How Can We Measure Setters?

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Tagged – Volleyball Analytics, Setting

As far as I know, and I don’t know everything, there is no really good way to measure the quality of individual setters. Some people measure ‘assists’ (i.e. the second dumbest statistic ever invented) but mostly we talk about things like accuracy, creativity, deception and continue with our subjective assessments. If we do want to use some figures, we look at some general team statistics like First Ball Sideout Percentage or overall team attack percentage.

In one of last season’s playoff series there was a five match series in which Team A won 3-2. The overall statistics looked like this.

TEAM A 31248.3%46.8%
TEAM B2842.3%44.7%

All the obvious team stats are clearly in favour of the setter of Team A. To add the subjective to the objective, the setter from Team A was named (almost) unanimously as the series MVP. Case closed. The setter of Team A is the better setter.


Except when you look at some individual statistics, such as what happens after each setter actually contacts the ball, there is a slighly different tone.

SETTER A49.7%10.1%65.1
SETTER B50.1%6.8%64.3
RWR = Rally Win Rate, the rate at which the rally is won when each setter set during that rally. It is a better version of Attack Efficiency

By looking at each setter individually, we remove the effect of some things such as the quality of the first contact (i.e. removing situations in which a non setter set the ball), as well as situations in which the setter may have been off the court (e.g. for tactical or injury reasons). Suddenly the setter of Team B looks much better than before. Indeed on these statistics, we have to say the two setters were essentially equal. The difference between the teams was NOT the setter, even though the consensus on the topic is different. As we know, the wisdom of crowds is not always a good measure.

As always the lesson is that what we think happened on the surface is not what we see if we dig even a tiny bit further.

If you want to study setting in a bit more detail check out this presentation that studies the techniques and tactics of 10 of the top setters in the world, both men and women. And for very special price on all current webinars, 8 in all, including ones on BLOCKING, PRACTICE, COMMUNICATION and SCOUTING click here.


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