October 31, 2007

Impact of Rally Score upon Coaching/Recruiting

A number of years ago, the change was made to Rally Scoring for College Volleyball. I knew that if we changed the way college Volleyball was scored, then we would change the sport. As programs adjusted to Rally Score, the impact of this change has become apparent upon the Coaching and Recruiting areas of College Volleyball.

Coaching - College Volleyball programs no longer train for the long matches. Because of this, physical endurance conditioning is not as important as it used to be under sideout scoring. Rally Score places a premium upon two areas - PASSING AND SERVING. If you pass well, then your are able to sideout at a higher percentage. If you serve tough, then the other team is not able to sideout at a higher percentage. Of course, anyone could argue that this has always been the case - yes it has, but not to this degree.

Passing and Sideout - With this rule change, the value of a Sideout is equal to that of a Service point. Since you have more control over a sideout, than a service point, the ability to sideout becomes more important than the ability to score points on serve. Passing dictates how well your team will sideout, simply because it allows your hitters a better opportunity to attack against a one person block. With this philosophy, a much greater percentage of limited practice time (either because of NCAA limitations, gym space, class time, etc.) should be allocated to passing and offense attack series, than to defense.

Serving - A tough, consistent serve is the best friend that your defense can have. If you can force the other team to pass the ball at the 10 foot/3 meter line, then you have made your defense 66% better. The block and back row only has to focus upon one attack option, versus three. In College Volleyball, an Outside Hitter who attacks at a .350% ratio is considered very good. If we apply this high attack percentage to the lower statistical reality of attacking a high outside set against a 2 person block and a defense that is already waiting, the defense has almost a 2 to 1 advantage that they will be successful.

While there may be times that a coach wishes to focus training effort upon some specific weak areas, I suggest that 30 percent of practice be on serve receive or a grouping of skills that serve receive is the priority, 40 percent on sideout attack series (hitting, pass and release footwork, attack patterns and combinations, coverage, free ball attack, etc.), 20 percent on serving or serving related drills and 10 percent on defensive positioning or individual defensive skills. Coaches have a tendency to spend too much time purely on defense. Remember, that while training serve receive and offense attack series, the players will receive plenty of opportunities to practice ball control and movement. Defense is great, but if your hitters are making errors, then a team is dropping points on sideout and scoring attacks!

Recruiting - The change to rally score has overemphasized the Outside Hitter position and de-emphasized the middle blocker position. The setter is still about the same. With passing and offensive attack being paramount, the outside hitter is the prime number in this equation. With good passing you can set the middle, but half the time on good passing you will set the outside hitter. On bad passing, the outside hitter will get all the sets. In simplistic addition, the outside hitters will take 75% of the attack swings on sideout and that number will just climb on defensive transition attacks.

The outside hitter that can pass very well is the Golden Goose of College Volleyball. Sure, everyone loves the Libero and how great she makes the team, but a good serving team will just not serve the Libero. If the outside hitters can pass well, in addition to attacking well, then the serving team is at a disadvantage. A small but significant consideration is the idea that the outside hitter just needs to attack well and not worry about passing, because there are 15 substitutions in college volleyball and you can just rotate in a good defensive specialist in back row. This sounds good in theory, but now there are two players that are playing half time - even though they can rest (remember that conditioning is no longer such a big deal in Rally Score volleyball), they also can get cold and lose the rhythm of the game. I never liked leaving the match for any amount of time and I know that my outside hitters do not like to leave because they lose the feel for the game. I have to make this substitution because their passing and defense is a liability for our team, but their attacking is needed.

My recruiting philosophy, which is the same as a number of coaches, is to search high and low for that Golden Goose. Even if I give up a bit of height or physical power, I need to bring pure pass/attack outside hitters into my program. I have learned the hard way not to recruit the tall outside hitters that cannot pass or play defense, but to stick with the pure outside hitters.

Recruiting middle attackers is easier - the number one priority in recruiting a middle blocker is blocking. It used to be offense attacking, but now I want a player who has very good blocking technique. Once again, because of the percentage breakdown of what position is taking the attack swings, blocking is more important than hitting. A bad blocking middle blocker is a silent point killer - especially if you have a tough serving team that must now play defense around a middle blocker who is poor.

The setting position has changed just a little when it comes to recruiting. The new priority for setters is to always make sure the outside hitter has a good set to take a maximum attack swing at - no matter how good or bad the pass. Running an effective and variable offense around the middle blockers used to be important, but not now. In today's game, if your setter is taking whatever pass is given to them and can consistently put that ball 3-4 feet off the net and just inside the antennae, then she will put her team in a position to win. The setters that keep their outside hitters at the 8 foot line are just allowing the other team the opportunity to score points on transition attacks at a very high rate.

While I have been referencing college volleyball, these ideas should also be applied to the high school programs. Practice passing and sideout attack, put your best passer/hitter in the outside hitting position and make sure you train the setter to deliver that set to 4 feet without fail.

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