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.
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.