How Should I Measure Errors?

It is conventional wisdom in volleyball, and indeed in most sports, that the team that makes the fewest errors should win. Many maintain that attack efficiency, and therefore implicitly attack errors, are the key determinant to success. Conversely many say that a minimum number of service errors is required in order to develop enough pressure to win.

However to the best of my knowledge noone has ever looked at other kinds of errors or how the total number of errors might influence the outcome.  It sounds like something we should know about. 

The first problem is how to measure errors. Total errors might be one way to go if we are looking at indivdual sets. But in general totals, or even per set averages, are not very good because they don’t take into account number of opportunities. Therefore the obvious measurement is a percentage of total contacts. But that ends up being a very small number. And how do you include block attempts. 

The number I have started working is errors per 100 rallies. This ends up being a quite nice number. In my league the average is between 12 and 16. Conversely the number of points ‘won’ is between 30 and 36. I haven’t done any serious analysis but eyeballing it, it looks like there might be something there.

My question is: Is this a reasonable way to measure errors? Can you think of a better way?

All comments welcome.

“It’s About Me”

Bobby Knight is one of the most famous basketball coaches of all time.

By many / most / all accounts he was also one of the best basketball coaches of all time.

He was a renowned for being an ill tempered bully and was fired from his most famous job for mistreatment of athletes.

He always maintained that he genuinely cared about his players and that all of them graduated.

I have never quite understood how saying that you care about someone excuses bad behaviour after the fact.

Below is a surreptiously taped clip of one of his half time speeches.  Count the number of times he says ‘we’ and ‘I’.

More On Coaching Interventions

The most common misconception about coaching is that the work of the coach is in the stuff he ‘does’ and most specifically the stuff he ‘does’ that other people see. So coaches are judged on the number of timeouts they take in a game because that is what people recognise as ‘coaching’. They are judged on the things they shout at the players in practice or games, because that is what people recognise as coaching.  They are judged on the amount of feedback they give in practice because that is what people recognise as coaching.

I have written before about coaching and these interventions. Simply, coaching is not in the interventions.  This short YouTube addresses the difference between what happens when the coach relies on interventions in practice and when the coach relies on other methods.  It is a great way to spend two and a half minutes if you are a coach. Or a parent for that matter.

Read about the great new Vyacheslav Platonov coaching book here.

Cover v2

I Am Right About Timeouts

Over the last year or so I have studied and written quite a bit on the topic of timeouts.  You can read all of the posts I have written (in English and in Polish) by following this link.

The upshot of all of the research I have done with Ben Raymond is that timeouts do not seem to work in the way that we (coaches, fans, administrators) like to think that they do, that is they have no impact on the game.

An American researcher, studying USA college matches and looking at over 5,000 timeouts found eerily similar results.  They are summarised in the infogram below.


My Philosophy Of Volleyball

I recently did an interview with the Plus Liga TV channel.  It covers a lot of areas of my philosophy and ideas of volleyball in a different (perhaps more easily digestable) format than writing. One of my players saw it and commented that it was exactly like working with me. That is just about the biggest compliment that I can get.  Above all things I try to be consistent in my philosophy and in my messaging.  Wish I’d shaved though.

Thanks to Kamil Skladowski from the Plus Liga for then interview.

Read about the great new Vyacheslav Platonov coaching book here.

Cover v2

Are We Doing It Wrong?


There was a story a week or so ago about a computer program beating the world’s best Go players. Apparently Go is an ancient Chinese game that has more or less an infinite number of possible moves and is therefore considered to be the ultimate test of artificial intelligence (AI)*.  I know nothing about either Go or AI but apparently this is a big deal.  The original article is hidden behind a pay wall, but I was able to pull out a couple of quotes that sparked a spot of thinking.

“The (computer program) made moves that seemed foolish but inevitably led to victory over the world’s best players.”

This quote seems to suggest that the computer understood the game and played it in a completely different way to humans have been playing it.  On that theme the current world champion was quoted as saying,

“After humanity spent thousands of years improving tactics, computers tell us humans are completely wrong.  I would go as far as to say that not a single human has touched the edge of the truth of Go.”

As I am avowed questioner of conventional wisdom these thoughts really piqued my interest and obviously I thought about applying them to volleyball.  Like everything, there is a set of parameters about the game that are accepted as conventional wisdom.  For example, according to the rules a team is allowed only three contacts.  The conventional wisdom is that using all three contacts is the most effective way of playing.  But is it?  As I have written about earlier, Frenchman Earvin N’Gapeth has become famous for, among other things, not always using three contacts. Watching him live I was struck by how obvious those plays actually are. Once you accept that it is possible, his actions are the easiest and best solutions.  I would say that nearly everything we do In practice, is in some way based on conventional wisdom.  For some coaches more than others, but there is a lot of it there.

The computer who won in Go won by playing in a different way than people who were locked into a way of thinking going back thousands of years.  What would happen if that computer decided to try to play volleyball?  Would it use three contacts every time?  I think, deep down,  we already know the answer is no.  Would spikers jump off two feet?  Would there be such a thing as the underarm pass?  Would we train in the same way?  And if the answer to any of those questions is no, what would the alternative be?  How would the computer solve the problem of the game?

I don’t think any of us has touched the edge of the truth of volleyball.

Interactions In Volleyball

I wrote a while ago about The Key To Vollyball. In the post, I contended that the most important factor in volleyball is the interactions between different elements of the game. I specifically identified interactions between players, between contacts, between phases and the interactions between the interactions. My friend / colleague / co-conspirator in the various studies of timeouts and serving, Ben Raymond, thought that the way I described these could be represented by a network diagram.  What he did was an interactive network diagram that shows the interactions between all the players in my team from last season.

The screenshot below shows the basic interactions.  There are A LOT! Not surprisingly, the setter is the player with the most connections.

If you really want to explore it you can find the interactive version here.

As always feel free to give feedback.