When To Set High Balls

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I have written that high balls are the least effective form of attack and that high balls in position 4 are not the most effective high balls. I generally make the comment that the best tactic in transition is to avoid high balls at all costs. When I make that comment, I generally quote the rally win rate for high balls as being 0.568 as opposed to the win rate for fast balls (being the next least effective ball) as being 0.673. Obviously, setting a faster ball gives you a 10% greater chance of winning the rally as setting a high ball. When I write things like that I would like to be challenged or at least potential holes in my argument pointed out. Noone has until now, but I have found a couple.

Before we go forward, to clarify definitions, in my analysis, a high ball is a high set that falls into the attacking zone. A fast set is virtually every other set, that is a set flies through the the attacking zone. Obviously that is a big range of setting speeds that is considered fast, but it is the most obvious delineation, given that the skill of hitting a falling ball is much different from the skill of hitting a flying ball. More so than the difference between hitting ‘fast’ balls of different speeds. Some coaches use weird definitions for high balls, like anything outside the 3m regardless of the actual speed, but for me the clue is in the name. High = high.

The flaw in my argument, that I mentioned above, is the quality of reception. When I write that the rally win rate is 0.673 that is the rally win rate for every fast ball. Including balls after perfect reception, negative defence and everything in between. A high ball, by definition, is the last resort and so only occurs after a negative rated first contact. So what happens if we only include attacks after a negative first contact? The statistics are derived using the Science Untangled Report app and are from the current Plus Liga season, including matches up to 1st November.

ATTACK TYPERALLY WIN RATE
FAST BALL (NEG CONTACT)0.611
HIGH BALL (NEG CONTACT)0.568

So there we have it. Even after a negative first contact, the chance of winning a rally is still about 5% greater if you set fast. Does it make a difference to which position we are setting? I’m glad you asked.

ATTACK TYPERALLY WIN RATEBEST = 1, WORST = 6
POSITION 4 – FAST0.5774
POSITION 4 – HIGH0.5635
POSITION 2 – FAST0.6361
POSITION 2 – HIGH0.6212
POSITION 1 – FAST0.4716
POSITION 1 – HIGH0.5833

It seems the answer is ‘it depends’. The third column ranks the six options in terms effectiveness. After negative reception the best option is to set a fast ball to position 2. The worst option is to set a fast ball to position 1. Setting a high ball to position 2 or 1, is more effective than setting any ball to position 4. I must admit that is not the answer I was expecting. And I am pretty sure other coaches would have a different answer too. At least judging from the number of teams I see who avoid setting the opposite in transition.

So there you have it. After negative reception, set your opposite fast in position 2 and high in position 1. Let the position 4 players work on their cover and their first contact.

If we do the breakdown for Plus Liga 2019-20, we see a slightly different result. Over a basically complete season it is always better to set fast after a negative first contact, with position 4 being the worst option.

ATTACK TYPERALLY WIN RATEBEST = 1, WORST = 6
POSITION 4 – FAST0.6143
POSITION 4 – HIGH0.5495
POSITION 2 – FAST0.6781
POSITION 2 – HIGH0.5684
POSITION 1 – FAST0.6272
POSITION 1 – HIGH0.5416

Tagged Volleyball AnalyticsVolleyball StatisticsPlus LigaScience UntangledConventional WisdomSpiking StatisticsHigh Ball Spiking


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