A Proper Evaluation of Serve-Receive

The first coach to really make an effort to explain the mechanics of coaching to me was Jim Stone back when he was at Ohio State–the only coach to lead OSU to a Final Four or Big Ten title.  Jim was great–he didn’t spout dogma.  He gave me resources and let me think–taking advantage of the fact my background wasn’t from playing the game.  That led me to statistics and reading stuff by Jim Coleman one of the early stat/analysis gurus of volleyball (and really, any sport).

**SHORT PLUG–>If you like reading this, consider going to Amazon and purchasing Like Heck She Isn’t a Volleyball Player.  It’s inexpensive and supports my efforts at going beyond the box.  Go ahead…I’ll wait.**

One of the things I loved then–and still do–about Coleman’s approach was that statistics have to be useful, either to guide future practices or to help with the match while it’s ongoing.  Otherwise, they are basically fluff (like the individual “Points” stat used now for volleyball).  He came up with a lot of useful, brilliant stuff, including the system most people use for rating serve-receive ability.

Coleman basically rated passes on a scale of 0-3, ‘0’ representing getting aced or the ball being overpassed while the other numbers represent the number of choices available for a setter.  This meant the question became what constituted a good average.  For me, I always figured it was between 2.1 and 2.3…that was before I coached Emily Orrick, the best juco libero ever–she put up a 2.61 and a 2.65 in her two years here.  Okay–that’s irrelevant.  Anyways….

We had a tournament about that point where we had two passers total passing numbers that looked like this (I’m making the numbers up to show my argument, by the way):

  • 2, 2, 2, 2, 2, 1, 1, 2, 2, 2, 2, 2, 2, 1, 3  15/28,  1.86
  • 0, 0, 3, 3, 1, 3, 3, 3, 3, 0, 1, 2, 3, 3, 0  15/28,  1.86

Those two passers are statistically the same.  Both averaged 1.86 options/pass.  But are they the same passer?  I don’t think so.

So I started grinding numbers and realized that there’s a problem with the math.  When we use the 1-2-3 system, it is set up so that a ‘2’ is worth double a ‘1’-value pass, and that a ‘3’ is worth 50% more than a ‘2’ and 300% more than a ‘1’.  That seemed off.  My gut told me that a perfect pass should be much more valuable than a pass where the setter had to forearm it or a non-setter played the ball (my gut’s only partially right as you’ll see).

With information provided by multiple coaches, most memorably Todd Dagenais at Central Florida, Penn State assistants (from both men’s/women’s teams), and Pete Hanson from the Ohio State men’s team, along with stats from the NJCAA-level and a couple HS programs, I was able to put together some serve-receive statistics.  What I found was that the 1-2-3 sequence wasn’t valuing things properly. 

The chances of scoring based on the pass quality (in percent).  Remember, you can score on a ‘0’ since that includes overpasses which provide a chance for an opponent to make a mistake. :

  • “0”:  2
  • “1”:  12   An increase of 600% over a ‘0’ (instead of infinite…)
  • “2”: 44    An increase of 367% over a ‘1’ (instead of 100%)
  • “3”: 53    An increase of 21% over a ‘2’ and 442% over a ‘1’ (instead of 50/300)

Now–part of Coleman’s philosophy is that we MUST keep things simple.  Tallying things as 2-12-44-53 isn’t easy during a match, but…rounding numbers is!  But let’s look at this a different way.

On a ‘1’, I have a 10% chance of a kill, thus with normal pass-rating, a ‘2’ should create a 20% chance of a sideout (because it’s value is double) and a 30% chance on a ‘3’ (where the value is treble).  Instead we get 10-40-50.

So why not change your pass rating system to 0-1-4-5 instead and get the true value of a pass as the rating?  Well, first we need to know if it can differentiate better than the old system, so let’s go back to those two passers earlier…


  • 2, 2, 2, 2, 2, 1, 1, 2, 2, 2, 2, 2, 2, 1, 3  15/28,  1.86, 1 perfect pass
  • 0, 0, 3, 3, 1, 3, 3, 3, 3, 0, 1, 2, 3, 3, 0  15/28,  1.86, 8 perfect passes


  • 4, 4, 4, 4, 4, 1, 1, 4, 4, 4, 4, 4, 4, 1, 5  15/52, 3.47
  • 0, 0, 5, 5, 1, 5, 5, 5, 5, 0, 1, 4, 5, 5, 0  15/46, 3.07

Uh, oh–now we’ve got a big difference.  The normal system gives us an idea of the average number of options a setter has from a pass, but the second is more important–it provides an idea of our expected sideout percentage from the passes, and while it sounds simplistic, the reality is whoever scores the most points wins a volleyball set.  

What we now see is those two passers are not equal.  While the second passer is perfect more often, her problems with the other serves drops her value significantly.  Heck–if we replace those ‘0’ with ‘1’, the modified value will STILL be lower than the first player’s, even though the 0-3 system numbers are now superior.

Ahh, but there’s other important stuff here, not just a better way of comparing players to know who is performing better.  The progression of the value is no longer linear.  There’s a huge jump in value from a ‘1’ to a ‘2’ and a much smaller uptick from ‘2’ to ‘3’.  This means you get more bang for your buck improving poor passes than working on making good passes perfect.

There’s a sub-lesson there, too.  Youth coaches, by reflex it seems, pull some players out of passing duties because they aren’t good–but if this valuation holds for defense as well as serve-receive, then shouldn’t we work on passing with middles/others who get pulled from the back row?  Even if they are only playing defense while they serve, turning them into mediocre passers can have huge benefits (along with things like self-confidence).  Aiming for those perfect passes regularly, when the improvement over being consistently good is not significant, that’s time that could be spent improving those athletes’ other skills as well–I suspect that the value of improving other skills from poor to average is more valuable across the board than good to great (below the highest of levels).

Consider what this means for how you run a practice?  Are you maximizing your chances for improvement, making it easier to win?  Are you preparing your athletes fully for the next level of play?

**If you liked this and have some money burning a hole in your pocket, consider sparing some change and donating to the Dietz Foundation, my educational charity (501(c)3, designed to advocate for education through non-traditional means.  The website’s up and the first creative project (a boardgame) is getting ready for production already.  Your help can provide scholarships for kids looking to go to college and become tomorrow’s educators!
























Odd Family History (everyone has things like this)

A friend of mine, Eric, has a mom who has been doing some research into her family and things like her dad’s service during World War Two–some cool stuff like picking up a Purple Heart during Operation Cobra, serving as part of an ACR within George Patton‘s 3rd Army.

Another friend works to keep the memory of his grandfather’s best friend alive–he was killed in the Huertgen Forest (one of the stupidest campaigns of World War Two).  That man had no siblings, so only my friend is left now keeping that soldier’s memory alive.

In any event, some of this got me thinking about one of the useless bits of trivia from my family’s history….on my mom’s side, my great-grandfather loved playing football as a youth.  Playing a match at the turn of the century, he was clearing a ball from his end of the pitch and launched it straight into the face of the opposing forward.  Now, this is 1900 we are talking about.  This isn’t a modern FIFA ball.  This is (photo by Jacques Barralon):


The ball is leather covering inner-tubes and a rubber bladder.  It’s worse than just that.  Leather absorbs water, so that as a game went on, it picked up weight, became heavier, harder to kick, painful to head.

Anyways, my great-grandfather struck the ball and it connected with the opponent’s face.  That forward collapsed immediately like he’d been shot.  With most football games, it keeps going until there’s clear proof an injury is serious (more important in modern soccer where so many athletes flop and fake injuries).  But not this contest.  Unlike most football injuries where the game may keep going if someone gets hurt, this injury stopped the match instantly.  The health of the forward was considered far more important than the game.

The forward was Friedrich Wilhelm Victor August Ernst.  You don’t recognize that name.  That’s fair.  It’d help if the guy had a last name, right…though the lack of a surname should be a big clue.  No last name.  None of the royalty of Europe run around with last names.  See–the guy my great-grandfather knocked totally cold was the Crown Prince of Germany….

How many people do you know who have ancestors who knocked royalty out cold?  



George H.W. Bush (A quick note)

Former President Bush has died.  There’s already argument about his legacy, whether he was ‘the last of…,’ ‘was he a good president,’ etc.. That is for history to sort out.

I remember his campaign in ’88 as I was working for the Republican National Committee during that summer and had the opportunity to be in New Orleans for the Convention…where one of my great memories is learning that good tasting alcohol is FAR more dangerous than beer…and that you CAN make money on the shell game from con men.  But what I really remember from New Orleans was something I didn’t process completely at the time.

I was shocked how many younger adult Republicans (people between 30-45 or so) had radical ideas–restricting the 1st Amendment, restricting the 5th Amendment…the works.  I thought they were outsiders, radicals, in those meetings held during the Convention.  It certainly turned me off from continuing in the Party machinery.  What I didn’t realize was that was the beginning of what the Republican Party has become.  Control the machinery, control the Party–that was Stalin.  But it has worked for those 1988 Boomer radicals intent on fighting “the Left.”

And that wasn’t Bush–I think it’s why many within the GOP didn’t support him wholeheartedly in 1992 against Clinton.  It’s a pity–Bush was moral, he was ethical.  He did what he thought was right for the nation, worked with Democrats to forge answers to problems.  With the Gulf War, he forged a coalition of 100+ nations, he chose not to exploit the fall of the USSR for potential advantage, but to make sure it didn’t launch nukes in a death spasm (though if only Bush had authorized a ‘Marshall Plan’ for the USSR, perhaps a true republic could have flourished there instead of Putin’s neo-Soviet rule).

Bush could not help being the tail-end of the ‘Greatest Generation’ in power or that the Baby Boomers wanted to shove everyone aside so they could run things.  We’ve had three Boomer presidents (plus Obama–but hate for him is a different Boomer story) and hopefully we will move on in 2020 to the next generation.

It’s what Bush was hoping for–for a decade, he has told children that they are the future, they will work hard, they will earn their prosperity, that they will have an amazing world ahead of them.  Bush was wrong on few things.  Ultimately, I think his legacy will be his correct prediction here–that today’s youth are amazing, they will do great things, and they will work to return civility to our political system.

Dystopian or Apocalyptic Movies

So…since I’ve done a few posts on books and movies and music related to history, why not look at some stuff that hints at the future?  Not all of these take place at the ‘end of the world’–many are dystopic, meaning ‘frightening’ or ‘anti-utopian’.  The list is alphabetical.  The first great dystopian movie was Fritz Lang’s ‘Metropolis’.  You’ll find that here–don’t worry.

28 Days/Weeks Later: Released in 2003 and 2007, they explore the effects of an animal-borne virus that spreads from monkeys to humans because of animal-rights terrorists.  In terms of end-of-the-world movies, 28 Days Later does one big, important thing for cinema–it changes zombies from shambling, slow-moving creatures into frenetic berserkers that descend on victims like packs of wolves or schools of piranha.  28 Weeks Later takes up the story after Britain has recovered–until it doesn’t and the virus spreads beyond Britain, setting up a third movie…that never got made.

Blade Runner/BR 2049: Neither movie did well in theaters, but both are film-noir classics, created 35 years apart.  Based on Philip Dick’s novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, the movies take up the theme of what it means to be human–and whether an android can be human.  The world is dark, the Earth slowly dying from atomic war (the book) or unknown causes in the movies.  The movies make things interesting with the central city of the story–massive, sprawling, and a complete mosh of cultures and languages.  For philosophy, the book is better–for imagery of what a world falling to pieces could really look like, the movies are better.

Blood of Heroes:  Known outside the US as ‘The Salute of the Jugger,’ this is a movie about a sports team traveling the wastelands, gambling on winning for things like food and supplies, moving from one poor area to another–until they get a chance to get back to the underground city where wealth still exists and they have a chance at glory against a professional team.  They never tell you what the disaster was that caused the world to go to Hell, but you can play the game they invented for the movie.  Info is here.

The Book of Eli: From 2010, it has Denzel Washington in a nuclear wasteland heading west towards Alcatraz where the people there are trying to save the best of the past.  He’s fighting to get through a post-apocalyptic ‘Wild West’ where Gary Oldman runs things.  People either love the movie or they hate it.  There aren’t many in between on it.  I have a personal odd relationship with the movie–it’s the last one I watched with my mom before her final trip to see my sister where she died a few days later.

Clockwork Orange:  Ahh, Malcolm McDowell.  What a weird, wild movie by Stanley Kubrick–England dominated by thugs (droogs) and violent criminals.  One is arrested and subjected to psychological torture/conditioning to change their behavior…becoming a political tool in an election campaign with no one realizing he has been ‘cured’ of his conditioning.  Honestly, the most disturbing part of the film is the juxtaposition of the violence with the classical music:

Dawn of the Dead:  This is part of Romero’s series starting with ‘Night of the Living Dead’ and was filmed in 1978.  It’s redone in 2004, but don’t watch that version.  Dawn of the Dead sees a few survivors occupy a mall, looking to survive the Zombie Apocalypse there with the mall’s food and services.  …except it wouldn’t be a post-apocalyptic movie without things going wrong, bikers rampaging without care across the remains of the world.  It’s also a great movie about consumerism and the mindlessness of American customers (the mall, sadly, no longer exists).

WARNING–>this is low budget…but with that said, Tom Savini did amazing work with the zombie guts!

This discusses both versions of the movie…with a bit of snark.

Death Race 2000:  From my childhood (1975), one of my favorites–never mind that I was too young to even understand the nudity-sort of stuff.  This was wild cars running over people on the streets for points!  It’s an interesting take on modern America–a president who sits on a big throne (in his White House–in China!), controls the population through the media and the creation of a driving superstar: Frankenstein.  There’s a resistance movement, too, fighting back against massive government and repression.  It’s got some big stars including David Carradine, Sylvester Stallone, and Mary Woronov, as well as Gopher from ‘The Love Boat’.  After you watch it, you’ll start counting the point-value of pedestrians.  Trust me.

Escape from New York/L.A.:  Escape from New York was the first R-rated movie I went to.  It takes place in 1997 after New York is turned into the US’s only maximum-security prison where prisoners are left to fend for themselves.  It takes place at a time where the US is at war with the Soviet Union–with vital information for peace negotiations, the President crashes (due to terrorists) inside New York and only war hero-turned-criminal Snake Plissken (Have you heard of him?  I heard he was dead.) can get him out–and he’s got 24 hours to do it.  EfNY has great actors, great action, and a twist at the end.

LA is a different sort of movie.  With this one, John Carpenter’s take is different.  This is the dystopia of Hollywood/California life.  Rather than the gritty urban scenes of Escape from New York, this is more…”cheesy” (for lack of a better word).  You’re going to feel the oddity of California, get surfer-movie and Disney references in it as well.  I’m one of the few people who finds both enjoyable.  Many who see LA first like it a great deal–but those who love the ’81 New York movie and watch it over and over have their eyeballs bleed if LA is on a screen nearby.

And Escape from L.A.–it’s cheesy, but realize that’s Peter Fonda and intentionally so…not everyone understood that when the movie was released.

I Am Legend/The Omega Man/The Last Man on Earth:  All of these are based on the same novel, I am Legend, by Richard Matheson.  They are all about one man immune to a plague that has turned the rest of humanity into vampires.  By day, the man hunts and kills as many vampires as he can while at night, he hides while vampires try and track him down to stop his murdering of their kind.

The most recent remake featured Will Smith.  Before him came Charlton Heston and before him, Vincent Price, so it isn’t like these were schlubs starring in the films–and yet all three are just ‘okay’.  I prefer the Heston version, but it hasn’t aged well–it looks like the 1970s.  Price’s version looks like it was low-budget (which it was) while Will Smith’s looks the best/most timeless–but it just feels like it’s a generic attempt at a blockbuster summer movie.  This is the trailer for Heston’s.  See what I mean about it looking dated?

In Time: This isn’t the greatest movie in the world.  I get that.  It is entertaining though if you ignore the economics of it all.  Basically when you become an adult, you get a clock that starts running on you.  If it reaches zero, you die.  When you work, you get paid in time–so the more time you have, the longer you live…and no one ever ages past 25, so everyone stays beautiful, too…unless you die. 

Thus, the very wealthy accumulate time/manipulate the system to further their wealth and power while the bottom of society, the working class, can do nothing other than work/slave away.  Yeah, it’s pretty Marxist…but in terms of a modern take on dystopia?  Why not?

The Last Chase:  Lee Majors from ‘The Six Million Dollar Man’ (a silly title now in the era of athletes with $300 million contracts) is a race driver in an America left without oil where cars are banned.  Top that off with a plague that killed a bunch of people.  Now it’s time to escape to freedom (California) with a young boy and pursued by the government…and the only way to catch a race care lieft–a F-86 Sabre jet with the last living jet pilot.

I get that it isn’t a great movie…but was okay when I had the flu back in ’82 or ’83.  It is interesting though in showing American fear of running out of oil after the OPEC crises of the 1970s.

Logan’s Run:  From 1976, this movie needs to be remade!  It’s about a post-nuclear war society where no one is permitted to live past 30…amusing since the Baby Boomer generation’s slogan was ‘trust no one over 30’.  Of course, it’s been 40 years now and the Boomers have changed their beliefs–since they hold most offices.  Now, of course, they cynically proclaim the wisdom of their advanced age.  Go figure.  Like Heston’s ‘Omega Man’, the costuming and envisioning of the future don’t hold up well which takes away from the plot and ideas.  

Mad Max (series):  Starting as a low-budget Australian film, Mad Max proved popular enough to spawn a 1980s trilogy–Road Warrior and Beyond Thunderdome and then a 21st century film, Fury Road.  In Mad Max, there’s a semblance of order left as the oil runs out and people begin fighting for resources, but by the time of The Road Warrior, that’s gone and you get pure post-apocalyptic Australian wastelands.  Big ideas, big action…Thunderdome is disappointing mainly because it’s good, not great like the others.

From the Mel Gibson ones:

From Tom Hardy’s:

Matrix (series):  The first of these was great.  Then you got ‘Reloaded’ which was good and ‘Revolutions’ which was all right, I guess (you also have the animated ‘Animatrix’ which has several small stories and is an interesting thing to watch).  The problem is like many innovative movies–the sequels can’t capture your original amazement at what you see.  The movies take place in a world where the world is actually inside a computer, except for humans resisting machine control…except that it could all be within another computer which seeks to erase everything as glitched.  The original remains a great movie to leave on if you see it.  Laurence Fishburne is great, but sometimes I can’t help but wonder, “Why do I see him and think ‘Why isn’t Samuel L. Jackson in this instead?'”

Also important–those special effects in this scene are now two decades old.

Metropolis: One of the first dystopian films–maybe the first as it goes back almost a century to 1927.  It was long for its time–more than two hours, and it grossed about 2% of its production costs, about as big of a bomb as you can get.  Yet here we are talking about it.  It’s about the son of the city’s controller who tries to unite the workers and the city management for the good of all, a bridging of classes.  In Weimar Germany, this was a large issue with a great divide between the wealthy, the middle, and the poor and communists.  There’s an early 1980s release of it where they put in modern rock music from Freddie Mercury (yes, that Freddie Mercury).  That doesn’t do anything for me, but I do like Queen’s song, “Radio Gaga,” which uses the film for inspiration.

Clip from the film:

Queen’s music video:

Planet of the Apes (Charlton Heston era):  I don’t think they ever expected to make sequels and a TV show out of this.  It’s a fascinating look at space flight and the horror of nuclear war and what happens when astronauts are thrown far into the future, humanity is destroyed, reduced to being animals, as various species of monkeys evolve and create a new world order.  That’s where the astronauts come in–the apes have never seen a talking human before.  They need to be destroyed.   The sequels are entertaining and also serve as allegory for things like racism.  

There’s one big problem with the movies and you have to suspend disbelief.  Thousands of years in to the future and the apes have evolved and amazingly….they speak English.  This (sort of) gets ret-conned by one of the later movies where an ape is taught to speak circa 1970 or so, but still….

Planet of the Apes (21st century series, and specifically NOT the 2001 remake by Tim Burton):  Completely inspired by the first–and designed to be a movie series, the premise here is a serum that increases primate intelligence, but with genetic manipulation that causes a virus to cross over to humans which kills 99% of humanity off.  This leaves equal numbers of intelligent humans and monkeys and a conflict between wanting power and wanting peace and trying to co-exist.  What is nice is that they set up as prequels (mostly) to the originals.  You can take these, then watch the first movie and they link together quite well.

Ready Player One:  Based on the novel, it’s a world where everyone’s caught up in virtual reality.  It has a ton of inside jokes regarding video games and ’80s cultural references.  It’s not my cup of tea, but most people I know have found it entertaining.  I think it’s just too obvious in terms of the power/downtrodden, wealthy/poor storyline.  I appreciate movies with a message, but this is a bit too obvious.  

RoboCop: The funny thing with this is that it’s got a sleazy city government led by a corrupt black mayor…which is exactly what happened 10-15 years after the movie was made.  In an effort to cut costs, the city creates a cyborg cop to patrol the streets (conveniently with an attractive female partner…).  It portrays a dying city, rife with drugs, crime, the works…which is pretty much what Detroit was becoming/became.  The thing is, what you don’t get from this Dystopia–the hope of recovery.  Detroit’s in better shape than it was 20 years ago, finally heading in the right direction.

Rollerball (James Caan version):  This is the first Dystopian movie I can remember watching on ‘Channel 100’, the precursor to HBO.  It’s the story of a man named Jonathan who plays the world’s greatest sport of rollerball for the Houston corporation.  The sport is about the team, that no one can rise above as an individual–yet Jonathan does, so the movie becomes the story of the attempt to destroy Jonathan.

It’s still a great movie.  The technology is a bit off–the movie is 40+ years old, but they get some things quite right–multiple, giant-screen televisions covering action from every possible angle, etc.  I watched it recently with my daughter and she also thought it was a great movie.  Ultimately, this is how you create a movie that’s fun/interesting to watch while presenting a moral dilemma for pondering later.

Also important–avoid the remake at all possible costs.  You’ll never get those 90 minutes of your life back.  It’s not even good as background noise.

Soylent Green: Charlton Heston was on a roll with these movies, having also starred in ‘Planet of the Apes’ (see above).  This is the film adaptation of the Harry Harrison novel, Make Room! Make Room! which is the story of a cop in New York in a world overpopulated and out of resources, where people are assigned roommates because there just isn’t anywhere else for people to go.

It’s a dingy movie with a great, gritty feel.  It builds slowly towards its emotional payoff and just like ‘Rollerball’, it entertains you without beating you too hard over the head with its message.  Given the way corporations are governments are raping the planet right now, at a certain point, we still have to wonder–is this a possible future for us a century from now?

The trailer gives you a good feel for the movie–and spoils nothing.

They Live:  One of my favorite movies of all time.  The funny thing?  It doesn’t have a movie star in the key role–it has a professional wrestler, the late Rowdy Roddy Piper.  It’s another movie where the plot centers around the wealthy in a conspiracy to keep the poor oppressed and to exploit the planet’s resources.  The catch is–they are in cahoots with aliens who are disguised and walking among us.  The Resistance develops a way to see the aliens, Piper gradually gets involved, and it’s a roller coaster from there.  Done by John Carpenter, it was in the middle of a serious roll of great films for him–‘Big Trouble in Little China,’ ‘The Thing,’ ‘Escape from New York,’ and ‘Christine.’

GREAT SCENE (and the origin of a line a whole bunch of people use….):

Not related to being a dystopic movie, Carpenter should be appreciated for his ability to make entertaining movies on low budgets, without relying on massive special effects.  I also love that you can see a lot of the same actors in the various Carpenter films.

Zombieland:  Over the past twenty years, zombie movies and products have saturated the market.  There are hundreds of them.  ‘Zombieland’ is different, a great deal like ‘Shaun of the Dead,’ except that SotD takes place in a normal, every day world–and concludes in a normal world with just a few changes to it.  Zombieland takes place in an America where society has collapsed, leaving stragglers and survivors scattered.  That’s nothing new for apocalyptic movies.  What makes ZL different is that it maintains a feeling for human reaction/relationships and a great sense of humor, breaking the 4th wall at points.  What happens to cultural icons when society dies?  Will survivors seek out places like Disney as comfort?  What happens when you realize you’ll never be able to eat your favorite snack again?  –those aren’t issues you really ever see dealt with in a zombie movie.

(How many movies can combine silliness, violence, Metallica–all before the credits are done?

Whew–make it to the end?  If you did and liked it, consider hitting “FOLLOW” for the blog.  You might find yourself entertained, you might learn something about coaching, but mostly, hopefully it helps you think!  





I Hate John Kessel

Well, if that didn’t grab your attention as a volleyball coach, I don’t know what can.

Not really, but it’s a great blog-post title.

So one of the things that I’ve spoken with Mr. Kessel about in the past is statistics and things like deviation, regression to the mean, and a great Star Wars-inspired quote: “May the variance be in your favor.”

But there’s the thing–it’s variance. It’s deviation. Sometimes events don’t turn out like you want and sometimes they go south at the worst possible time!

So this past week, we made it to the NJCAA National Tournament. We won our first match, but lost our best middle hitter late in the match when the other team’s setter came way under the net. Thank goodness she had ankle braces on–it limited the damage to a pretty serious sprain. The following match, I think we would’ve won if she was available, but we didn’t–and to be quite clear, the team which beat us (Johnson County) is a good team, coached well. That set us up for our [say this in a bass voice] “date with destinyyyyyy.”

Relegated to playing for 5th-8th place, I was still upbeat. We were playing a team we beat earlier in the year when we were really short-handed.  Now with our best outside hitter healthy, I figured we were in better shape, not yet aware of our “date with destinyyyyyy.”

**ADVERTISING BREAK**:  If you like reading these, consider purchasing my book on coaching, “Like Heck She Isn’t a Volleyball Player“.  It’s$4.99–it won’t break your bank account.

I’ve been at Lincoln Land for 595 matches and I’ve prided myself on always having good passing teams.  Yeah, you get bad days, but for every bad, you get a good.  Variance.  Regression to the mean.  Destinyyyyyy.

So in those 593 matches before this one now to be played, how have we passed?  Again, though the best way of determining passing value is 0-1-4-5, I’ve put everything in the traditional 0-1-2-3 scale used by coaches.  So in those 593 matches, how has LLCC passed?


Per Match Average  (Percentage of Matches, rounded)

2.40-99:   69 (12)
2.30-39:   77 (13)
2.20-29: 115 (19)
2.10-19: 124 (21)
2.00-09:   97 (16)
1.90-99:   61 (10)
1.80-99:   42 (7)
1.75-79:     8 (1)
1.74-0.00:  *ZERO*

Basically, 9 times out of 10, we’re going to put up reasonable passing numbers….date with destinyyyyyy….

So, we go out and proceed to have our worst passing match ever.  My thought during the match was, “Holy crap, it’s like we’ve completely forgotten how to pass.  This can’t last.  It’ll be a one set hiccup.”  Umm, no.  As a team, we passed…..  1.61.   Correct.  1.61.

Before Friday, not a single night ever below a 1.75 and then we go out and drop a number far, far lower.  The amazing thing?–we won a set passing that 1.61.   So if you go back and watch that match, you really are watching history–and we’ll regress to the mean and rebound next year.

So observations you can make from our train wreck?

  • We spend time hitting out-of-system.  We won a set while having trouble passing because one of our outsides totally, 100% bought into what we work on; she even hit .279(!) for the match.
  • When it goes south, make sure everyone can handle a second-contact effectively.  You may pass bad enough that the libero can’t get the second ball (or your right-side if that’s your preference)
  • When people suggest you’ve spent enough time on serve-receive, spend more.  If your S/R disappears, you better have a 6’5 hitter around to keep you in things….wait, I don’t have that…most women’s coaches don’t.  So work on that S/R.
  • You can’t control events from the bench.  Have an idea of how you will act as a coach when things go completely and utterly south.  Me?  I stayed calm, noted that after a bad set, the score goes back to 0-0.  I explained a couple adjustments–to suggest it wasn’t us struggling, but that they’d made an adjustment we could counter.  It didn’t work–but why yell at the athletes?  They were just as frustrated that we suddenly couldn’t pass a ball within a kilometer of the net.
  • If it isn’t the end of your season (it happens in August…), don’t get mad, use it as an opportunity to take notes on how your athletes deal with frustration.  You may be able to turn it all into a teachable moment.
  • As it happened and continued…I kept thinking ‘regression to the mean’, thinking we’d recover within the match.  Hah!  But look at the stats above–you can see what an outlier the match was for us.  We did bounce back for the last match, most of the way (1.95).

Ultimately, we have sports, love sports because of moments like this–the moment a good team struggles, a bad team puts it together for two halves, a journeyman pitcher becomes godlike for nine innings on a mound.  We know we are seeing something rare, something that we are unlikely to ever see again…but why my team? (LOL)

So I guess I don’t really hate John after all.

If anything, ‘regression to the mean’ has reminded me of the old story of the Persian king who wanted words of sobriety during heady days and comfort for the bad.  The phrase he was given was “And this, too, shall pass.”   (If only we could’ve passed…)





Nicht Neues am Westen (All Quiet on the Western Front), November 11, 1918

One hundred years ago, the ‘Great War’, aka the ‘War to End All Wars’ ended.  It was four years of senseless slaughter and ground a generation of European men to pulp.  Why?  The events which caused it, the handling of the war…all foolish.  Even the peace at the end was horrible.

*The war started because of a Balkan assassination, a terrorist act that drug the Serbian government in to conflict with the Austrians (not realizing their own secret police were conspirators).  Rather than cool tempers, the Russians and Germans saw it as a way to reinforce alliances and loyalties.  When that meant war, the Germans’ only plan was strike west which brought France and Belgium in (and because of the attack on Belgium, Britain as well)

*Or the cause is older–British hatred of continental power, whether it was 16th century Spain, Napoleon, or a unified Germany after 1870.  There’s a lot of documentation out there (Niall Ferguson has about 400 pages of endnotes in The Pity of War suggesting Britain welcomed war in 1914 as an excuse to fight Germany before Germany grew too strong to contain) that Britain intentionally avoided a peaceful solution.

*Fighting the war?  Read the documents and orders, especially on the western front.  Men are treated as a number in the ledger, nothing more.  They are something to expend, no different than bullets or artillery shells.  European leaders chose to avoid lessons of war–the trenches of the American Civil War or the addition of barbed wire and machine-gun positions to those trenches which came during the Russo-Japanese War.  Nope–those wars involve Americans, Asians…not “real” or “professional” soldiers.  So they applied 19th century solutions against 20th century technology.  And failed.

*Peace?  Britain and France made sure to screw over all of the Central Powers.  Theirs was not a peace meant to heal wounds, it was one of vengeance.  The Ottoman Empire was eliminated, its territories handed over (conveniently) to France and England.  Germany was forced to admit all guilt for everything, its industry was occupied, it was banned from a real navy, army, or airpower, and it was forced to pay cash to Britain and France for the cost of the war.  There were sane men who tried to prevent such a solution.  They understood Germany would not stand for it, would recover and seek an alternative solution.  One of those rational men headed France’s military during the war, French Marshal Foch.  He said on the treaty’s signing, “This is nothing more than a twenty-year ceasefire.”  He said that June 28, 1919.  On September 1, 1939, World War Two broke out.  He missed by 63 days (he was 99.14% accurate in his assessment).

*It was worse still.  The American president, Wilson, had entered the war naively, believing the Germans the bad guys, that Britain were the good guys.  He wanted to make the world safe for democracy and then, even though it was American financing which won the war against the Central Powers, Wilson permitted Britain and France to dictate terms, including the way the League of Nations was created.  Instead of the United States brokering a just peace between nations who all shared guilt for the slaughter which devastated Europe, Wilson returned home with nothing.  The US didn’t even join the League because of the numerous caveats–and fears of entanglement abroad (worries which existed before Wilson fought for the League unnecessarily).  Wilson blew his political capital and prestige on an impossible dream that every nation would get along if they had an organization to talk in.

So what?  This was a century ago?  It doesn’t matter.   Oh, but it does.  Can you picture a war breaking out because two leaders don’t like one another, one winds up with a bruised ego?  What about a regional power entering a fight with another–the two Koreas–which escalates when China and the US become involved?  Does that become the time for the Sovi–Russians to try and reoccupy Warsaw Pact nations?  Can those powers keep the fighting limited or when defeat nears, will someone use nuclear weapons hoping for a desperate win or ‘if we can’t win, no one else will either’?

Remember this day.  November 11 is far more important than 9/11 or 12/7.  It’s much more important than Memorial Day or Labor Day.  This Remembrance Day is to keep in mind that ungodly slaughter of 1914-1918 and the war spawned by its hateful end, 1939-1945.  We owe it to each other, our children, and their children’s children to never let anything like that happen again.  

“In Flanders Fields” –John McCrae (1872-1918)

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

World War One was accidental.  No one thought it would come to that.  They tried to put in place rules and treaties to prevent it happening again.  They failed, but the invention of atomic weapons created a stable, lasting peace–even in the middle of an arms race.  Eventually, the two main powers, the US and USSR, negotiated limits.  Those agreements are being disavowed now, you have China massively upgrading its arsenal….are we nearing the point of another accidental war, this time fought to the species’ extinction with nuclear weapons?

Pass Quality and Hitting Efficiency

Mainly because few coaches are willing to provide detailed numbers for other coaches to look at, I figured, “Why not do a blog showing the breakdown of the relationship between pass quality and hitting efficiency?”  Besides, it’s better than doing other paperwork and adult crap.

Now–it’s important to realize that when you break VB passing down, using the scale of 3-2-1-0 does NOT provide an accurate assessment of the passes’ values.  3-2-1-0 suggests a 3 is 300% more valuable than a 1, 50% more valuable than a 2.  The reality is that a 3 is about 500% more valuable than a 1 and 25% more valuable than a 2.  Please keep this in mind!!  I say that because even though using a 5-4-1-0 system is a better use of passing stats as an evaluation tool, I’ve presented everything below in terms of 3-2-1-0 since that is what a majority of coaches continue to use.

The breakdown below goes:
3+2% / 1% / ZERO% / S-R Rating / Hit Eff % / Record

2018:  72.3% / 21.1%  / 7.6% / 2.06 / .263  Current Record: 27-11
2017:  76.0% / 19.1% / 4.9% / 2.12 / .237  Final Record: 37-7
2016:  73.6% / 20.2% / 6.2% / 2.11 / .232 Final Record: 40-9
2015:  70.7% / 24.2% / 5.1% / 2.20 / .270 Final Record: 40-6
2014:  77.4% / 15.6% / 7.1% / 2.09 / .243 Final Record: 25-18

Hmmm…so our season where we have the highest percentage of good/perfect passes has the worst W/L record.  It also has our second highest percentage of getting aced/overpassing the ball.  Coincidentally, our current season has the highest rate of 0-passes and a very similar record to 2014.

So really–even though I’d concluded that the important thing is to convert 1s to 2s, more than converting anything to a perfect pass–the reality is that it seems to be most important to eliminate the aces/overpasses from the equation, that the priority on serve-receive simply has to be “get the ball up somewhere/anywhere” for a reasonably controlled second contact.

The alternative is that there is a ‘magic’ breakpoint somewhere between 6.2% and 7.1% of serve-receive passes that are ‘zeroes’ that significantly tilts the final record (presuming similar quality of competition).



In any event, while you’re here…have you considered hitting the “FOLLOW” button?  And just as important, why not go buy a copy of Like Heck She Isn’t a Volleyball PlayerIt’s under five dollars and it’ll make you think about volleyball (hopefully) in different ways.

(Or if you feel like a good war story, try: The Five Days of Osan.)

Every day–find a way to enjoy yourself and learn!!!