Tag Archives: FIVB

Suggested Rule Change 

In 2015 FIVB changed the rules of the game, specifically the size of the playing area.  The free space behind the court was reduced from 7m to 5m.  The stated reason was to allow more space for spectators. 

I wrote about it at the time as it is in every way a ridiculous idea.  Firstly, a smaller playing area reduces the space in which players have to chase down the ball and therefore decreases the length of rallies.  Increasing the length of rallies has been the major goal of FIVB for at least as long as I have been alive (hint: think if a number greater than 49).  Secondly, anyone who has ever been in a big stadium knows that space will never, ever be filled by spectators.  As you can see in the photo above, the space between the edge of the playing area and the start of spectators seating is flat. Any seating that is set up in the space will have a terrible view and no-one will want to sit there*.  In short the change is nonsensical and the reason illogical.

So this is my proposal.  If you want to make rallies longer, the obvious solution is to make the playing area BIGGER.  The more room the players have to run, the balls are playable and the longer the rallies will be.  And don’t legislate the maximum size if the playing area.  If you play in Krakow in the Tauron Arena (as a above) have 10 metres in all directions. If the stadium is smaller then you have less space, but still the maximum available.  Crowds love it when players run a long way.  Give them what they want.

*Thirdly (but don’t tell anyone), these huge stadiums are beautiful and impressive but hardly ever full for volleyball matches anyway.  


The Length Of A Volleyball Match

About a year ago there was an report somewhere that FIVB was considering introducing time limit matches in order to finally, after decades of trying, get the holy grail that is a major TV contract. At the time I mentioned to a couple of friends that I was afraid that this was a diversionary tactic, and that the actual planned rule would be quietly introduced later while everyone shrugged and said, ‘At least it’s not time limit.’

Last week there was an announcement that FIVB will trial best of 7 matches, with sets to 15, at the upcoming World U23 Championships.  ‘At least it’s not time limit.’

We hear that volleyball matches are too long, and worse, of unpredictably long. We hear that TV stations want games that can fit into a two hour time slot. But who says these things? They just sort of float around on the wind every time new rules are proposed.  It may well be that they are true, but does anyone know where they come from?

Here is what I would like to see:

  1. The market research that fans of volleyball want shorter matches.
  2. First hand information from TV companies or executives that they WILL (not might) show more volleyball if it fits into that two hour slot.

If I can see those two things then I will happily concede that we must try to make volleyball matches shorter. In that scenario, my suggestions are:

  1. Shorten the length of time between rallies.
  2. Shorten the length of time between sets.
  3. Remove the unnecessary protocols around the game that add time (10 minutes? More?) to the game.
  4. Tighten the video review system so that it is faster and more efficient (e.g. review without challenge, time limits on the review process).

If there is actual proof that we need to shorten matches, AND no other way of doing THEN, and only THEN, then we can talk about the rules.


Re spectators – My personal suspicion is that spectators want to be part of an event, not just a volleyball match. See Berlin Recycling Volleys.

Re TV – the Polish league, ie the only league with a league that actually receives money for rights, just added a ten minute break between sets 2 and 3 in order to keep spectators in the gyms for longer and get TV viewers to watch more ads.

Read about the great new Vyacheslav Platonov coaching book here.

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Can You Believe Your Eyes?



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.

Selling Volleyball

It is a widely agreed upon truism among volleyball people that volleyball deserves more respect and deserves wider media coverage.  I am not one of those volleyball people.  I think volleyball has the respect and coverage it deserves.  But don’t misunderstand me.  I love volleyball.  I think volleyball is the most spectacular ball sport in the world.  I think volleyball is perfect for TV.  Volleyball does not have wider respect and coverage because volleyball does an absolutely horrendous job of selling itself.  It is a theme of this blog that volleyball does not curate its history.  It is a theme of this blog (and the background the Volleyball Coaching Wizards project) that there is no volleyball literature.  With some obvious exceptions, volleyball has not properly educated even its own participants about the sport.

I have recently been making fun of the level of education and research by commentators employed by CEV and FIVB for their video platforms (here and here).  But behind the (attempted) humour the point is serious.  The live coverage should highlight the best play and the commentator should know the names of the players, volleyball terminology and be able to pass on to viewers a basic feeling of what is happened/just happened.  By this I do not mean a detailed tactical breakdown (although I would love that).  I mean the ability to give the viewer a sense that something is happening that is interesting and worthwhile.  While I am convinced that some of the commentators lack a certain level of professionalism (Juantanorena, ‘return of serve’ etc), the ultimate responsibility lies with those organising the broadcast, in this case the respective governing bodies, and with those who do not expect anything better, that is us.

The current World Olympic Qualification Tournament provides some examples.  The following video contains two actions.  In the first, the current most exciting player in the world, Earvin N’Gapeth, attacks the second contact and scores.  This is an unusual play which requires great awareness and timing (and going against years of training 🙂 ).  The commentator’s response is silence.  The director provides no replay.  A casual observer would think this is an every day event.  It is not.  In the second action, the libero defends a hard attack with one hand perfectly to the setter who sets first tempo against virtually no block.  Again this is an unusual play and insanely difficult.  This is the absolute highest level of volleyball.  The commentator belated makes an inane comment about the size of the middle blocker. The director provides no replay.  A casual observer would think this is an every day event.  It is not.

In this video, Earvin N’Gapeth makes one of his most famous plays, faking a spike and instead setting, and Kevin Tillie scores putting France up 2-0 against Poland.  In this case the commentator does his part to show that something of interest has happened.  But in the three minutes of dead time that followed there was not one replay of the action.

I love volleyball.  I think volleyball is the most spectacular ball sport in the world.  I think it is an incredibly difficult sport to master and yet these amazing athletes make it look simple.  So simple that people seem to think it is.  I think volleyball is perfect for TV.  The action is concentrated in a small area and nearly every player can be seen at the all times.  The game has built in breaks of play that allow for every interesting action to be replayed more or less instantly.  We have an incredible opportunity to create a place for ourselves but not until we demand higher standards of ourselves in selling volleyball.  FIVB and CEV should set the example, but we should demand it of them.

Honour And Respect

One of the most common everyday challenges for a coach is his / her team playing at the level of the opponent. Against a better opponent it is rarely a problem, except that the coach often wistfully wishes the team always played like that. Against weaker teams it is a huge frustration, as ‘unnecessary’ sets or even matches are lost. To complicate matters further, in some places (mostly the United States) ethical pressures are placed on the coach to restrict the team’s performance so as not to risk ‘running up the score’ and therefore ‘disrespecting’ an opponent. In extreme cases coaches can be censured, suspended or even fired for winning by too much.

This is not a mindset that I can easily comprehend. As a competitor the most disrespected I have ever felt was when an opponent did not take my team seriously and therefore gave less than their best effort. Big losses never discouraged me, rather they inspired me to work harder, to work smarter, to get better. As a coach I have felt the disappointment from our opponents when they realised we would not be playing our strongest lineup in that match, and I understood their point of view. We were not taking them as seriously as they felt they deserved to be. These matches always make me much more nervous than any championship playoff.

Recently the topic has come up twice in a volleyball context. During a Volleyball Coaching Wizards interview, top Scottish coach Simon Loftus stated that “the best thing you can do to a team is beat them 25-0”. In other words, you don’t mess about, or ‘take the mickey, but play with as much concentration and focus as you would for a championship match (see below for the clip). At the currently being held FIVB Women’s World Cup in Japan, USA defeated Algeria by the set scores of 25-7, 25-2, 25-5. While such a score would lead to many of his colleagues fearing for his job, USA coach Karch Kiraly, as a player one of the greatest competitors of all time in any sport, put it in into perspective in the post match press conference.

“It doesn’t matter who’s across the net; we honour our opponents, we honour our sport, and we honour our programme and team. I like what we did today.”

I agree wholeheartedly.  Honour and respect means playing at the maximum of your ability.

World League Finals – Statistical Review – Part 2

Following on 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.

Part 1 is here.

photo - FIVB.com


I sometimes hear that to win in volleyball you have to win the ‘serve – pass battle’.  In the broader sense that serving and reception are the foundation elements of the break point and sideout phases respectively, I could not agree more.  In the literal sense that you need to serve and receive better than your opponents, I am far less certain.  The figures from World League tend to back up my thoughts.  Winners France ranked 3rd in ace percentage, 4th in serve efficiency (aces – errors) and 3rd in reception efficiency (in system receptions – errors).  Bronze medallists USA on the other hand ranked 1st, 3rd and 2nd in the same categories.  Brazil’s poor finish (if you can call it that looking at the actual matches) could however easily be explained by rankings of 6th, 6th, and 5th.

Interestingly, there were two statistics in this area in which the French were the best.  They conceded the least number of aces and they had the best ace : aced ratio.  Given that they were by the far best at siding out out of system, not conceding aces seems to be a important component of their success.

WL FINALS – SERVE / RECEPTION | Create infographics


I consider this statement similar to the other statements I’ve quoted here.  It is an interesting guide and way of thinking about the game, but can’t be considered a hard and fast rule.  After all for the vast majority of the game, the object is to win points.  Back in the day, I did a very brief analysis of errors from the top 8 of the 2002 World Championships and found that the gold and silver medallists made the most errors, followed by the teams ranked 7th and 8th.  Like everything, error rate mustn’t necessarily be low, but in balance.  That is supported by the error rates from these World League finals.  The teams with the least number of errors per set were Serbia and Italy.  The highest error rate was from bronze medallist USA, while France was had the 3rd highest.  A low error rate does not necessarily lead to more success, at least not by itself.

WL FINALS – ERROR RATE | Create infographics


Looking through the rankings in the different skill areas it is not immediately clear why France won, even though watching the matches live I thought they were the best team.  They weren’t the best serving OR receiving team, although they had a positive balance in that area.  They weren’t the best spiking team, although they were great at scoring out of system.  They weren’t the best blocking team (in terms of percentage of opponent’s attacks blocked), in fact they were the worst.  They weren’t the best at minimising errors.  They were the best in point differential after 21, which seems like it should be important somehow.  They were the best at forcing the other teams into errors.  Although in neither area were they the best by so much that it would seem to be decisive.

My best guess is that they were the best at putting all the technical and tactical components together in a package that optimised their individual and group strengths.  And they had the best intangibles, which you could see even on TV.  Sadly we don’t have a useful stat for either of those things.

Maybe one day.


Read about the great new Vyacheslav Platonov coaching book here.

Cover v2

World League Finals – Statistical Review – Part 1

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.

photo - FIVB.com

photo – FIVB.com

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.


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.



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.

WL FINALS – ATTACK/BLOCK | Create infographics

Part 2 to follow