It is very weird to watch two receivers try to receive a jump serve and is made possible only by the use of the serve block.
Receivers – Classic ‘swing hitting’ requires the frontrow receiver to come to the middle of the court and commence his approach from there in order to obscure his final hitting position and to allow an attack from anywhere along the net. (A post on the history of attack systems can be found here.) Kiraly uses this ‘classic’ option, even in the final when he hits almost exclusively from position 4. Berzins uses more of a ‘flare’ approach (see the attack systems article linked above). He does not come to the middle but only level with the setter. From there he hits either in front or behind the setter (most likely from an audible call).
Middles – The middles (#3 Salmons, #6 Timmons, #7 Buck) have a tough job blocking the serve and then transitioning to the attack positions. They spike nearly always from close to the setter, in front or behind.
Backrow Attack – #13 Powers lines up as a (what will become) traditional opposite but with some variations. Being next to Berzins in the lineup, he hits twice from position 4. He is also next to the middle #6 Timmons. Timmons is actually the designated spiker from position 1 in two rotations, and Powers only 1. In P2, Powers spikes what will later be called a ‘pipe’.
Setter– #1 Dvorak obviously does a good job running the offence and has an Olympic Gold medal to prove it. The basic strategy used is overload, two players attacking the same part of the net, especially when the middle runs behind the setter. I suspect that they tried to attack particular blockers or combinations of blockers, but I didn’t spend the time to study that.
Here are the charts. Click on each for a full size version.
Here is the video, sorted by rotation, from perfect and positive reception.
Click for more 1984 Olympic Volleyball.