Can You Believe Your Eyes?

©FIVB

©FIVB

The simple answer to this question is, of course not.  There are dozens of cognitive biases that get in between what we see and what we understand, neatly categorised in this article.  But for once that is not what I am getting at.

I am sure everyone agrees that the Video Challenge System has been a wonderful addition to volleyball at the highest level.  Certainly everyone who believes in fairness agrees.  In another forum I might also argue that it adds to the drama of the game, but not this forum.

One thing that the Video Challenge System really shows is how bad humans are at seeing things that happen in a volleyball game.  This article written at the end of the last Polish season reviewing the figures for challenges showed that the best coach in the league was wrong in his challenges 61% of the time*.  This article released by FIVB this week showed that over the men’s and women’s tournaments coaches were wrong, on average, 60% of the time.

When interpreting those numbers it is important to consider a couple of issues.  One, is that most of the time the coach is not making the challenge.  The players inform the coach of an issue and he/she then ‘decides’ whether to utilise one of the finite number of challenges.  So it is not entirely fair to attribute success and failure purely to the coach**.  Two, not all challenges are made with the expectation of having a point overturned.  Some are quasi timeouts and some are speculative ‘nothing to lose’ challenges when a team is way ahead or behind.

That having been said, it is always remarkable to me to see how bad human beings at seeing those lines and various touches of things.  It turns the mind back to occasions in the past in which I, and other coaches, have jumped up and down like a lunatic on the sideline, absolutely convinced something happened differently to the views of the officials***.  Conversely, with the backup provided by the video it is quietly astonishing how good referees and linesmen are at picking those things up.  The number of challenges at the Olympics of tiny block touches that were shown to have been correctly seen by the officials was frankly astonishing.

So chapeau to the inventors of the technologies, and the governing bodies for implementing them.

The only step left is to have a permanent video official who makes those calls in real time without the need for challenges at all.  Tokyo?


*And I was wrong 71% of the time.  Good enough for 6th best (or 8th worst) coach in the league.

**I guess like everything to do with sport 😀

***And hilariously, there are still coaches who are convinced despite all conceivable evidence that they, and only they, see things correctly.

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