Jim Iams | Former USA Assistant Coach and Former Head Coach at University of Georgia
In a blog posted recently on The Art of Coaching Volleyball, I wrote that serving and passing are overrated. I also mentioned that there’s a way to definitively determine which team wins the serve-pass (S/P) game. To explain, it’s necessary to go into the statistical weeds a bit, so you English majors might want to skip to the bottom of this posting. The good news is, many of you will already have all the needed information at your fingertips.
Let’s get started.
Jim Coleman, who coached the USA men’s team at the 1968 Olympics, developed the most widely accepted serving and passing stats many years ago. They involve rating each serve and pass on a four-point scale: 0 being the lowest, 4 the highest. The key to this system is how the two skills are related. The passing score dictates the serving score. But before we get to that, let me first explain how the passing number is arrived at and then show how it determines the serving score.
“0” pass – The passer is aced. The serve leads directly to a point for the serving team.
“1” pass – The pass is kept in play, however the ball is returned as a free ball.
“2” pass – The pass allows the passing team to attack but with limited options.
“3” pass – The pass allows the passing team to execute their full attack options.
“4” pass – These points represent a missed serve and are awarded to the passing team and should be recorded on the passing stat sheet. (This is key to calculating a team's true passing score.)
The serving score is based on the result of the pass, and the 2 scores must add up to 4.
“0” serve – Missed serve.
“1” serve – The serve is in, and the pass allows the team to run all options.
“2” serve – The serve is in, and the pass allows the team limited attack options.
“3” serve – The serve is in, and the pass produces a free ball for the serving team.
“4" serve – The serve is an ace and leads directly to a point for the serving team.
With the exception of an opponent’s missed serve, these scores are given to an individual to determine how well she/he performed. Their scores are calculated by counting the total attempts and dividing that by the total points they received for that skill. Here’s a simple example:
Sue passes 4 balls; 2 of her passes are “3’s,” one is a “2” and one is a “1.”
Attempts – 4
Total points – 9
Passing score – 2.25
To calculate team serving and passing you simply add all the individual attempts and divide that number into the total points for the team. Here’s an example:
Sue – 8 total attempts, 20 total points, passing score: 2.50
Jane – 10 total attempts, 22 total points, passing score: 2.20
Mary – 7 total attempts, 15 total points, passing score: 2.14
Team – 25 total attempts, 57 total points, team passing score: 2.28
This is where most people stop, thinking they have the whole story regarding their team’s passing. However, this is not a “true” team passing score. For that you need one final step: adding your opponent’s missed serves into your passing numbers.
For example, if your opponent missed 3 serves, you must add 3 attempts to your team’s total passing attempts and 12 points to your team’s total passing points, then divide attempts into points. Let’s add these 3 missed serves to the above team totals.
Team – 28 total attempts, 69 total points, team passing score: 2.46
This is your team’s true passing number. To get your opponent’s true passing score, simply subtract your team’s serving score from 4. For example, if your team’s serving score is 1.58, then your opponent’s true passing score is 4 – 1.58 = 2.42. You don’t need to adjust the score since missed serves are already added into your team’s serving score.
That’s all there is to it. The team with the higher passing number wins the S/P battle. It's important to include opponents’ missed serves so you have a number that reflects both serving and passing. Also, keep in mind that a good passing team can force the other to attempt higher risk serves and miss more in the process.
Did I say it was easy to take this stat? It really is once you do it a few times.
Personal note: I figured if my team’s true passing score was within .15 (higher or lower) of our opponent’s, then passing played no real role in the match outcome.
Jim Iams was an assistant coach to Terry Liskevych from 1985-88 for the U.S. women’s Olympic team and an advisor for the ’92 and ’96 teams. He was a head coach collegiately from 1989-99 at the University of Georgia, where he compiled a 242-118 record and led the Bulldogs to seven NCAA tournament appearances.