Thursday, January 14, 2016

Early Thoughts From The 2016 Men's Season

I'm in the process of watching my third match this season. It's Penn State vs Loyola. Loyola is the reigning champion, and Penn State is a fixture in post season play. The match is really bringing home something I noticed in an earlier match I watched this season. The first I saw was BYU vs Loyola, two preseason top 10 teams. BYU in particular is entering the season as the number 1 team. It was a good match. BYU is going to be better than they were last year, and Loyola wasn't expected to repeat. It was a good way to start the season.

The second was Cal State Northridge vs Cal Baptist. CSUN is off to a very strong start with a 4-0 record. CSUN isn't usually one of the big contenders, so I was wondering how good they are. Cal Baptist has been good in the past, but since joining the NCAA I don't think they have been as good as they were as an NAIA team. While watching something stuck out to me. They both seemed to be running a slow offense. The time difference between first tempo sets and second tempo sets was pretty big. I don't know if they would be enough time for a middle to jump with the opposing middle and be able to get back up off the ground to try to block the bic or at the pins, but it was a big enough time gap. When I first figured this out I was wondering if the set I just saw was out of system, but it was still happening in system.

There was a part of me that wondered if I was just thinking of the pace of FIVB play in things like the World League. That was the most recent men's volleyball that I watched, so I figured that might be skewing my perception. I had that experience going from watching World League to watching NCAA women's volleyball, and that was a regional final in the tournament. When I saw that Penn State and Loyola were scheduled to play tonight I knew I would have a good gauge of if I was seeing slow play or if my perception was skewed. Early in the first set I have seen both Penn State and Loyola running a much faster offense than what I saw in CSUN vs CBU. I'm seeing both teams with the middle and the bic hitter both in the air at the same time. That just wasn't happening last night. My initial thoughts watching CSUN was that their perfect record is not going to stand up to the contenders in the MPSF. I would imagine Penn State, Loyola and BYU would all do well against CSUN, just based on offensive tempo.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Comparison of Men's Volleyball Conferences

I just saw this blog post on the Volleymetrics website comparing the three men's volleyball conferences in the NCAA.  For years the MPSF teams have won almost every national championship. The at large team in the tournament has usually been an MPSF team. The rankings are typically skewed in the MPSF's favor. Volleymetrics took a shot at answering which team is objectively better.

They developed a rating on a 0-10 scale for each of the basic skills of volleyball with the exception of setting (serve, pass, set, attack, block, and dig). These were then weighted and an overall score was produced. They did all of this with data without team names to avoid bias.

The data they came up with puts the MPSF as the strongest, followed closely by MIVA. The overall scores are pretty close between the MPSF and MIVA. It is also interesting to look at the conference scores for the different skills. Passing and attack ratings are very close between the three. The MIVA and EIVA have much higher ratings than the MPSF in serving. The MPSF is much higher in blocking than both, and they have a pretty good edge in digs over the MIVA (who have about that same difference over the EIVA).

It's an interesting set of data that I'll have to look at some more. I really wish there was a lot more discussion of the methodology. I would really like to see how the skills are weighted. I would assume digging is weighted higher than blocking and both are weighted higher than serving based on my reading of the data. I would also love to see how the 0-10 ratings were produced for each of the skills.

For a real interesting discussion, I would really like to see this done for women's volleyball teams. Were the Big 10 and PAC 12 really that good in women's volleyball , or did they get a lot of tournament seeds (9 and 7 teams respectively) based on much more subjective criteria?

Monday, January 4, 2016

Best Practices in Practices?

The best way to do anything hasn't been invented yet.
Posted by At Home On The Court on Sunday, January 3, 2016
I saw this on Facebook yesterday, and I started trying to figure out if I agree with it or not. In some ways I agree, and in others I disagree. Agreeing with it seems to suggest that there aren't any established methods or procedures that work in the most efficient way. Reality suggests it is still going to take getting your players the reps they need to develop the skills, have the opportunity to demonstrate their ability, and to put them in game like situations so there is optimal transfer from practice to competition. That part of me says we still need to put in the work and effort with the right feedback and the proper training protocol, and the results will be the best possible results.

That said, do we know that the procedures we use are the best way to do things? With that in mind (and right after reading Lebedew's Facebook post), this part of the movie Alice in Wonderland happened to be playing on TV. How often do we keep using some training protocol when we don't know how effective it is? Do we do something just because that is what our coach did when we were on the high school team? college team? A quick survey of women's teams in the America suggests there are a whole lot of players coming through systems that vary widely. Some teams swing block, others do not. Some have back row players close to the base line, others closer to the middle of the back row. While some of these might reflect players on the roster and their individual strengths and weaknesses, there are enough divergent philosophies and approaches to the team strategy that I don't think  this is the case.

How do we know if what we are doing is the best for the team? I think it starts with measuring the right things. Side out percentage by rotation is a good starting point. Looking at how various stats correlate with winning suggests passing stats, kills, and efficiency. Measure the right things, and track those measures. That will give some idea of if what we are doing is good or working. Beyond that I think we need to evaluate teaching methods. Take the time to learn what are the most effective training protocols per motor learning research. That body of knowledge is growing and evolving. We should be doing the same as coaches, or we run the risk of becoming the dinosaur of a coach teaching something that might not have ever been effective, or if it was, it isn't nearly as applicable in today's game.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Volleyball Basics - Rotations, Side Out Percentage

In my opinion, one of the most useful volleyball stats for coaches is side out percentage (SO%). SO% is simple. It is points scored on serve receive divided by total attempts. It is a simple stat to record. One coach or player simply records a 1 for point on serve receive and a 0 for a point lost on serve receive. After the match the total number of 1's and 0's is recorded, the 1's are divided by the total of both numbers. That's the SO%. The same can easily be done for the opponent to get your team's scoring percentage, or their SO%.

In the recent NCAA women's tournament championship match, the AVCA twitter feed featured some stats from the match collected by Data Volley. One that immediately stood out to me was this one:
Something I heard many years ago about SO% is that two teams with the same SO%, let's say 50%, played each other 30 times, each team would usually end up with 15 wins. If one team improves to 51% and holds the other team to 49% and they play 30 times, the team with the 51% improves to 20 wins. That's a big change in the outcome of a season from a small change in team performance. I have run computer simulations of these scenarios and the win numbers are supported by the simulation data. The simulation numbers were a little off, but they're close enough. Side out percentage is a simple to measure stat that gives actual meaningful information.

A simple way to get even more information is to record SO% by rotation. There are six rotations and each one will have its own SO%. This information will give coaches a quick idea of where the team does well and where it struggles. Two simple ways this information can help in coaching is to give information about where the team can improve and to help decide about which rotation is the best one to start each set.

One way to use SO% to improve is to play games with the team in a rotation where they struggle and try to score some goal number of points out of ten tries. If your team has a 60% overall SO%, your team might have a goal of 6 points out of 10 attempts for those problem rotations.

Side out percentage should be taken into consideration when deciding on which rotation to start sets. The majority of teams I have coached against have started in rotation 1 with the setter as the first server. If that rotation or one soon after has a bad SO% it could cost the team over the season. Running computer simulations of matches starting at different rotations using real by rotation SO%, my teams could realistically win another match or two by starting in the right rotation. Matches rarely have teams play each rotation an equal number of times. Starting with your best rotations make it more likely to give those better rotations more opportunities. It isn't a huge difference, but over many matches it can add up. Against an opponent that is otherwise very close to your team this could make the difference. Another consideration is that any time your SO% is above 50%, it is more advantageous to start matches in serve receive than with the serve. Possibly the only place I would still want to serve first is if my best server is also at the beginning of our best serve receive rotations.

Side out percentage is one of the easiest stats to collect, even with pen and paper, and it is very useful for coaches. I recommend using it to make coaching decisions for practice design and competition choices. Small improvements in side out percentage can make a huge difference in your season wins and losses. Making the right decisions as far as something as simple as which rotation you start each set could mean another win or two.

Volleyball Basics are intended to present some of the fundamental volleyball knowledge that everyone serious about the sport should know.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Stephen Curry's Unusual Basketball Training

A few weeks back I saw a video talking about Stephen Curry and his work ethic displayed at a young age. I think it really captures what it takes to become an elite level athlete in a sport. I was hesitant to write about it because of the physical demands of volleyball and how they differ from those of basketball. Overuse is a serious concern in volleyball. Too much hitting can lead to shoulder injury. Too much jumping can lead to lower extremity injury. Still the sentiment remains. The best players are likely the ones who train on their own outside of scheduled practice time, even if it is just showing up 15 minutes early, or staying after a few minutes.

Extra practice time and over-training aside, getting more reps is necessary for improving at a skill. Of course, the more specific the practice the better. With that in mind, I saw this video and article. It was interesting to me, but most of it is not applicable to volleyball. Basketball is a much more random sport than volleyball with a lot more contact. Dribbling in particular doesn't really have a volleyball equivalent. Dribbling a basketball is something that the best players do without looking at what they are doing, and being able to split their attention between the skill and court conditions around them is valuable. the dribbling drills make sense. I don't know how valuable the other stuff with the goggles and tennis balls is, but it is an interesting hypothesis. He is getting a lot of reps dribbling, but I don't know how the lack of specificity is helping or not.

The thing that I think is important to take away from it is the part about the practice reps he gets from longer than conventional three point range. The article mentions the trainer thinking Curry will eventually start to incorporate half court shots into his regular game instead of just end of game buzzer beaters. I'll leave the discussion of whether or not that makes basketball sense to basketball people. I think the lesson to learn is that it might be a good idea to invest practice time and reps to unusual situations that sometimes arise in matches. Maybe put your team on serve receive down 21-24 and see if they can rally and win the set. Maybe 21-24 is an unrealistic starting point, but put them in a position where they need to make a comeback to win. Familiarize your team with the situations that arise in matches that often cost teams wins. Make the situation familiar, and the solution will also be familiar. They do it all the time in practice.

And Ivan Zaytsev's serving run was ridiculous.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Volleyball Basics - Overlap in Rotations

Figure 1 - Overview of overlap
One of the key pieces of information needed to understand rotations and how to alter them is overlap. When the ball is served, at the point of contact each player needs to be in their position as indicated by the serve order. The player serving in this rotation is in zone 1 in the back right. The next server is in 2 in the front right, and so on as can be seen in figure 1. This is just a representation of the zones of the court. The arrows indicate how the players need to be positioned in relation to each other. 1 needs to be behind 2 and to the right of 6. 3 needs to be in front of 6, to the right of 4, and to the left of 2. These restrictions only apply to the players the arrows point to. There is no restrictions on where players are positioned in relation to players diagonal from them.

Figure 2 - Example serve receive rotation
Figure 2 illustrates a legal serve receive formation. 5, 6, and 1 are in the back row and correspond with the positions illustrated in figure 1. The player in zone 1 has just served (service order 1) and the team is now in serve receive. 2, 3, and 4 are in the front row. 2 will be the next server upon side out. In this situation 4, 5, and 1 are primary passers and will receive the majority of serves.

Figure 3 - Overlap arrows for the player 6th in service order
Figure 3 shows the arrows that apply to the player (in black) 6th in service order. The players in red are the ones 6 needs to be concerned with in this situation. 6 needs to be behind 3, to the right of 5, and to the left of 1. The players in grey are diagonal from 6 and have no bearing on 6's position on the court. This is why front row players 2 and 4 can be behind 6 even though they are front row players.

Figure 4 - Overlap arrows for the player 4th in service order
Figure 4 shows the arrows that apply to the player (again in black) 4th in service order. In this case the player only has two players to be concerned with, 3 and 5 in red. Players 1, 2, and 6 in grey are diagonal from 4 and have no bearing on 4's position on the court. 4 only needs to be in front of 5 and to the left of 3. This kind of formation is common in 3 passer systems. 4 doesn't have to be very far in front of 5 to be legal. Sometimes this can be seen with 4's toes only slightly closer than 5's toes, and 5's heels are only slightly closer to the service line.

Keys to remember:
1. Service order with current server when serving and most recent server is number 1 after losing serve.
2. Players' position on the court in relation to each other is governed by service order as illustrated in figure 1.
3. Each player needs to maintain the forward/back and left/right positioning based on their arrows shown in figure 1.
4. The forward/back and left/right positioning can be very small.

Use these key points when using and adjusting serve receive formations.

See also:
Zones of the Court
Introduction to Rotations

Volleyball Basics are intended to present some of the fundamental volleyball knowledge that everyone serious about the sport should know.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Volleyball Basics - Introduction to Rotations

One of the fundamental aspects of organized team play in volleyball is the use of rotations. Rotations are designed to ensure a front row/back row balance for positions and their roles in the offense and defense. They are also used to place players in a position on the court so they can receive serve, if that is one of their responsibilities, and move into the areas on the court where they will be set. Serve and serve receive rotations place players so they can perform their primary responsibilities with a minimum of movement.

Front row/back row balance is accomplished by placing the outside hitters opposite each other in the service rotation, middle blockers are opposite each other, and the setter is opposite the, well, opposite. To differentiate outsides and middles, they are labeled outside hitter 1 and middle blocker 1 for those either side of the setter in service order, and outside hitter 2 and middle blocker 2 next to the opposite in service order.

Base defensive positions with setter in back row.
Rotations are numbered by serving order, the setter is first. For rotation 1, the setter is in zone 1, outside hitter 1 is next in serving order in zone 2, middle blocker 2 in zone 3, the opposite in 4, outside hitter 2 in 5, and middle blocker 1 in 6.

In rotations with the setter on the back row (rotations 1-3), the base defensive positions place the front row outside in 4, the front row middle in 3, and the opposite in 2. The setter is in 1, the back row outside is in 6, and the libero (or the back row middle when serving) is in 5. In rotations with the setter in the front row, the setter and opposite trade places. This places the players where they need to be when transitioning to and from offense with as little unnecessary movement as possible.

See also:
Zones of the Court

Volleyball Basics are intended to present some of the fundamental volleyball knowledge that everyone serious about the sport should know.