5 keys to scouting your opponent

March 17, 2015, 11:10 a.m. (ET)
Originally published in VolleyballUSA, Winter 2014-15 issue
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John Speraw
Head coach of U.S. Men’s National Team, UCLA men’s team
“An important part of scouting is understanding how offenses change depending on the quality of the pass. There are huge differences between what teams do on perfect passes and what they do on passes that are at 10 feet and the same can be said on passes that are passed forward 5 to 6 feet and passes that are passed behind the setter 5 to 6 feet. Knowing what an opponent does at each of those passing locations can give your team a critical advantage.

Once the ball goes to 10 feet, you need to have an idea about the opponent’s distribution tendencies. Do they favor going outside? If so, do the hitters’ tendencies change when they have two blockers or three blockers up? How so? Also, do they set behind when the pass is at 10 feet? Do they set the “D” (behind to a back-row hitter)? If so, what’s the team’s hitting percentage for those sets, and how do the hitters’ tendencies change? Those pieces of information are important. The difference between winning and losing often comes down to your team’s side out percentage versus the other team’s side out percentage on medium passes.”

Tyler Hildebrand
Assistant indoor coach for Long Beach State’s men’s team, pro beach coach, club coach, setting consultant for U.S. Men’s National Team
“When you’re scouting at the junior level, it’s important to determine how effective the team’s D is. (This is assuming the team is running a 5-1 or a one-setter offense.) Very few 18s teams can run an effective D and even fewer can run it at the younger ages – if at all. There’s a big difference at the junior level between setting a few D’s and running it effectively. If you can eliminate that set from your preparation or leave it to just your back-row defense, then you’ll get to relieve some stress on all three blockers for half the match when the opposing team is in its 4-2’s. You’ll also be able to take better educated risk and call traps, commits, double commits if a particular tendency matches up.”

Christy Johnson-Lynch
Head women’s coach at Iowa State, former All-American setter at the University of Nebraska
“There are several questions we try to answer as we scout, in addition to the typical setting and attacking tendencies. What happens when your opponent struggles? Since the goal is to stress your opponents and force them to make adjustments, be prepared for what those adjustments will be. Will the coach sub out certain players or make some other changes? What does your opponent like to do after a timeout? Many teams like to run a back-row attack or combination play.

You might also look at match-ups. What are the most important match-ups for your team? Which of your hitters will have success against their best blockers? Who do you want your best blockers blocking? Does the opponent have any tough servers where they tend to run a lot of points? Can you rotate so that your best passing and side-out rotations are matched up against that server? Does the opponent’s coach look for match-ups? Will the opposing coach rotate and start in a different rotation if his/her team loses one set? Loses two sets? Paying attention to these tendencies and patterns will prepare your team for game-time decisions and can be the difference in winning and losing.

Rod Wilde
Former USA setter, former head coach for Pepperdine men’s team, former assistant coach for the U.S. Men’s National Team and current coach for USA Pipeline
“When scouting at the junior level, there are things you can show your team that can be of great help in their success. By taking a simple rotation shot chart on the opponent, you can give your team a lot of valuable information. Teams and setters become patterned in their plays and set distribution. If the coach can show the players the tendencies in each rotation and where the opponent’s attackers like to hit, both your front and back-row defense can be better prepared to make adjustments. Use a different colored pen for each set.

You can show the players if there was any change in options from set to set. It’s important to identify what plays and which options they like to set on serve receive in good pass and bad pass situations. There will generally be strong tendencies for each. Also, identify which hitters are getting the ball in transition. You can give additional data to the team by drawing an attack line show a + (kill), - (error) or 0 (dug ball) and then circling them if they are in transition. Another important piece of information to gather is plays that the team runs in free ball situations. Most junior teams like to run more complicated plays when they receive a free ball. Again, there will be tendencies that show which option each setter likes to set in this situation. Be sure to continue to take a shot chart during your match.

There are often adjustments that you can give the middles that are rotating out with the libero that they can take back to the court. There is a limit to what you can give to junior players without overwhelming them, but showing general tendencies for each rotation helps give them the confidence that they can mentally stay ahead of the opponent.”

John Kessel
USA Volleyball director of sport development
“The most important thing about scouting an opponent is charting their tendencies. You can get a charting manual at USAVolleyball.org that will give you all the information you’ll need. Start off by grabbing a pen and putting nine courts on a clipboard. If you’re charting hitting, number the opponent’s players in the rotation they’re in and send a parent or an assistant coach to watch the other team’s hitters. When the attacker hits, draw a line from where they hit to where the ball goes. At the end of the line, draw a dot for a kill, a circle if the ball was kept in play and a minus for an error. Sometimes, you’ll draw a plus for a ball that goes out of bounds off the top of the block. A soft hit or tip is a curly line, a hard hit is a straight line. There are great computer programs for charting, but a piece of paper and a pen works, too.”