Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Lower nets = less rallies.

November 23, 2016

Even before becoming a dedicated analyst, I was interested in the numbers which provided me with a context for the decisions I would make with regards to balancing winning, court time, player development etc. One thing I brought up in recent conversations with coaches about junior girls volleyball, is how a lot of points are decided by serving errors and aces on a lower net (some competitions lower the net below 2.24M for younger age groups). It’s harder to receive a serve with a flatter trajectory and kids at that age aren’t developed enough to serve with a smaller margin of error.

Since everything should be quantified, I looked at the data I had collected over the last 4 years. I looked at the data from the last U15 girls team I coached, and compared it with other teams I had worked for as an analyst. What I found was startling. For most of the teams I looked at in various levels of comps across both genders, about 20% of the points they played was decided by  an ace or serving error. For my U15 girls over 8 games in that 2013 tournament 40% of the points they played were decided by an ace or service error! 40% – That’s twice as much as other levels of volleyball!

Women Total Rallies Ends in Ace or Serve Error % Ends in Ace or Serve Error
Norwood Alb-Wod U15G 2013 1002 398 40%
AUS U17 2014 1406 328 23%
AUS U19 2014 860 244 28%
AUS U19 2016 1894 436 23%
AUS Senior AVC 2015 1207 194 16%
AUS Senior WGP G3 2015 1188 197 17%
AUS Senior WGP G3 2016 874 178 20%
Men Total Rallies Ends in Ace or Serve Error % Ends in Ace or Serve Error
AJVC U19M 2015 1432 268 19%
Danish League 2015 2334 495 21%
Swiss League 2015 3801 825 22%

That means, for a sport strongly associated as being about “dig-set-spike”, our youngest female adoptees are only experiencing what the sport is about 3 out of 5 times. Everybody else is experiencing it 4 out of 5 times.

Is it good outcome for those teams and players?  Is it good for the sport? A Brazilian Federation had lower nets for younger age groups and tackled the problem by introducing rules in beginner competitions that the serve had to be underarm and had to be made no further back that 4m from the centre line.

In Australia, there’s been a persistent argument over the height of the net for younger age groups. The argument for the lower net is often for inclusiveness, that so that shorter kids can play “real volleyball.” While that might be true for the 60% of the time that some dig set spike actually happens after a serve, there’s the 40% of the time that the serve is either going out, into the net, or onto the floor, that is over and above what people participating in other levels of volleyball experience.

Does anyone else have data at this level of volleyball?

My changing volleyball direction

October 14, 2016

I have written a lot less over the last 12 months. Previously I consistently posted once a month but my “volleyball patterns” have changed.

Increasingly in the last couple of years I have phased out of actual coaching and dedicate more of my time to analysis work. I toured with the 2015 women’s volleyroos as a scout and spent the following domestic season (October-February) working as a remote scout/analyst for Australian friends coaching in the Swiss and Danish leagues. After that I spent the months leading up to the Olympics coding and analysing about 50 beach matches for the coaches of Louise Bawden and Taliqua Clancy who finished 5th in Rio. Now I’m back helping my friends with their teams in Europe.

Essentially I download videos of matches off a server and code them, or produce reports from existing coded matches. It’s tedious work, and outside my fulltime job I consistently spend upwards of 20hrs a week doing analysis. I’m spending more time on volleyball stuff but it’s different from the long gours of coaching. I can start/finish a bit late/early so long as I meet the deadlines, which is different from having to be at a time and place that fits in with others. I get to relate to more analytical people – since they’re the ones that are interested to have this stuff. I avoid emotional and political stuff and just get to spend hours watching volleyball. it’s cool.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t leave much time to write. And when I get the time to write, there’s not a whole lot of my work I can share!

A change is  good as a holiday, and after 15 years of coaching teams, it’s been a welcome change. Will write more now.

Doug Beal’s Golden Rules of Modern Volleyball in 2001

September 17, 2016
speraw-beal

Doug Beal with USA Men’s coach John Speraw at the 2016 Rio Olympics after USA’s quarter-final win against Poland.  

I haven’t written for a while but thought I’d share some notes I received from an old boss. The background: In the year following the 2000 Olympics, the Japan Volleyball Association organised a coaching conference which included Julio Velasco, Doug Beal and Joop Alberda. From Velasco’s opening remarks the conference seems to have been borne out of a need for Japanese men’s volleyball coaches to get some exposure to foreign innovative ideas from coaches with more recent success.

Rally point scoring, the service let rule and the libero rule had only been around  for 2 years and players/coaches/teams were still trying to work it out. Back then these were Doug Beal’s observations of the then-modern volleyball. How many of these rules still apply now?

The Golden rules of modern volleyball

When two teams (high level) of the same or similar standard play, some of the following “Golden Rules” will decide the outcome of the match

1. The rule of Libero + 1

The best teams have at least one of their outside hitters that is a very good passer. The player is on the court to pass first and must be able to pass at 65% perfect. The other skills are only a complement to his contribution as a passer. This rule assumes that the libero is a very good passer. This player generally receives serve along with the libero in a 2-man receive formation on non-jump serves.

2. The ability to sideout rule

The team that wins will side out more often on less-than-perfect passes. If one team cannot win “the perfect passing battle” by having at least a 10% higher perfect passing the ability to side out from non-perfect passes will often determine the result.

3. The rule of 1 to 3

The team than wins will have a service ace to error ratio of approximately 1 to 3. Very few teams lose as a result of service errors alone. Team rarely win if they have few service errors along with few aces. Aggressive serving combined with as acceptable error ratio is the best formula. It is not possible to underestimate the impact of serving on today’s game. This ratio can change dependent on the sideout percentage. The higher the sideout percentage the greater the increase in ace/error ratio.

4. The rule of errors

Opponent errors is highly correlated with winning. Opponent errors is defined as a total of:

  • Attack errors by the opponent
  • Service errors by the opponent
  • Ball handling errors by the opponent
  • Rules violations by the opponent

The team that wins will score more points from opponent errors than they give up

5. The ‘have 3 bombers’ rule

The team that wins will have a minimum of 3 servers that are legitimate point scoring threats

6. The ‘have 2 terminators’ rule

The team that wins have at least 2 attackers that can kill the ball from poor reception and counter attack situations. Most sets from poor reception and defence should go to these 2 hitters. Most often an outside and the opposite.

7. The ‘carpet sweeper’ rule

The team whose libero passes most balls will likely win. The best teams have liberos who pass 50% or more of all passes.

8. The ‘attack from the middle back’ rule

The best teams are able to sustain a constant threat from position 6. This threat is apparent in all 6 rotations whether serve receive or transition

9. The ‘long-D’ rule

The best teams can kill the ball when set to zone 1 from the left of centre and deeper than 3m line. You need the player to kill this ball (good opposite hitter)

10. The 3 rules defining setters

Setters will contribute to winning most in the 3 following ways

  1. Set very accurately, and quickly to the sidelines from perfect pass
  2. Set the quick from a wide range from less than perfect pass
  3. Contribution the setter makes to point scoring (serving, blocking and attacking)

11. The rule of kill percentage

A team kill percentage of 55% almost always wins. A low error percentage wins most sets.

12. The rule of patience

There are just as many lead changes in rally scoring as there was in old scoring based on the number of rotations played. The team that wins demonstrates patience regardless of the score.

13. The ‘in-a-row’ rule

A team’s ability to score consecutive sideouts and/or consecutive points is highly correlated with winning. If you give up 3 points in a row just once in a set you have reduced to 50% your chance to win that set.

Goal Line Nickel Package

October 5, 2015

You’re gonna win and lose games in practice. I mean there is no such thing as being a game day player – Ernie Adams (New England Patriots Director of Football Research)

I’m an unashamed fan of American Football and Bill Belichick. This year’s Superbowl finished spectacularly with Seattle 4 points behind and 1 yard from a touch down with 26 seconds to go. Seattle runs a pass play and the improbable happens when undrafted rookie cornerback Malcolm Butler intercepts the pass to win New England the game.

What is more surprising is that the play was far from a fluke and New England’s attention to detail in preparation saw them practice the situation several times in the week leading up to the game. Do Your Job, the documentary about the 2014 NFL season from the perspective of the New England coaches and executives documents the play and the preparation leading up to it. Watch from the 3:30 mark.

Some great quotes:

New England Patriots Linebackers Coach Patrick Graham

So much work went into that. I mean I Can’t tell you how many guys got that same route. (linebacker) Jamie (Collins) had it twice in practice. (safety Patrick) Chung had it about two times in practice. Malcolm (Butler) had it twice. We went through it with everybody

New England Patriots Director of Football Research:

I wish I could say that everything we did worked out as well as that. Obviously it doesn’t, but we do try to make sure we’re ready for anything that’s gonna come up on a Sunday.

That the team practiced an obscure situation at least 6 times in the week leading up to game speaks volumes about the depth of preparation.

Capital Volleyball League Finals

September 26, 2015

It’s been a while since I’ve posted. Been so busy since getting back from World Grand Prix.

A couple of weeks ago we wrapped up Capital Volleyball League. My team lost in 5 sets in the grand final. It was close, with each side scoring 48 kills and 10 aces. Was a good close game.

* * *

We had only beaten the opponent 3 times in the the last 13 encounters since I coached the team. We have historically lost the serving/receiving battle against them and were often aced off the court. They had the 3 best servers in the competition, and we didn’t have strong receivers.

Tired of getting aced, i decided in our previous match against them to use only 2 receivers for the whole game. I only had 2 players who could capably pass and betted that it could be better being very good receiving a small area than receiving a bigger area poorly. I was also sick of having my opposite receiving in the backcourt and having one less attacker – on an average pass it meant that without the opposite or middle we were down to 1 option. 2 receivers worked and we won that time.

* * *

Our strategy this time was the same. Using only 2 receivers would also let me play an attacker in a passer hitter position who was a weaker receiver. What I found interesting was that a tactic that we used to free up our opposite and play a strong attacker, had an unintended consequence on how the other team responded.

2 Receivers in women’s volleyball is unusual. Maybe it’s the low net, but it’s become conventional wisdom that you can’t receive with less than 3. The other team was rattled. Sometimes they’d try to serve the ball short into the gaps. It was often rushed – as if serving quickly would make it hard for us to get there. Sometimes they’d try to serve down the middle in the seam, which turned into either an easy pass or a ball that went flying out. Often it went straight to a player – in which case their confidence seemed to drop – being unable to ace less receivers gave the illusion they were playing worse and worse. Conversely, the confidence of our own team grew. As the game went on, reducing the number of servers from 3 to 2 became a potent mental weapon. It was like playing poker and raising the bets with an ordinary hand.

We didn’t win the game, but managed to even up the odds significantly. We finished the season in good spirits.

IMG_2472

Photo after the game. It actually felt like we had won.

World Grand Prix

June 22, 2015

You can follow the Volleyroos Women on Facebook

I haven’t posted for a while. I’ve been fortunate to have been picked as the analyst for the Volleyroos women as the statistician/analyst. We are in Thailand for the pre-camp and spirits are high. Today we visited the Thai Sport Authority training centre where the Thai national team trains and played some practice games against their junior and senior teams. Was cool to meet some of the superstar players.

I was surprised that Coach Kiattipong’s Olympic champion wife Feng Kun and Wilavan both spoke pretty good English and were kind enough to ask us how long we were staying.

The FIVB development centre where we train.

The FIVB development centre where we train.

Coach Kittiapong's wife, Feng Kun - Gold Medallist, Best Setter and MVP at the 2004 Olympics

Coach Kittiapong’s wife, Feng Kun – Gold Medallist, Best Setter and MVP at the 2004 Olympics

Enormously popular Thai captain Wilavan Apinyapong

Enormously popular Thai captain Wilavan Apinyapong

Chutchuon and Pimpichaya - young players in the senior squad who dominated at AVC U19s and U17s last year. Playing against them for the 3rd time in as many age groups.

Chutchuon and Pimpichaya – young players in the senior squad who dominated at AVC U19s and U17s last year. Playing against them for the 3rd time in as many age groups.

Enormously popular middle blocker Pleumjit Thinkaow

Enormously popular middle blocker Pleumjit Thinkaow

Feng Kun in action in Athens 2004:

The Thai team walking in to warm up. Coach Kiattipong greets them at the door. In a bit of fun Wilavan sets Nootsara a “3” ball. Feng Kun is casually sitting in the right corner watching.

Asian Girls (U17) Volleyball Championships – part 3: Australia

January 5, 2015

So now that I’ve written about what we did before the tournament, and how other teams went, how did our team (Australia) finish?

We came last. We lost 2 games in pool play to the Philippines and India. Both were winnable and we were 2-1 sets up in each game but managed to lose in 5 sets. The wins would have put us into the top 8. To add salt into the wound we finished last behind a team that was disqualified for playing 3 players who had previously competed at an AVC Youth event.

It was disappointing but we made good progress in reinventing the way we play – Being able to receive serve closer to the net; being able to better defend attacks that are not hard driven; playing a faster offense. As I like to say to our head coach this is more than just a team or squad but a modernisation project.

Some highlights were when we played well and could go toe-to-toe with our opponents. Executing a game plan well and rattling China enought to call a timeout against us was great too. Sadly I feel that given our result the way we think the game should be moving in Australia won’t be picked up.

What I got out of this is how much better at competing players from other countries were. I have some thoughts on this:

  • A significant number of our players didn’t play much indoor competition this year. In fact for some of them, all the indoor games they played had been on tour with our program. They trained at a high level but didn’t play many games. The rest of our players played in fairly low level competition. Only three players in our squad signed up for Australian Volleyball League. In contrast our opponents were exposed to high level competition. Thailand’s Pimpichaya Kokram played in the Thai national league alongside and against members of the senior women’s national team who finished 4th in WGP last year!
  • School volleyball is a big part of volleyball in Australia. State volleyball (AJVC) feels like a step up and is also a big part of volleyball in Australia. But it wasn’t until I was exposed to international competition that I could appreciate the massive gap there was between our domestic junior competitions and international competitions. And having low nets and 12 sub rule makes it harder to adjust. From watching Thai school teams with 13-14 year olds train and play against us: they always used 3 receivers forcing kids to pass large areas of the court; they learned how to play fast tempo early; played 6 sub rule and had to find solutions when the setter was front court; and most importantly the net was always full height. In short, their “school volleyball” translated better to their higher level volleyball than ours did. On our second-to-last day we played a game against Sura Nari’s junior team (13-14 year olds) I was refereeing and took a photo of their players and ours at the net to highlight the height difference. While we as Australians argue about whether having the net at full height for 15-year-olds would turn them off from the game, Thai people have no issue getting much smaller 13 and 14 year olds to play on a full height net. Perhaps they see adversity as an opportunity to grow and learn instead of a bar that needs to be lowered. Or maybe they’re just too lazy to change the height of the net.
I'm embarrassed to say that as Australians we're more worried about whether our taller 15-yar-old girls will enjoy volleyball on a full height net that Thai people are about their much smaller 13 year olds playing on a full height net.

I’m embarrassed to say that as Australians we’re more worried about whether our taller 15-year-old players will enjoy volleyball on a full height net that Than people are about their much smaller 13 year olds playing on a full height net.

Australian coach Huy Nguyen meets Vietnamese referee Huy Nguyen.... no one seemed more amused by this than me...

Australian coach Huy Nguyen meets Vietnamese referee Huy Nguyen…. no one seemed more amused by this than me…

Extrinsic Motivation Part III: Sugar factories and braces

November 28, 2014

When she was a child, she dreamt of graduating from a Bangkok university but realised that the family’s modest income, with father working at a sugar factory in Ratchaburi, wasn’t going to fully cover her study costs. To accomplish her goal, she needed to get a scholarship. With her brother emerging as a keen footballer and her elder sister in the school volleyball team, she decided to focus on sports.

I’ve previously written about extrinsic motivation here and here, and how in contemporary western culture, we underestimate its value in preference to encouraging in children a sense of intrinsic motivation towards what they choose to do.

The above is an extract from a Volleywood article about Thai setter Nootsara, who is part of the enormously popular Thai Women’s national team. It’s a great example of the power of extrinsic motivation.

I’m not sure how much it costs to send someone to a Bangkok university, but for less than A$1000 a year, you could pay for a year’s tuition and boarding expenses at the university where our liaisons for AVC U17s studied. It’s not that much money, but for Nootsara being very good at volleyball was the difference between getting a university education or not.

While many of the young players I work with have aspirations to get a playing scholarship in the US or Canada, it’s not quite the same motivation. They can still settle for a decent education in Australia if they don’t get there.

img-28180023-001

High profile players with braces: #10 WIlavan, #6 Onuma, #5 Pleumjit and #13 Nootsara.

The image above comes from a promotional newspaper sized handout about the Thai women’s national team and their apparel sponsor, Grand Sport. Interestingly in the photo 3 of the 4 higher profile players WIlavan, Pleumjit and Ouma all have braces on their teeth (the 4th player, #13 Nootsara actually has them too). They make no attempt to conceal it. Included in the handout is an A2 sized poster of the 14 players squad, and you can see 11 players smiling with braces. These players are in their mid 20s or older.

While having braces is an awful, awkward rite of passage or most Australians, the privilege of straight teeth is not something to be taken for granted in Thailand.

* * *

3 days before the U17G Asian Volleyball Championships started, we got to play the Thai U17G team. They were significantly stronger and probably got no value out of the exercise. They probably agreed to play us out of courtesy from the good relationship our federations have with each other. Certainly China, Japan, Korea and Taipei would have said no. And of course we were soundly beaten. Beaten by players for whom volleyball can make the difference between getting a university education or not; the difference between getting straight teeth or not; and the chance to be part of the most popular sports team in the country. They were armed with far superior skill – the kind of skill forged from thousands of hours of highly motivated practice from people who were simply hungrier. We didn’t stand a chance.

These are sobering thoughts as I come back home to my job which currently involves replacing 133 of my public servant colleagues with a foreign multinational corporation. As the economic borders around us break down, more and more average Australians will have to compete like my volleyball team for a livelihood – against people simply hungrier than them.

Maybe that’s why I’m so passionate about working in our national programs. Because it’s a chance to expose people to a real level of competition that isn’t the false economy we have been used to for years. We are so used to seeing what it means to be the best country at AFL Football, Netball and Rugby League that it’s refreshing to see what it’s like to compete in a sport that a significant number of other countries actually give a shit about.

Asian Girls (U17) Volleyball Championships – part 1

October 7, 2014

Currently I’m in Nakhon Ratchasima, Thailand with the Australian Youth (U17) Girls team preparing for Asian Championships, which starts in 4 days. After travelling with the Junior Women (U19) in July and both groups in April, this is my 3rd tour and I would have spent 7 weeks away from work and overseas.

Thailand is a cool place volleyball wise. It’s the most popular sport for women and a popular spectator sport (after Soccer of course). The national women’s team has enjoyed great success in recent years with a  win at Senior Asian Championships and 4th place at World Grand Prix last year. As such they’re quite popular with sell out games and have their own TV Show.

For the first few days we’re training at Sura Nari Wittaya school – a school with 4000 students, which has put about 100 players into the women’s national team including the current captain. The teams here are really good. We played the Sura Nari Wittaya school team today and lost in 5 sets.

Generally we train twice a day, or once a day if we have a game (or trial match). It’s a more demanding workload than a lot of players are used to back in Australia. It’s a good coaching staff to be a part of. Everyone has good general skills but also specialist skills for this level of competition. My job is to do a lot of the video/statistical analysis and scouting work, but for now while we’re in preparation, I get to help out in trainings hitting downfalls, chipping free-balls and coaching a side in scrimmages. The Head Coach Nam is also master of quite a few coaching trades (he pretty much can do all our jobs) having assisted the senior women’s team for a long time and a practical joker. Bill, who by now I’ve worked with on countless teams is tour manager, but helps out in trainings and takes some stats during games. He’ll be on the radio from he stands. The last member of the team is Anna, who at 21 still has the playing fitness to jump on the court to help out in scrimmages and as a final year physiotherapy student acts as the team’s trainer. It’s a good set of skills. Not every team that tours gets a physio and/or performance analyst.

The players have been great so far and quite professional. It’s easy to forget they’re still young. At this age, they have less competing demands on their time and we have been lucky to get all 12 players we initially selected.

We play our first game on Saturday against the Philippines.

The Sura Nari Wittaya School gym. I've never seen anything quite like it. There's no walls on the long sides so it's well ventilated. No Doors on either end - you can walk right through. It;s fan friendly with two banks of seating, loudspeakers along the ceiling and lights.

The Sura Nari Wittaya School gym. I’ve never seen anything quite like it. There’s no walls on the long sides so it’s well ventilated. No Doors on either end – you can walk right through. It;s fan friendly with two banks of seating, loudspeakers along the ceiling and lights.

I love it how gyms in Thailand are built for spectators. In this case a modest scoreboard. If there's a scrimmage it's not unusual to have a couple of kids hanging around watching and updating scoreboards.

I love it how gyms in Thailand are built for spectators. In this case a modest scoreboard. If there’s a scrimmage it’s not unusual to have a couple of kids hanging around watching and updating scoreboards.

There's a Video Ezy in the small town we're competing in. Random.

There’s a Video Ezy in the small town we’re competing in. Random.

The kids from the school training before us washing the coach's car because they lost the scrimmage.

The kids from the school training before us washing the coach’s car because they lost the scrimmage.

On the school bus travelling to the training venue

On the school bus travelling to the training venue

The mall complex where we will be competing. There's a lot of shops, a water amusement park and what appears to be a "magic mountain" styled water feature.

The mall complex where we will be competing. There’s a lot of shops, a water amusement park and what appears to be a “magic mountain” styled water feature.

Preparing for our trial game against the school team. We lost 2-3. They're really good!

Preparing for our trial game against the school team. We lost 2-3. They’re really good!

The brass band practising. Yep that's about 4 Glockenspiels under the verandah. There were two girls practicing rifle drills with wooden rifles around the corner.

The brass band practising. Yep that’s about 4 Glockenspiels under the verandah. There were two girls practicing rifle drills with wooden rifles around the corner.

The national league team training after the trial game. There's about 5 national team players from this club team including the current captain,

The national league team training after the trial game. There’s about 5 national team players from this club team including the current captain,

I still don’t like screening

August 24, 2014

So screening on the serve is still against the rules. But referees are apparently not allowed to call it. This one team at Asian Junior Championships used it a lot. One referee called them on it and they stopped… but the referee got marked down in the assessment for calling it. Good on them I say. Volleyball is about reading, which you can’t do when people are blocking your view of the cues.

They played against Japan in the finals and got smashed. It’s good to see gimmicks like that not working on the best teams.