A lot, or at least a few, sports count assists among their statistics. That is, the pass that leads to a score. In volleyball, at least in America, a set that leads to a spike point is an assist. In basketball, a pass that leads to a basket is an assist. But in hockey, not only the pass that leads to a goal counts as an assist, but also the pass that leads to the pass that leads to a goal counts as an assist. In some circles (i.e. Bill Simmons), that kind of assist is referred to a ‘hockey assist’.
In volleyball there are a lot of structural / organisational / communication errors where the fault seems to be obvious.
- A tip falls in front of a defender. The fault is obviously that the defender to not commit to defending the ball. The obvious solution is to berate them for lack of effort and possibly some drill to encourage the player to change their habit.
- A middle blocker has a chance to set a high ball but commits a ball handling error. The obvious solution is to berate them for their lack of technical skill and possibly some drill to improve that technical ability.
You get the idea. The wrong player receives the ball. The wrong player sets the ball. A player touches the net. All simple errors with obvious solutions.
But what if things aren’t so simple. What if there is such a thing as a ‘hockey error’. I have written before that what looks like a lack of effort is most often actually a lack of readiness. In that example, the lack of effort is the error and the lack of readiness is the hockey error. In the middle blocker setting example, the hockey error is probably not turning fast enough after landing from the block. Many errors that are attributed to lack of calling, have as their hockey error a player moving towards the ball and then stopping. Being in the wrong position is the hockey error in many different situations.
As a coach, focussing on the error can have some improvement on performance. But focussing on the hockey error can have a profound effect on understanding of the game.
Read about the great new Vyacheslav Platonov coaching book here.
We have all watched the world of volleyball changing as young players break down some of the barriers of conventional wisdom. The most prominent is of course Earvin N’Gapeth whose highlights (for example here) now take up a pretty large part of the internet. Apart from being a great player, he has become known for attacking from all kinds of strange situations and not just on the third contact. Imagine a whole team of players like him.
Well, you don’t have to. Until 1976 the block counted as the first contact. So once the ball touched the block, a team had to use the next (for us in 2017, first) contact to set up a spiker. The best to do this was the Polish team who won a World Championships and Olympic Gold Medal in the 1970s. Below is a clip of what it looks like when there are six N’Gapeths on the court at once, when Poland played Japan at the 1976 Olympics.
If you want to watch the whole match from which this clip is culled, here it is.
US Olympic Gold Medallist Reid Priddy recently gave an extended interview of the podcast The Net Live. In a really interesting conversation he touched on a number of areas, including the things that he has learnt over the years and how is applying those things to the challenge of playing in the 2020 Olympics in beach volleyball. I encourage you to listen to the whole thing (the link is below).
On communication… “If we can communicate without talking, that will be an advantage.”
On probabilities… He wants to know the probability success of certain actions as both a reference point for learning and as a guide to action.
On coaches… He briefly compared Alekno, McCutcheon and Speraw, all of whom he had worked with particularly relating to errors. He said that Alekno and McCutcheon were philosophically very similar in the way they wanted to manage risk. They had set rules in place for when a player was allowed to risk and when they were had to minimise errors. The main difference was that when it came to a fifth set Alekno took away all restrictions. The fifth set was about being aggressive. On the other hand, Speraw never talked about mistakes. He never wanted his players to think about them.
On his book… for more information go to his website http://reidpriddy.com/
photo – jastrzebskiwegiel.pl
Volleyball is a game of protocols. Everywhere you look there are protocols. How and where the players, coaches and officials must stand. What they can wear and when. How to make substitutions, take timeouts, talk to your team. Protocols, protocols, protocols.
And where there are protocols there are anarchists who will do anything to subvert them. For example, volleyball rules state that players must play with their shirts tucked in. And referees, as the high priests of protocol, must control all players before the start of the match. Many players do not like to play with their shirts tucked in and most others are just anarchists.
The ‘Checking The Players’ Shirts’ protocol fits into the ‘Teams Lining Up’ protocol before the start of the match. The players line up on the sideline of their respective sides. The referees check that the captain and liberos are standing where they must (captain first, first libero second, second libero last; another protocol) and that the players’ shirts are tucked in.
Many / most players, even those who have played hundreds of professional matches know that the referee will check their shirt, yet they will not tuck it in until after the referee asks them too. And to confirm their anarchist credentials they will all untuck their shirts again the moment they move to the middle of the court. If you are bored before a match you can watch this predictable, yet highly entertaining dance.
And if you are especially lucky, you might catch the player whose superstition it is to be the last in the line. Watch the lengths he will go to to circumvent the protocols. It is hilarious.
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.
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’.
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.