Tag Archives: World League

World League Winners And Losers

Today I heard an interesting tidbit.  Since the inception of World League in 1990, The winners of the competition in an Olympic year have gone on the win the Olympic Gold Medal 50% of the time.  When the sun sets on Rio at the end of the this year’s Games, that figure will be lower.  Inexplicably, World League was won this year by a team that had not qualified for the the Olympic Games.  If your memory goes back to 2012, you might not be so surprised.  All three 2012 medallists treated World League that year as an impediment to their preparation.  Indeed they were so blatant that for this year’s event FIVB introduced a special rule to ensure that teams would send close to their best group to each match.  In response, teams tried to manage their situations, and players, as best they could.  And Serbia won.  But winning and losing are not always on the scoreboard.  Who were the real winners and losers?

WINNERS

Serbia were the obvious winners on the scoreboard.  With only this event to focus on for the year and the disappointment of Berlin to drive them, they had a great tournament, including beating (Olympic Gold Medallist?) Brazil twice.  They have a young team, and coach, and this year will have made them stronger.

Brazil won all their matches against Olympic participants, highlighted by beating a strong USA team playing with the second six.  Although Murilo is now out for Rio, they showed that they are definitely the favourites for gold

DISAPPOINTED BUT NOT STRESSED TOO MUCH

France rested players at key moments, including Kevin Tillie for the whole finals.  They will be disappointed to have lost again to Poland after leading 2-0, but will be delighted to have beaten Italy handily while playing below full strength.  They showed only glimpses of their very best, but showed that their standard performance is now very high.

NOT LOSERS, BUT PRETTY STRESSED

Poland apart from the qualification in Japan, the summer has been a difficult one for Poland.  Key players missed big chunks of the season for rest and injury rehab.  They never got a chance to play their full team together and lost at home in the finals.  Of course, nothing is lost.  They showed great fight in many matches despite their difficulties and I am personally hoping they will play France in a big match in Rio.  That game will be huge.

USA and Italy were the two teams that played their full teams in the finals.  USA lost to the Brazilian second six to miss out on the semi finals and they seem to lack something of the cohesion that was qualified them so convincingly at World Cup less then 12 months ago.  Italy lost France playing without their starting setter for the bronze medal.  While playing better than the last months of the Berrutto era, they seemed to lack the consistency and perhaps also some of the quality of some of their predecessors.  Both teams have some serious work to do, not least on their confidence in the next couple of weeks.

LOSERS

Serbia Can anyone say ‘Mexico’*.

Russia missed out on the finals after a series of lacklustre performances.  It seems strange to count out the reigning Olympic Gold Medallists before the tournament even begins but nothing they have done since the 2014 World Championships has given any indication that they are playing for medals.  Even master coach Alekno doesn’t seem to be making much of an impact beyond the qualification in January.  It is tough to see how they will suddenly make a jump to being a contender in Rio.

FIVB Can anyone say ‘Mexico’


*This is meant as no slight to Mexico who fulfilled the requirements asked of them.  It is also not to suggest that Serbia is the only ‘loser’ here.  Germany were actually closer to qualification.

 

Video Challenge or Hawkeye?

I recently heard a volleyball podcaster extol the virtues of the the Hawkeye System being used now in (some) FIVB events for the video challenge.  The system uses 16 cameras that track the ball at every moment along its path and creates an animation which then shows exactly the place the ball landed.  He went on to say that this version was much better than a match official watching a video to determine whether the ball landed in or out.

The argument makes some intuitive sense.  The picture is very clear and of course, computers are computers.  It is also unquestionably better and easier for spectators and TV viewers to understand what has happened.   There is however one fairly important point.  Why is it better to use a computer generated representation of where the ball should have landed than an actual video of where the ball actually landed.   Is it because we don’t trust a match official to be honest with what he is seen on the video?  Is our trust level really that low?

The video below shows pretty clearly that a computer generated representation is not necessarily reality.  And the comments in the World Of Volley article (here) show that people will still believe Hawk Eye even when there is contrary evidence.

Personally, I vote for reality.  No matter how pretty the pictures are.

 

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

SERVE – PASS BATTLE

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

YOU HAVE TO MINIMISE ERRORS

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

WHY DID FRANCE WIN?

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

Why I Love Volleyball

I could also have titled this ‘Volleyball in the 21st Century’.  This is a great example of the latest evolution of volleyball and why I think it is the most dynamic, spectacular and exciting sport in the world.

And one specific point… I have written often enough about how volleyball has changed in the last two or three years.  This rally contains nine net crosses and not one high ball.  As recently as 2012, at least one of the teams would have tried to slow the game by setting a high, high ball, which in all probability the spiker would have tipped short to position 1.  Now, they are always attacking, always looking for a place they can attack the block and defence.

Anyway, enjoy…

Playing To Win

Coaching volleyball, or indeed any sport, for a living is tough.  It is not only the work that is difficult but it can become all consuming to the extent that it affects your personal and family life, and even your personality.  It can change your perspective (a loss is a disaster and a win is merely the postponement of the next disaster).  It can change your sense of humour* (if you have sensitive players who take everything personally).  It can change your sense of reality (an officiating error against you is proof of cheating, while one your favour is proof of your quality).  And it can absolutely affect your sense of irony.  As you can imagine, with no perspective, humour or sense of reality, there can be no irony.

Which brings us to the above video.  Although I certainly have my lapses, I think that I have done a reasonable job of avoiding the pitfalls described above.  The point in the video is from the bronze medal match from the 2015 CEV Champions League.  It shows my team (Berlin Recycling Volleys) create a great opportunity to win the match, and then make a ‘simple’, ‘unforced’ error.  My reaction is a rueful smile and a silent expletive.  The reason for the smile is at that exact moment of time I remembered a moment at training about a week before in which I implored my team (again) to always force the high ball set close to the net and further emphasised my point by saying ‘I would rather make one direct error and nine perfect sets than ten ‘okay’ sets’.  I never thought those words would come back to bite us at quite that moment**.   Luckily my sense of irony has not yet been destroyed by my lack of perspective.

During the recent World League Finals tournament it became something of a bugbear of the commentator when teams made similar errors in setting high balls.  His mantra was that in those situations the player should always set the ball on the 10 feet from the net to be safe.  Fair enough, although it could have been the players were trying to set 10 feet from the net but didn’t know where that was.  But I digress.  My problem was that he did comment that the dozens and dozens of great sets were still not the safe option, just ‘luckily’ not errors.  On those occasions he always praised the attacker who made the point and simply didn’t mention the set or setter who made it possible.

There are two important points here.

Firstly, you must be absolutely consistent in your demands of the players.  If you demand aggression, you cannot fault errors that result from what you demand.  Conversely if you demand conservatism, you should fault aggression, even if it results in a successful action.

Secondly, the key concept that led to the errors that so annoyed the commentator was that the current generation of players / teams / coaches is playing to win.  Previous generations’ first instinct was conservative, to play not to lose.  Playing to win means searching for solutions that lead directly to points which in turn means that errors can occur.  Playing not to lose means searching for solutions that give your opponent the chance to make errors.  This leads to what I saw in the 2012 Olympics which was teams who often seemed to be playing ‘with’ each other in a kind of choreographed dance.  It can certainly be annoying at times to see a service error at set point or spike aimed at the top joint of the middle blockers finger land untouched in a spectators lap but those errors arise from exactly the kind of thinking that also leads to the countless successful actions that make modern volleyball such an astonishingly spectacular sport.  You can’t have one without the other.


*Doing anything in the absence of humour is, not surprisingly, an incredible painful experience.

**To keep perspective, we might have made five such errors over the course of the season and I am almost certain the player in question made only that one, including nine months worth of training and dozens of more difficult ones.

World League 2015 – Five Questions Answered

On Wednesday afternoon, before the first match of the World League Finals in Brazil, official FIVB commentator Paul Sunderland revealed that he was really looking forward to this event as best World League finals for years.  The reason? Teams took World League more seriously this year and played a lot more with their top players.  I agreed completely.  Sadly, it was one of the few moments over the ensuing five days that Paul and I agreed on something.  But that isn’t important.  What is important are the questions that were raised over those five days.  I will attempt to answer them.

Does this mean France the best team in the world? No. It does not. Most of the top teams played this tournament at their maximum and twelve months on from last year’s World Championships, all three medallists were different.  Every team in Brazil won at least one match.  Serbia lost to Italy who were in a massive state of upheaval, but went on to make the final.  France were one point away against the USA from not qualifying for the semifinals, but won the event.  Both semifinals went to five sets, with one team coming back from 0-2. What it means is that there are maybe nine (these six plus Russia, Germany, Iran, even Bulgaria) really good teams who can win against any of the other teams on a given day.  But the level is so close that none of those teams will win on every given day.  Basically in world volleyball we have the dream scenario for the NBA.

Does this mean France plays the best volleyball? This is obviously a personal preference but, yes. They do.  As a purist, I would prefer them to be a little better in block but their defence more than makes up for it.  They are fast, skilled and can improvise better than anyone when the moment requires it.  Brazil is not a long way behind and the opening night match between the two of them was about as good an advertisement for volleyball as we can get.  For quality the France – USA match was not far behind.  Overall the game is going through some changes. After the 2012 Olympics there was a huge generational change in world volleyball and the current generation of players (or the current generation of coaches?) are more flexible, more aggressive and less risk averse.  Players like Earvin N’Gapeth, Uros Kovacevic, Michal Kubiak, and even Lucas Saatkamp are looking for solutions to game situations in places that noone has looked before.  Over the last week we saw outside hitters hitting first tempo in transition, players attacking from the backrow on the second contact and middle blockers running slides in transition.  Non setters were prepared to be aggressive when playing the second ball.  Teams were playing to win.  Which, as we all know is completely different to playing not to lose.

Why are the teams so close to each other?

That is really a great question! I can come up with few possible reasons. I think one reason is due to the changing economics of volleyball at club level, which is too complicated to go into any further right now.  Other possibilities include the better players not all being born in the same place (i.e. an accident of history), the age profile of the teams leading to greater inconsistency (i.e. generational change), or more aggressive style of play leading to greater unpredictability in performance (i.e. evolution of the game).  Or it could be due to the absence of Cuba.  Although they would have a relative weakness at setter, their best group would be the most talented and might be dominant in this era.  Or it could just be that it is still a year out from the Olympics and teams still aren’t ready.  A lot can happen in the next twelve months.  Which segues neatly into question 4…

Who is the favourite for the Olympics? No clue.  Actually that is not true. Brazil is the favourite.  For one thing they are the only team who can count on qualifying.  For another the statistics from the World Championships review series that I posted last week, revealed something very interesting.  While every other team had clear strengths and weaknesses, Brazil was near the top in every single skill area. There are demonstrably the best team.  Over time.  Sadly / thankfully the winner of the Olympics is not the best team, it is the team that wins the final.  That makes a difference.  All of the top teams are capable of playing the level of volleyball required to an Olympic gold medal.  All of the top teams feature important players who are young.  They will all improve a lot of the next twelve months.  Everything after that is timing.

How excited are you for 2020?

With the exception of Murilo, all of the top players will not only still be playing in five years, but will be closer to their peaks.  So imagine the current evolution of the game, played by the players who ‘invented’ it, with the greater consistency that experience brings…

_________________________________________________________________________________________________

Read about the great new Vyacheslav Platonov coaching book here.

Cover v2

Timing Is Everything – World League 2014

There are some people who say that every point is equal, or every match is equal or other similar things that are all equally wrong.  If you have ever watched any sporting event you know that every point is not equal.  Equal in numerical value perhaps, but the point at 24-24 is not the same as the point at 0-0.  Every match is not equal.  Friendly matches are not the same as league matches and league matches are not the same as playoffs.  And the league champion is not the champion of the whole season, but the champion of the playoffs. And so on…
In all these cases, it is not winning the point or match that is important but the timing of winning that point or match.  For example, France during the 2014 World League.  They lost only three matches during the entire season and were one of the most impressive teams overall.  But one of the matches they lost was in the final of Group 2 and so they missed playing in the Final tournament that their overall performances had deserved.  Conversely Australia won only seven matches, but one of those was the one that counted, against France, and off to Florence they went.
The same theme held for the final round itself.  Italy crushed USA in the group phase in a really dominating performance, but completely lost the plot in the semi final against Brazil and finished third.  Brazil were great against Russia and Italy, but lost the final.  And USA were far from impressive in the group but played wonderfully in the final and are World League Champions for the second time.  All three teams played at the world best level during that last weekend, but only one did it at the right time.  Timing is everything…
Overall, I’m not quite sure what to make of this year’s edition.  As I’ve mentioned in the past, World League can be a funny competition because not everyone takes it 100% seriously.  USA won, but were the only top team to play the whole competition at full speed.  Brazil, seemed to also play mostly their top lineup but were not impressive until the semi final.
However, while the results might not give us too many hints about the upcoming World Championships, the performances might.
The USA played an excellent World League season, from the first weekend to the last.  The appearance of Taylor Sander has been very significant.  The use of Matt Anderson as opposite was almost as significant in that it allows two great attackers to play at once.  Looking forward to World Championships though, I would recall that in 2012, the teams that focused on World League bombed at the Olympics.
Brazil were for the most part unimpressive and only qualified for the finals in the last weekend of the Intercontinental Round.  Once they got there though, they played the best match I have seen a team play for the last two or three years in completely decimating Italy in the semi final.  They played well for the most part in the final.  Murilo was back playing at a high level, but I have no clue what to expect in Poland.
Italy seemed to do everything right.  They won in Brazil.  They rested their main guys at appropriate times.  They were great against a very good American team in the final round.  And then Brazil made them look like they were playing in slow motion.  I have rarely seen a team so completely demoralised as the Italians in that first set.  Zaytsev’s celebration after scoring a single point in the second set showed just how demoralised.  Even after having done everything right, they still had no solution after Kovar was injured.  That doesn’t bode well.
Russia did enough to make the finals but never looked close to last year’s form although they changed a lot during the Intercontinental Round partly due to injuries to Mikhaylov and Sivozhelez who won’t play World Champs (as far as I know). They do still have Muserskiy, but as with Brazil, I have no clue what they will look like at World Champs.
Ultimately the lesson from World League is that there are a few teams capable of playing at a very high but none capable of sustaining that for a whole month. Which means the World Champion, as always, will be the team that plays its best matches at the right time(s).
Because as we know, timing is everything.