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Using Simple Stats and Scouting

By Fred Ader, Albuquerque, New Mexico

USA Volleyball CAP II Article

Scouting opponents is a very important tool that most coaches do not use. Every coach, no matter what level of play, wants information on their players’ performances and how well they performed in competition and practice. Implementing changes or adjustments based on scouting reports can be helpful, but chances can be taken and critical positioning can be misleading to players.  Statistics also should be used for practice planning and making adjustments between competitions. 

I have been coaching volleyball for over 20 years, from adult to junior level. I’ve been a player-coach while coaching in the military and competing overseas and have coached in the Southwest area of the United States. As an analytical athlete and coach, I see advantages to using strategies that allow better match-ups against opponents. For example, I take statistics and share them with my team on a daily basis.  Each practice, we set passing goals, serving, and rotational efficiency goals.

Coaches make small decisions that can win or lose matches and scouting gives information which will assist in making those decisions.  When the referee blows his whistle, we sometimes react more negatively if the match-ups are not set up right or the opponent dominates the first part of the match. What do we do and how can we become better decision-makers before the first blow of the whistle?  We thrive on wanting this information, so the right decisions are made at a moment in time.

There are many statistical applications that can be bought, created, or downloaded.  They range from simple to complex. Most electronic statistics apps come in certain basic packages (team-up, serve, pass, dig, assist, kills, block, points per rotation, substitute, and errors) which are free to the public. For the advanced users, fees are attached to access more advanced parts of packages. Such programs can provide real-time statistics and provide information about an opponent’s characteristics. These are great tools for coaches to apply tactics or strategies. My only concern about these tools is that they can keep you from watching the game. The most important part in taking statistics is the human element.  Sometimes student athletes view and take stats on players so much but don’t realize what is going on or they take their statistics as a form of negative reinforcement.  I like to keep stats and coach at the same time, but I also like players to keep stats so they have a different view of the game.  But how accurate are player-kept statistics?

For the past four years, I’ve developed something very simple and user-friendly for parents, players and foreign volunteer students to use. Certain statistical attributes of skills can be vital for coaches’ decisions; for instance, serving (how effective are players at serving and are they disrupting the opponent’s offensive system?), passing (how are players passing against opponents’ serves?), hitting (are players hitting effectively? how is my setter distributing the ball?), and blocking (are we scoring with blocking?). Using somewhat manageable techniques such as tally scoring, taking stats can be less stressful. The tally scoring system and number system can provide me a reasonable idea on which to base decisions.

Information gained from statistics can also serve as a tool for practice planning.  As I see it, the pipeline to an effective team is SERVING and SERVE RECEIVE.  Included in this, the efficiency of these skills is best measured by statistics.  During tournaments, I ask my assistants the following questions: who are my top two passers and is my setter distributing the ball effectively to the hitters to keep their defense off-balance?

Most teams who compete are very predictable and comfortable with one or two line-ups. If scouting is done properly, setting your team’s line-up can be a breeze. Here are several ideas that I tend to think about before setting my line-up: 1) Do I implement a strong service receiving team? 2) Did I match-up their strong hitters with my strong blockers?  3) Do I have my most effective defenders in the game on all rotations?

Minor adjustments in the process can also be made through substitutions. But the question stands, how effective are your substitute players, and general simple statistics can make those decisions easier.

I’m a firm believer in team scouting my opponents, looking at their lineups, where they are on the court, where they are most effectively scoring their kills, serving patterns, setter commitment on defense, what defensive positioning they are using, and setting patterns of the setter (more to the middle, left-side, right-side or combination). These are the elements I apply when setting my team’s line-up and also training my players. You cannot underestimate teams today -- they can be very unpredictable and unorthodox in their play.

The one thing I’ve learned this season is how well basic statistics can reflect a player’s performance and how can it dictate the outcome of a match, if done properly. Showing your opponent a surprise attack or an unexpected play is easier when coaches know what to expect from opponents.  But it all comes down to players’ knowledge that can be enhanced by using efficient statistics.

In closing, no matter what form of statistical data you use during competition or training, it is important to share this information with players so that they can make adjustments as well. Today, most teams are using these applications.  But I know for sure that keeping some form of statistics for your players and knowing what to scout for can be vital for the performance of your team and the development of your players. Keep in mind, whatever works for you, use it. It is not necessary to spend hundreds of dollars on a complicated application that is not user-friendly.  Develop your own style of success and stick with it. Create a system where coaches, players, or even parents can comprehend and can assist in the compilation of recording game and practice statistics.