Defence in Olympic Volleyball 2004 v 2021

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I have written recently comparing the Olympic volleyball tournaments of 2004 and 2021 focusing on the length of rallies and on attack. In the article on rally length I made the statement that defence has improved since 2004 based on nothing other than my own ‘feeling’. Upon reflection, it occured to me that I actually have a statistic for defence and could tell you exactly how much defence has improved.

That statistic is not digs. Digs is not an interesting statistic. Digs don’t measure anything.

The statistic is Counter Attack Rate (CAR). It was developed by Ben Raymond from Science Untangled and is part of all reports that are produced by their apps. It measures that the percentage of opponent’s attacks that were converted into a transition attack. That is, not just balls that were kept alive. Obviously, attack errors, or blocked attacks are not considered as attacks that could have been defended.

In 2004, 27.2% of attacks were transitioned to attack.

In 2021, 27.6% of attacks were transitioned to attack.

I think we can agree that whatever has changed in volleyball in the last 17 years, defence is not ‘better’. Or at least is not better relative to attack. I have to admit that surprises me a little.

At the end of the ‘Attack’ article I wanted to write, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Tagged – Volleyball Analytics, 2004 Olympic Volleyball, 2021 Olympic Volleyball


  1. A problem I see with using similar statistics to gauge the evolution of the sport is that these statistics are relative to the sport as a whole. I’d read a claim like “defence has improved since 2004” in an absolute way (but maybe you don’t!) but the statistics will show only the relative increase of the importance of the defence within the whole game, not an absolute increase of the “quality of the defence” (then again, is there such a thing?). In other words, if you took today’s defence and via a time machine sent it to the past to face then’s attack, the statistics would change (presumably), showing that indeed, “defence has improved since 2004” in some sense; however, the defence is not a “bigger” part of the game now than it was, because other parts of the game have improved as well. (In yet another strained example, if you compared the statistics between young beginning volleyball players and the exact same players a few years later, you might find their defence has not improved (if all parts of their play evolved at the same speed, which is not very realistic), which is a strange thing to say.)


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