Following up the ‘success’ of the World Championships Review articles, the author of the original, Michael Mattes and I decided to do something similar for the World League Finals. In this case, he has provided the statistical analysis to which I will add my thoughts. As an experiment, I have included links to interactive infograms at the end of each paragraph where you can have a look at some of the data in more detail. I would welcome feedback on them.
Before I begin, I should note that due to the nature of the tournament, only 10 matches, none of the figures are useful in the true statistical sense. But that will, of course, not stop me from making observations. Furthermore, the tournament was a little unusual in that all the teams present won at least one match. That will also have some effect on the values and how they could / should be interpreted.
SIDEOUT OR POINT SCORING?
Gold Medal Squared talk about the ‘2% Rule’. This says a small improvement in the sideout percentage (the number of sideouts won as a percentage of the opponents serve), in this case 2%, will lead to a much greater chance of winning. This is sometimes used as evidence that the sideout phase is where practice should be focused. As sideouts and breakpoints are perfectly correlated, it must hold a 2% improvement in break point percentage (the percentage of points won on service) should also improve winning percentage by the same amount. So in men’s volleyball, which is more important; sideout or break point?
It turns out that teams sideout at 67%, which is essentially the same as last year’s World Championships (67.6%). Intuition, and the facts, tell us that break point percentage is therefore 33%. In both cases, four of the teams were above average, with Brazil the best siding out team, and USA, the best break point scoring team. Champions France were second in both, good in sideout AND break point scoring.
ATTACK – KILLS OR EFFICIENCY
In this tournament, it turns out neither. It is a truism that spiking is the most important skill in volleyball and there is a lot of research that suggests that attack efficiency is the single statistic most correlated with winning. As I noted above the small sample size means the statistics are not valid, but it is surprising that France were worse than all other teams, except last placed Italy, in kills, errors, blocks and efficiency. It is clear you don’t need to be the best spiking to win, but surely you can’t get away with being the worst. Maybe they are the best blocking team.
It turns out the best blocking team was Italy, with France again 5th, which supports some research that says blocking is irrelevant. Breaking down attack percentages a little bit more, France was the best at one thing: out of system attack (when there is no first tempo available to the setter after reception). In fact, they were better at attacking out of system than from good reception. That may be a testament to their individual flair, or it may be a complete coincidence.
Part 2 to follow