Beach Volleyball Strategy – an Analysis of Defense and Shot Selection

Posted on 01 February 2010 by Chuck Rey

Darren Baker is a friend of mine that’s been playing beach volleyball for years.  Darren began playing volleyball at a competitive level since 1998.  Cutting his teeth on beach/sand volleyball while also playing club volleyball at the University of San Diego before returning to the Augusta, GA area.  He has played numerous outdoor tournaments at an Open level, including Columbia: AVP, Clash and Crown, EEVB, and Fudpuckers events.  Personal highlights are having played against or with Olympians Jose Loiola, Ricci Luyties, Alan Alan, and Phil Dalhausser.phil dalhausser mike morrison Beach Volleyball Strategy   an Analysis of Defense and Shot Selection volleyball

By: Darren Baker

Looking at the statistics of doubles beach volleyball one might say to me: “But Darren, look at the number of blocks vs number of championships in last season’s AVP tour.  The top two blockers, Phil had 2.11 blocks per game and Sean had 1.71 blocks per game this translated into nine (9) championships, first on tour, and Hyden-Scott had four (4) championships second on tour.  You said that this isn’t important in DRILL practice”  At first glance there seems to be an undeniable correlation between blocks per game and championships.  Also lets look at digs per game, Casey Jennings who did not win a championship last year had the most digs at .39 more than John Hyden (the second best), but not as significant percentagewise as Phil’s .4 more blocks per game than the next closest.  All of the top backfield players hover around five digs per game.  I would suggest ignoring this stat as a predictor of elite play Todd Rogers is way down at 7th, and Sean Rosenthal is at 8th, both of whom won championships.  In other words, any top big man can find a backfield player who has around five (5) blocks per game, there are other qualities that are more important for winning championships.  More important to me is the most served player’s sideout and transition percentage during game.  As a big man, look at this stat and select the best defender from this.  If you are getting served regularly, also take into account setting ability.  As stated before this should be worked on in practice, in the game only aggressive attacking and conservative but accurate passing is called for.

Also, because Phil has the most blocks per game on tour, one would think that that would translate into Todd having more digs than anyone else on tour, in addition to more opposition’s hitting errors, but I do not have that stat.  This is not the case.  Todd has considerably less digs than the top defensive backfield player: Casey Jennings.  I would even guess that he is progressively getting less digs per season and not more.  If this is true: WOW!  I would say, however:  “Not a big deal.”  Read further for why.

What does this mean?  First, this means that total stuff blocks per game probably has little-to-no affect on backfield digs, but the opposite may not be true.  Second, even at 6’9,” Phil is nowhere near a very idealistic three (3) blocks per game, and Todd does not break an average of five (5) digs per game.  Now, because in the heat of the game there is usually only one thing that a locked-in player thinks about, and that is to make the best play on the next touch that they can.  One MIGHT suggest a cognitive goal, in-game, to be a combined average of seven (7) blocks and digs a game.  At first glance this would seem a great goals, and this would be consistent with Dalhausser-Rogers’ 6.92 and Hyden-Scott’s 7.03, but this does not tell the whole story.  Not taking into effect Phil’s digs and Todd blocks etc, which would probably bring their total above seven (7) combined per game.

Look at Casey Jennings and Matt Fuerbringer’s 7.06 combined blocks and digs per game, yet no championships last season.  This means that blocking is vastly more important that a secondary: total first touch defensive plays per game.  Looking at the stats that are available that is.

What does this mean for Joe average Open player looking to break into the professional tour, and for that matter top professional teams?

This means that the SINGLE MOST important in-game strategy for a doubles team should be to:  maximize blocks per game!  This means that the backfield defender should concentrate all thinking energy and experience into how to improve their partner’s blocks per game.  Even more than this, though good to have aces, a forced bad pass by a strong serve followed by a pull by the forward defender may not be as important as drawing the set close to the net (by serving short or deap, for instance)  The goal being: two (2) blocks per game for the defender that always blocks (the ideal situation, just look at the equal height team of Hyden-Scott) or for close to 50-50 split-blocking one (1) block per game for each blocker.

A goal of three (3) blocks per game though it appears to be a good goal is basically unreachable in the long run, if you find yourself almost at this goal, you will probably be the best team in the world.  The goal of two (2) blocks per game is a high goal by anyone’s standards, and will probably translate into championships in doubles at any level, any better is just icing on the cake!

Case in point is the gold medal team of Dalhausser-Rogers.  I would guess that the reason for their success in the last three-plus (3+) years of AVP play is twofold:  as discussed in the first blog, an emphasis in practice of Todd’s ability to pass and side out, and Phil’s ability to set, and an emphasis in game of enhancing Phil’s ability to stuff block the ball, in whatever way possible.  Though probably not conscience, this is where Todd’s ability to coach is enough to win them championships without a sideline coach and absence of Phil having traditional coaching in high school or college, noticeable by his goofy-footed approach (negative) and non-traditional great hands for a middle (positive).

For Phil this means, don’t get rid of Todd yet (in looking forward to the next Olympics), because he still has the ability to elevate your play to the best in the world, as proven by last seasons accolades and winnings.  If you find that Todd cannot keep up his sideout and transition game, or digs drop significantly below four per game, and your setting and blocking numbers have not changed, you need to look for a new partner in order to win gold in the next Olympics.

For everyone else this means that though digging and setting are important parts of the game and should not be ignored during PRACTICE, perhaps enhancing the blocker’s ability to stuff the ball and aggressive shot selection should be the first and second most important goals, respectively, for both players during IN-GAME doubles strategy.

Be Sociable, Share!
  • more Beach Volleyball Strategy   an Analysis of Defense and Shot Selection volleyball

22 Comments For This Post

  1. Darren Says:

    I thought of a great followup, here you go:

    In sports statistics there are six types of numbers: the keystone stat, the overlooked WOW!, meaningful, positive but neutral, and stupid or meaningless. I am going to give you an example of all five.

    The Stupid stat: In one on one matches, fifty percent (50%) of the teams always lose. I heard this one in my recent IMPACT training as a volleyball coach. This is stupid because the best teams in the world usually win well over 90% of their matches. Do you want to be a mediocre or poor team and win 50% or less of your matches, or do you want to be a great team and win at least 80%? Better yet, why would you focus on a stat that places you as a mediocre team at your level? Here is a meaningful one: the best teams win: 50% of their CHAMPIONSHIPS, now that is meaningful whether it is true or not. Moral: after the game, lose gracefully, even champions sometimes lose.

    The Positve but Neutral stat: For current short court doubles volleyball, I outlined above that getting the most digs per game in a season does not equate to winning championships. This is one of those ego stats that have less baring on winning championships, good for side-bets though….

    Another Positive but Neutral stat: Aces per game. I would guess that teams that get more aces per game generally win more matches, good to know. But, are above average aces per game are enough to win championships? Nope, this is my personal viewpoint.

    The Keystone stat: The one that I outlined in the article above was: blocks per game. This is not a WOW stat, anyone looking at the numbers can see that it is true, but how to apply that to play, that is more important and a keystone to better play and RESULTS!

    The MeaningFUL stat: Here I am going to give three examples.

    Meaningful stat 1): In a doubles in the third game there are fewer points. Therefore you are less likely to get a high total of blocks per game or any other per game stat for that matter. Why is this meaningful? Because if you keep the same per game stat goals for the third and deciding game, this should elevate your play to the level that you need to win the match. In other words: 2 blocks in the third game/set will be enough to win you the match: PERIOD. Percentage wise it is harder to get those 2 blocks in the final and deciding game, but essential, ie. keystone.

    Meaningful stat 2) The second game is the most important game for winning matches. I would guess, without looking at metadata, that between 80-90% of the teams that win the match win the second game, the first game is not as important, (a positive but neutral stat). That's all teams that win in two sets, and most teams that win the second and then the third because of their momentum. I would guess >50%. This is meaningful for one reason: timeout strategy. In close games don't take timeouts until the end of the game. When losing in blowouts, but only first losses, REMAIN CALM, take timeouts late in the game, but not at the end, it's too late then. Take them late so that you can get back the momentum, the ball, and get those blocks! In second loss games be quicker on the trigger with timeouts, ie don't let the game get away of you!

    Here is a commonly perpetuated Meaningful stat that everyone (who plays outdoor) knows 3) The side with a strong wind in your face is the good side. Why? Because you want to start on that side every time. It is easier to get service aces, sideouts, and in general; points.

    Here is another stupid stat: It is easier to get a point by siding out then by serving (in rally score). Here is how people use this stat: on games that have no clear side advantage winners of the toss will take receive!

    If we look at an overlooked WOW stat we see why this is meaningless. The meaningless stat is a just a well perpetuated macho fallacy.

    The WOW stat: the team that has LESS side out opportunities wins EVERY TIME! Don't force yourself or your weaker than you at sidingout partner into a situation that is more likely to get you to lose. Wherever possible choose to serve first! You may even get more blocks this way.

  2. Cade Says:

    You researched your stats! I liked that article.
    They once did a huge study on indoor volleyball and found that the worst thing to do is miss a serve. Not sure why they needed to conduct a study on that, it's seems pretty obvious.

  3. Darren Says:

    Actually, I sent Chuck a article on the differences between indoor preparation and in-game strategy, and outdoor preparation and in-game strategy.

    Simplistically: Indoor: blocking & serving/(jump serving) during practice 'drills,' defense/serve receive for scrimmages/in-game.

    Outdoor: siding out/setting/passing drills, blocking strategy for scrimmages/pickup play.

    I figured if you can jump serve (topspin not float) a volleyball indoor, where it might matter more, then, you can hit from anywhere on the court, rightside, leftside, middle, back row.

    But you have to be able to serve standing floats for consistency (from the study that you read, and from my experience). The other stuff would be: working with your partner and team to improve team blocking and timing (indoor), or set location and shot selection (outdoor) skills.

    The article he published above is better in my opinion. Only problem for 'An analysis of defense and shot selection', is that it is just one year of data, so its not really a longitudinal study. I'm not a statistician (I have taken some classes), so I'm not sure if the numbers are statistically significant, but to an untrained eye it seems so.

    I wish someone would figure out how I can improve my triples finishes, ;-)

    Thank you very much for the compliment!

  4. Darren Says:

    Actually, I sent Chuck a article on the differences between indoor preparation and in-game strategy, and outdoor preparation and in-game strategy.

    Simplistically: Indoor: blocking & serving/(jump serving) during practice 'drills,' defense/serve receive for scrimmages/in-game.

    Outdoor: siding out/setting/passing drills, blocking strategy for scrimmages/pickup play.

    I figured if you can jump serve (topspin not float) a volleyball indoor, where it might matter more, then, you can hit from anywhere on the court, rightside, leftside, middle, back row.

    But you have to be able to serve standing floats for consistency (from the study that you read, and from my experience). The other stuff would be: working with your partner and team to improve team blocking and timing (indoor), or set location and shot selection (outdoor) skills.

    The article he published above is better in my opinion. Only problem for 'An analysis of defense and shot selection', is that it is just one year of data, so its not really a longitudinal study. I'm not a statistician (I have taken some classes), so I'm not sure if the numbers are statistically significant, but to an untrained eye it seems so.

    I wish someone would figure out how I can improve my triples finishes, ;-)

    Thank you very much for the compliment!

  5. Roger Says:

    You should PRACTICE the same way that you are going to PLAY in a game. Games are won and lost in practice. You should not practice anything differently then play differently in a game.

    Saying that stuff blocking the ball is the single most important aspect of the game is just absurd.

    Todd and Phil aren't any “better” in championship games, they are the same. That is what makes them great. Where other people have “nerves” and are emotional rollercoasters, Todd and Phil are the same in championship game 3's as they are in Todd's backyard practicing. That is what makes them so great. Look at Todd and Phil's blocks or digs per game, or whatever stat you think is the most important, in the first game of tournaments, then in the championship games. The same. Look at other teams – let's say casey and fur – they'll do really well, then in championship games they will not. Stats will prove it.

    Saying stuff blocking the ball as much as u can is just ridiculous. You should try to block it every play, that's what volleyball is. That's what a block is there for. Serve easy so you get them to set closer to the net? ugh. I was sent this article because of how crazy it was. Now that I read it, I just had to comment.

  6. grandpres Says:

    you cant just decide you want to get more blocks in the third game and magically get them. thats just a crazy idea. why not try to get 3 in the earlier games then?

    teams choose to recieve because teams side out more than they score on their serve. serving first in order to get 1 extra block every 10.5 points is a ridiculous idea.

    serving tough and controlling the serve on your side are WAY more important areas to focus on.

  7. Darren Says:

    Are you saying that funnelling the ball or beer is better?

  8. I am who I am: Darren Says:

    Then siding out? Ok, play better in the first game then…. YOU are the one getting 2.11 blocks a game? Are you playing indoor? Try getting two blocks in a match, talk to the Penn State left side, then tell me about playing defense. That's indoor, what do you think she worked more on? Blocking during practice or blocking in 6 a side?

    Now for outdoor, you better believe teams that side out beat teams that serve aces, EVERY time, the only thing better than practicing siding out with two players in beach is practicing siding out with a blocker ie. 3 players.

    That way you don't bounce a ball that is 3 times lighter than what they give children who they don't think with really want to play, and 4 times lighter than balls that people who play for fun play with. Sorry man, face the facts.

  9. Darren Says:

    I read this wrong the first time…. Ok in reply to one who can really block get a block every 10.5, because I average about one every 20 I would guess, is this. I have never played better defense EXCEPT with someone who could stuff block the ball every 8.5 points. And I am the same height as he is. Go to EEVB.net watch the final with the two short guys, and tell me that the blocker isn't doing the most work.

  10. I am who I am: Darren Says:

    And by work, I mean effort, skill, you name it. I saw this guy sandbag and lose in person in my first Mrytle Beach tournament the day we played Scary Jerry. The guy is GOOD, trust me. He used to be friends with Doug Smith I believe.

  11. Darren Says:

    Talk to Allen Iverson 'practice we talking about practice.' Some professionals can do that, some have to rest so they can bring their best to the games, and work their minds instead of their asses. That's why I'm typing now instead of playing. Not everyone was born to play volleyball….:-( for the rest of us, we try to do what we love, and need statistics to give us every advantage that we can get. ps. my calling is persussion on a specially tuned 'vase.' Simple, and I like it, I hope that not everyone cheats at fucking up guitars as much as they sometimes do when I play one of those. But at least I can control a vase (remember make music). Anyway, I tried to practice with you, when Phil knew how good my brother WAS, and he is better now, caries me every time…all my brother's do. Later man, even a practice partner like a ball boy for 21 floats to the middle of the court then 12, in 5 minutes and 2 minutes will life anyone up.

  12. Darren Says:

    If one person has a goal for: 2 out of three of their serves getting a point, and the other getting 4 out of 7 with the side out percentage…and rate possibilities… ie 3 for three is an ace and 0 for seven is an epic fail then you can have full goals during the games.

  13. Darren Says:

    Oh, for those of you that don't know…15 points in the desiding game, indoor or outdoor, new rally scoring rules.

  14. Husnir7 Says:

    hi i was wondering if he does personal training?? please let me know asap thank you!!

  15. Kaylachilds Says:

    Hi, Im wondering about your personal coaching. Th previous comment about it was posted for me, I live in the Augusta Area and am desperately looking for a trainer! Please let me know asap! Thank you!!!!

  16. Darrenryanbaker Says:

    Hey, I'm willing to give lessons, in addition (and this used to be on here), a two block a game strategy is very proactive and will win you championships. That was in the original article. I'd like to play with someone who sets goals per points which is being Professed falsely and my idea from Shane Kitterman, and elevated his play at the Clash (gold bars) to the Open Level….the idea is 2 out of 3 serves for power, and 5 out of 7 on a side change for advantage.

  17. Darrenryanbaker Says:

    Kayla Childs you are ugly, follow through on something.

  18. Darrenryanbaker Says:

    Is this presot? Damn I thought he was in retirement….

  19. Darrenryanbaker Says:

    This about compression.

  20. To Darren Says:

    Darren, the stat you heard at the IMPACT course was not actually a study. It was meant to be a comical look at how much importance some coaches, especially at the youth level, put on winning and losing rather than the improvement of their players over time.

  21. TG Says:

    Stats in general are meaningless. I can’t look at a stat sheet and tell if a dig is on target. A dig that my blocker has to run off the court to retrieve and then I free ball over carries the same weight as a perfect dig to my partner resulting in a great set and termination. The true measure is how you convert digs into points, that is where Todd and Phil are successful. I respectfully disagree with the powerful credence that you lend to blocking an extra ball per game and the relevance to wins. A better measure is how many balls are hit out because Phil’s block is in the hitters head. Again I refer to my original comment that stats in general are meaningless. The only one that matters is the W.

  22. Darren Says:

    I beg to differ, otherwise why would people even take stats at all? For their health? Yes probably, but also for the W. I love women.

Leave a Reply

Coach Chuck Rey is Assistant Coach at Miami University


Prior to this position, he was Assistant Coach at Winthrop University, the University of Minnesota and Georgia Southern University.

Continue Reading

Social Icons Facebook - Chuck Rey Twitter Coach Rey RSS Volleyball Coach Chuck Rey Email Volleyball Coach Chuck Rey
John Kessel Blog
AVCA Blog
The Net Live - podcast
VolleyTalk - forum