The video is a clip of something that happens often during a match. It seems to be perfectly standard situation. There’s a tough defensive play that leads to a free ball which, as expected, the opponent scores easily from the perfect situation. Everything happened as we would expect. But we know and have had empirically confirmed, that the key to volleyball is interactions. So we know that seemingly superficial things like who plays the ball, how they play it and where they direct it to are not only significant but potentially decisive. So let’s look at the how the play unfolds.
The first thing we probably notice is that the set should be better. But let’s put that aside for now.
The second thing we should notice is that the position 6 player starts a tentative approach to spike the ball. With eagle eyes, we will also notice that the defender still on the ground moves out of the way of the approach. We know that any attack, even jumping and setting the ball over the net, increases the difficulty of the opponent’s first contact, and therefore the chances of winning the point.
The third thing we know is that even if position 6 cannot attack, he is facing the opponent’s court and see where he can place the ball to make the first contact the most difficult for the opponent. In this case, the front row player also has more time to get to his blocking position earlier. One way or another it is always the better play that the backrow player plays the ball over the net.
What actually happened on that fateful third contact, is that the frontrow player didn’t see / didn’t consider / ignored / forgot that position 6 was potentially in the play. So he fairly mindlessly bumps the the ball over the net, vaguely short to the middle blocker, but not even short to position 2 which could take him out of the play. The short ball also means he doesn’t have a lot of time to get to position, makes a commit because why not, and the opposite scores. Which is what ‘should’ happen on a free ball, so no one thinks much further.
Everything that happens in volleyball affects everything that happens afterwards. There is always a ‘right’ player to play the ball. There is always a ‘right’, or at least better, place to play it. Free balls are not inevitable points. Volleyball is interactions. But we knew that already.
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