A while ago I did some video analysis comparing volleyball in 1984 with modern day volleyball (here, here and here). In that spirit, I just got my hands on the data files from the 2004 Olympics, so I looked at a couple of statistic categories to see if volleyball has changed much in the last 15 years. I compared the 2004 Olympics with the 2019 VNL. I know that VNL is not exactly the equivalent competition, but for the purposes of vague generalisation it will suffice.
Sideout – OG 2004 65.5% v VNL 2019 67.8%
This looks like a something significant.
Modified Sideout – OG 2004 60.5% v VNL 2019 60.4%
That’s a bit weird. That means that the the entire difference is due to service errors?
Service Errors – OG 2004 13.5% v VNL 2019 18.8%
Yep. More service errors should mean that serving is more aggressive, so there should be more aces…
Service Aces – OG 2004 6% v VNL 2019 5.9%
Mmm… more aggressive serving, but more or less the same aces means that reception must have improved in the last 15 years. Sadly, I can’t check that exactly as the scouting conventions for reception were different then. But if serving is stronger and reception is better it might not show up in the stats anyway. What about attack?
Attack – OG 2004 49.2% v VNL 2019 48.1%
That doesn’t tell us too much. What if we split it up?
Reception Attack – OG 2004 53.0% v VNL 2019 50.9%
Reception Attack (positive reception) – OG 2004 56.0% v VNL 2019 58.7%*
Transition Attack – OG 2004 43% v VNL 2019 43.5%
*I can’t completely guarantee that this is valid due the previously mentioned problem with reception ratings.
Wow! That is something. Attack after good reception is much better, probably because of the speed of the offence. But stronger serving, leads to overall weaker reception. Slightly better transition attack could indicate better transition opportunities (i.e. more opportunities to play fast), leading to better transition attack. What about defence?
ATT/D – OG 2004 41.7% v VNL 2019 42.6%
Yes, there are more attack per defensive opportunities. But maybe not many. How about block? Can we say there is more defence because blocking is better?
Blocking % – OG 2004 9.6% v VNL 2019 8.8%
We can say it, but it might or might be true. It depends on whether you thinking blocking points is a measure of the quality of blocking.
Summary – 2004 v 2019
We can say that in 2019, serving is stronger and more aggressive and reception has likely improved at about the same pace. Spiking has possibly improved (also forcing the change in serve), and probably more so after transition. I don’t think there is any question that almost every team tries to play fast after defence. In 2004, some teams did not even play fast after service reception. Faster offences all around mean setting has clearly improved, and likely team play as well (otherwise it isn’t possible to play fast in transition).
BUT… In 2004, Brazil was so far and away the best team as to skew all of the stats. Their tournament SO% was 73.1% (including one match they lost on purpose), with the next best team being 67.7%. In 2019 the difference between the top 2 teams was less than 1%, both around 70%. Their attack percentage was 56.4% with only one other team spiking higher than 50% (not one of the top 4). Once you take Brazil out of the tournament, the whole thing looks different, and the above ‘summary’ fits a bit more. The lesson is that the 2004 Brazilian team is amazing. You should take every opportunity to watch and appreciate them (for example here). And that volleyball is better now.
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