CRITICAL ANALYSIS OF VOLLEYBALL SKILLS SERIES ARTICLE 2
This article is part of a series of critical analyses of volleyball skills. Before reading this article please read the introduction to this series located here: Critical Analysis of Volleyball Skills Series Intro
The initial Article 1 in the Critical Analysis of Volleyball Skills Series was on establishing a Passing & Defensive Starting Posture. View Article 1 here. Article 2 of the Series will be a Critical Analysis of “Efficient Movement” and the concept of “Balance” in Passing and Defense. After a player moves to a position on the court to be able to make a play on a ball in their area of responsibility, what are the common components which enhance the concept of “Balance” and what is its importance in achieving ball control?
Components of Balance in Ball Control
If you believe that balance is an important component in achieving ball control, what would you consider to be a balanced posture? Do you need to be stopped on the hitter’s contact with the ball? Should it be static and flatfooted? Where should the body’s center of gravity be? Should the weight be on the toes, balls of the feet, or should the heels be down on the ground? Do you need to be in contact with the court to be in balance?
Identifying Components that Negatively Impact Ball Control
In my many years of watching video for a technical analysis of volleyball skills and for preparing scouting reports, I would opine that three common inhibitors to effective defense are the Negative Step, the Pre-Hop, and unnecessary movement by the defender on the attacker’s contact with the ball. One of the most common admonitions that I frequently hear from coaches is for the players to be stopped on the hitter’s contact with the ball. It is my personal observation that this DOES NOT happen in the vast majority of situations at every level of our sport! Most players that use the pre-hop technique tend to be in the air with both feet off the ground and their platforms together pointing straight down between their knees when the hitter is in contact with the ball. The players that manage to have their feet on the ground at contact frequently take a negative backward step before moving forward to play an attacked ball.
A timing analysis of the Negative Step shows that it took .400 seconds for the drop step backward and forward push to get the digger back to their original spot on the court before there is a forward movement towards the ball. The video clip below shows USA Middle Blocker Christa Harmotto employing the negative step. The initial freeze frame of the player indicates their original location on the court prior to their first movement to begin the negative step. The second freeze frame of the player represents an elapsed time of .400 seconds and shows that the digger has returned to their original location on the court.
The following video clip is representative of the typical timing of the Pre-Hop movement at every level of volleyball. The video clip shows Korean defenders #5 – Hae-Ran Kim, #10 – Yeon-Koung Kim, and #19 – Hee-Jin Kim employing the Pre-Hop to dig a Pipe Set attack by Japanese Outside Hitter Saori Sakoda.
The diggers began their Pre-Hops approximately 0.11 seconds before the attacker’s contact with the ball on a pipe set. The total time that the diggers are in the air from the initial movement to begin the Pre-Hop until they become grounded to allow another movement to control the ball is 0.36 seconds. The diggers are in the air for 0.25 seconds from the Attacker’s contact with the ball until the end of the Pre-Hop. The total air time of the attacked ball is 0.36 seconds and the total distance that the ball travels until deflecting off the digger is 30.68 feet. In this scenario, the digger has 0.11 seconds or 7.51 feet to react to the ball after landing from the Pre-Hop.
Another inhibitor to effective ball control could be a defender trying to get to those “magical” spots on the floor that we coaches sometimes tell our players that they are supposed to get to in our defensive systems. Therefore, instead of watching the location of a specific set and the formation of the block while transitioning to place themselves in an optimal position on the court to defend it and be stopped prior to the attacker’s contact with the ball, some players are looking at the ground to find that spot on the floor that they believe they are supposed to defend. As a critical analysis, we may need to assess or re-assess if what we are asking our players to do is even possible to achieve given various time and distance scenarios.
The video below is an example of Korean Defender Song-yi Han not being stopped on the USA Attacker Jordan Larson’s contact with the ball. The video is shown in regular speed and then is repeated showing the digger’s position on the court on the attacker’s contact with the ball and proceeds to show the position of the digger and the ball when it contacts the floor to end the rally.
Mitigating the Negative Components of Ball Control
My personal philosophy of defense has evolved significantly in the past few years. The primary reasons have been influenced by an analysis and better understanding of the components of offensive systems. Given the premise that it would be preferable for a defender to be stopped and balanced prior to the attacker’s contact with the ball, what defensive movements are possible to achieve given specific offensive situations.
The average Air Times of some sets calculated from the London 2012 Olympic Games is summarized in the Table below. The summary shown in the Table was derived from data presented in the Article “A Sport Science Analysis of the Components of Volleyball – Part 1 – Speed of the Set” posted on this website. The Red Set is a lower and quicker tempo 5 set to the right antenna and the Go Set is a lower and quicker tempo 4 set to the left antenna.
The Air Times in the Chart represent how much time the defender has to move from the release of the set until contact with the ball by the Attacker. As an analysis, what movement patterns would even be possible to be stopped and balanced within these time frames?
Every coach will, undoubtedly, need to have an understanding of what the air times are for the level they are competing at as this will obviously impact what movement patterns would be possible to achieve in order to be in a balanced posture to most effectively defend specific attacks. For the purposes of this analysis, I will be referencing defensive movement patterns of players from the 2012 London Olympics as well, to counter the average speed of the offenses at the 2012 Olympics. As a general observation, I am deducing that the air times would increase proportionately as the level of the competition decreases.
The Transition Movement Time Analysis Table of a small sample size of Players and events in the 2012 London Olympic Games is presented for a critical analysis. The times represent fractions of a second.
The majority of the times calculated represent front row off blocker transition times. Back row transition times have been isolated and are shown in the “Back Row Trans.” section of the Table.
Transition Movement Time Analysis Table
The calculated times for front row off blocker transitions reveal that the average 1st Tempo footwork movements took 0.37 seconds. The average 2nd Tempo movements took 0.79 seconds and the average 3rd Tempo movements took 1.04 seconds. I believe the lower averages for the back row 1st and 2nd tempo movements were due to the fact that they were only lateral movements. The front row transitions had an initial angling off the net directional step.
The most elementary analysis, based upon the Air Times Chart and the Transition Movement Time Analysis Chart, would be to perform a transition movement that has a lower time to complete than the air time available for a specific set type. As an example, a 1 Set with an air time of 0.42 seconds would only allow for a 1st Tempo transition footwork pattern averaging 0.37 seconds to be stopped on the hitter’s contact with the ball.
1st, 2nd, and 3rd Tempo Set Footwork Patterns
The following data and discussion of Tempo Footwork Patterns is presented for your observation and analysis. In some situations, there are multiple techniques presented for your consideration. You may prefer a technique that is not presented in this article.
Two 1st Tempo transition movements are a Push Off With a Foot Down Step and a Push Off Hop to a Stop footwork technique. Both of these movement patterns were calculated to take 0.36 seconds to complete. A video clip of Italy Outside Hitter Antonella Del Core using the Push Off With a Foot Down Step is shown below. The first freeze frame of the digger shows the starting posture before the Push Off. The second freeze frame of the digger shows the Foot Down Step to a balanced posture. The elapsed time between the two freeze frames is 0.36 seconds. This transition move has been described as a “Zorro” into the court by a long time mentor of mine. It has served as a short, concise descriptor in conveying the movement to players.
The top photo sequence below shows the “Zorro” movement being performed by Antonella Del Core. The bottom sequence shows her using the Push Off Hop to a Stop movement. Another question for analysis could be what are the advantages and disadvantages in stepping to a stop versus hopping to a stop? Do you have a preference or is it even a concern to you either way?
A 2nd Tempo transition movement would be a combination of the two 1st Tempo movements described above. It is a Push Off Step and a Hop to a Stop. The mechanics of this movement would be similar to a Shuffle – Shuffle movement pattern. The total time to execute this 2nd Tempo movement was 0.72 seconds. A video clip of Italy Outside Hitter Antonella Del Core using the 2nd Tempo footwork described is shown below.
Three different 3rd Tempo transition movement patterns are presented to your review and analysis. They could be described as follows:
- Push Off Step – Cross Over Step – Hop to a Stop.
- Push Off Step – Cross Over Step – Foot Down Stop Step.
- Shuffle-Shuffle-Shuffle Stop
The 3rd Tempo video comparisons below show USA Setter Lindsey Berg utilizing the footwork pattern #1. The total elapsed time to complete the movement was calculated to be 0.89 seconds. She is in the top clip in the right front position at the net on the left side of the court. The middle video clip shows Russia Outside Hitter Lioubov Sokolova using footwork pattern #2. The total elapsed time to complete the movement was calculated to be 0.96 seconds. The bottom video clip shows Brazil Opposite Sheilla Castro using footwork pattern #3. The elapsed time for the total transition was calculated at 1.15 seconds. This comparison represents only a single example of the footwork patterns and serves only as an indication of probabilities. There are obvious individual variables such as the distance travelled, quickness and reaction times of the individual players, and whether they were going as fast as they are capable of physically. For the purposes of this comparison video, I used the clips which represented the shortest time calculated for each footwork technique grouping. What I would deduce from the sample is an awareness of what is possible to achieve in terms of time and distance for each footwork pattern.
The photo sequences from the video comparison are presented below for your review and analysis. The order of the players in the photo sequences are the same as shown in the 3rd Tempo comparison video above.
A fourth transition Footwork Pattern would be to Turn and Run for balls that are outside of the 3rd Tempo transition time and distance parameters.
Incorporating Tempo Footwork Patterns into a Defensive Sequencing Progression
In the evolution of my defensive philosophy, I have come to believe that the most effective way to approach defense is through a sequencing the game. The underlying methodology I use in my sequencing is to identify what is possible as the 1st event to occur after a specific contact. As an example, after a serve, what is the first possible event that could happen? I would say some sort of service error. The next event would be some sort of a pass. If sequencing the pass, the 1st event would be a shanked pass for a reception error. The 2nd event would be an overpass. As a defensive player, this would be the 1st event that they would potentially need to play. The 2nd event would be a successful 3 point pass to the setter. What would be the next phase of the sequencing of the game at this point? If it is not some sort of a setter attack, it would progress to a 1st tempo set. Within the grouping of 1st tempo sets, there would need to be another sequencing of possible occurrences in the order of what would transpire in the shortest time interval from the set being delivered. I would opine that it would be a front 1 Set, back 1 Set, then possibly a 31 Set. If there are other 1st tempo sets that you would consider, they should be included into the sequencing. The next step would be to sequence 2nd tempo sets, 3rd tempo sets and other out of system sets such as down balls or free balls.
In my years of preparing scouting reports at the collegiate level, my main objective was to identify the possibilities, know the probabilities, anticipate the tendencies, and to react to the realities. An example of how this sequencing could be simplified would be to discount or eliminate those elements that your opponent at the moment does not incorporate into their offensive system. If the only play set that your opponent runs is the basic 4 set to the outside hitter, 1 set to the middle hitter, and a 5 set to the opposite hitter, the sequencing becomes much simpler to manage. Even if your opponent utilizes every conceivable tempo set, my research on reaction times has led me to believe that anticipating a specific and practiced sequencing of events could be a key component in minimizing reaction and reflex times which may provide the extra tenth of a second necessary to successfully defend an attack.
Efficient Movement & Balance in Passing and Defense Conclusions
The video clips and photographs presented here are a very miniscule sample of the data available for a comprehensive critical analysis of Efficient Movement & Balance in Passing and Defense. The primary focus of this Article was to identify a variety of different transition footwork patterns of players to assist you in ultimately determining what will work the best for you in implementing your individual and team defensive philosophy.
In writing these critical analysis articles, I am discovering that the most difficult aspect has been in trying to limit the direction and scope of each component skill technique article. There are so many tertiary questions that can be asked and answered that I am hopeful they will eventually be addressed in future articles.
Once a coach has developed a philosophy to implement, what would be the most efficient and effective process to produce the results you are seeking. Given the specific circumstances of your training situation, both in terms of personnel and time, prioritizing what you feel will have the most substantial impact on your team’s development and success as a whole may be the most important question for a critical analysis.
The most beneficial combination of technical skill training and system training for me has been to develop the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Tempo footwork patterns and incorporate them into a “Sequencing of the Game” drill progression. The initial scenario would be for the defense to defend an overpass or setter attack. Add a 1st Tempo attacker executing the quickest 1st Tempo set and progressing through to the slowest 1st Tempo set. I would first practice defending each set type in the progression order, rather than randomly defending all 1st Tempo sets. The next step could be to have the defense randomly defend an overpass, setter attack, or any 1st Tempo attack. To progress further, add 2nd Tempo sets to defend by the middle hitter or add an outside hitter attacking 2nd Tempo sets. Repetition only the 2nd Tempo sets sequentially before randomly adding them to the overpass, setter attack and 1st Tempo sets to defend. A plan would be to continue this training pattern by adding 3rd Tempo sets and an Opposite attacker. Incorporate Back Row attackers where appropriate and out of system attacks to complete the Sequencing of the Game progression training.
As a component of the Critical Analysis of Volleyball Skills Series, we elicit your personal philosophy, experiences and ideas which would be a valuable contribution to coaches in helping to formulate their ultimate coaching philosophies.
Article 3 of the Critical Analysis of Volleyball Skills will be a Critical Analysis of the common elements that enhance ball control and consistency in Passing and Defense.