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Thinking Critically About Volleyball Serving Strategy

volleyball-serve-usa-menAt the University of Minnesota, Mike Hebert introduced me to the works of Dr. Paul Arrington. Dr. Arrington is a humble man from Hawaii that has been around volleyball for many years.  He has coached juniors for over 25 years in Hawaii, much of his work has been published by the AVCA, he is quoted in countless books, and he is now an Assistant Coach at Dartmouth University.  He chose Dartmouth because he prefers to live in a small town.

Dr. Arrington spends countless hours studying and researching top programs.  He compiles a wealth of data to come to factual conclusions that often proves or disproves common volleyball theory.  Dr. Mike Hebert believes Dr. Arrington’s work is consistent with the late, great Dr. Jim Coleman, one of the early revolutionary strategists of volleyball.  That’s a lot of volleyball doctors 🙂

I have been fortunate to get a glimpse of Dr. Arrington’s philosophies and his great volleyball mind.  He has been gracious enough to let me reprint some of his work on my little corner of the web.  Please enjoy.

Thinking Critically About Serving Strategy, Part III

In volleyball, accurate serve reception passing is definitely the key to an effective offense.  Coaches spend considerable time developing serving strategies that will counteract the opposing teams serve reception ability and force the serve rpaul-arringtoneceive team out of their offensive game plan.

There are many factors the coach needs to consider in developing an effective serving strategy. A few of these are: the opponent’s serve receive formation, the presence of poor passers in the formation, the presence of a dominant attacker in the formation, how well the opponents pass different types of serves, and perhaps most importantly the skill of the servers or his or her team.

In Parts I and II of this series, the impact of different types of serves, service velocity and serving angles were explored.  In this study, the impact of serves that force the passer to move will be evaluated.  One of the things in this era of jump serving that seems to have been forgotten is the impact of the accurate placement of serves.

Statistics for three hundred and sixteen serve receptions in top 25 NCAA Division I women’s matches were evaluated.  Serve receptions were evaluated on a traditional 3-2-1-0 basis, and on whether the passer had to move one or more steps right, left, forward, or backward to pass, or made a forearm pass or two hand face pass without moving.  Serves that hit the net and ace serves with no real attempt at making a pass were not included in the study.  The different type of serve (floater, jump float, or jump top spin) was not taken into account.

The following results were obtained:

Passer                              Serve Receive Average
Did not move (forearm)              2.65
Did not move (facepass)            2.10
Moved right                              1.57
Moved left                                1.81
Moved forward                          1.79
Moved backward                      1.73

It can readily be seen that simply forcing the passer to move is very effective in forcing serve reception errors.  This will subsequently result in an ineffective serve reception offense and an advantage for the serving team.

The most effective serves were those that forced the passer to move to her right.  These were followed closely by those that forced the passer to move backward, forward or to her left.  Forcing the passer to move backward is not as simple as it used to be.  This is largely due to the recent rule changes that allow serve reception by the overhead two hand face pass with the relaxation of ball handling calls on first passes.  High serves that in the past would have forced the passer to back pedal are now passed with a two-hand face pass with a high degree of accuracy. There are individual players and teams as well, who choose to backpedal and use a forearm pass instead of face passing high serves. For these players who chose to back pedal and use the forearm pass instead of taking the high serve with two hands, their serve reception average was significant less (1.73 as compared to 2.10 for those passing with face passes).

Taking all of this into account perhaps coaches should reconsider very accurate serve placement as a significant part of their serving strategy since simply forcing the passer to move to either side or forward decreases significantly the chances of having to defend against the opponent’s 3 option offense on every serve reception.

Assuming a three person serve receive formation, the passers occupy less than 9 of the 30 foot wide court to say nothing of the 15 or more feet between them and the net.  It should not be that difficult at these high levels of competition, paraphrasing Yogi Berra, “to serve them where they ain’t.”   Yet in this study, fully two-thirds of the serves were on a direct line to the passers-they either didn’t move, or moved forward or backward only.  Even worse on over one-third of the serves, the passer did not have to move at all.  Even if the serves were directed into the court in a random fashion only one-third of them should be in a direct line to the passer, and certainly much less than one-third would be directly to the passer.  It would therefore seem that the servers might be focusing on the passer instead of the holes in the passing patterns.  The servers must learn to focus on the empty spots not the passer.

Obviously it is probably counter productive if “lollipop” serves must be utilized to be accurate.  However, if the servers can continue to serve with the velocity and trajectories they presently use and improve even slightly on making the players move right, left or forward, the impact on the opponents serve receive offense will be significant. This will in turn result in more points for the serving team.

Since this study shows the significant impact of making the passer move at high level NCAA Division I competition, one would expect that the this impact would be even more profound at the club and high school levels and also at lower levels of collegiate competition.  Coaches need to use a serving strategy that forces the serve receive passers to move, and they need to instill this importance upon their players during practice sessions.  The coach’s mantra needs to be “Make the passer move!”

5 comments

  1. Where can we find some more of Paul Arrington’s work? (Likes parts 1 and 2)

  2. Where can we find some more of Paul Arrington’s work? (Likes parts 1 and 2)

  3. While a lot of information on his tactics aren’t available, they say that Daryl Morey is on the cutting edge of statistical analysis. He is currently the GM of the Houston Rockets. While it doesn’t seem that the Rockets are all of the sudden a stellar team, his analysis are intriguing to say the least. Here is a link from the NY times on his philosophy, regarding Shane Battier…

    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/15/magazin
    e/15Battier-t.html?_r=1&ref=magazine&pagewanted=all

  4. While a lot of information on his tactics aren’t available, they say that Daryl Morey is on the cutting edge of statistical analysis. He is currently the GM of the Houston Rockets. While it doesn’t seem that the Rockets are all of the sudden a stellar team, his analysis are intriguing to say the least. Here is a link from the NY times on his philosophy, regarding Shane Battier…

    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/15/magazin
    e/15Battier-t.html?_r=1&ref=magazine&pagewanted=all

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