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Volleyball: What's the Most Crucial Skill?

Updated on December 8, 2017

Recently, in a volleyball coach's forum post at Facebook, a coach posed the following question: What team stats do you consider the most important when determining where to spend your practice time?

Many coaches look at that very same question after each season to see if there was one single statistic that had the greatest effect on the outcome of their campaign. In doing some research on the correlation between other statistics and match win/loss percentage, there were some noticeable trends that stood out.

This article will touch on the outcomes of that investigation.


Do You Agree That Passing Statistics Are The Most Crucial Statistical Information to Have?

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The Common Answer and Quandry

On that thread question, most coaches voiced an opinion that passing and serving were the most important statistics. There were fourteen mentions of serve receive passing, nine of serving, four of sideout percentage, and three of attack percentage.

Not surprising, really, when you factor in that serve receive or passing is the first contact a team is likely to make. What's surprising is that if this aspect of the game is the most important that there isn't a more standard measurement that teams use to calculate it.

Some teams use passing rating where they assign a quality from zero (ace by opponent) to three (perfect pass) to each pass and then add up the points. When you divide by total passes, you get a serve receive rating. Others may do a serve receive error to total passes ratio and get a serve receive percentage much like they had at this year's NCAA Division Final 4 television broadcast.

At the NCAA Volleyball Statistics page, the eight categories they keep track of are hitting percentage (1), kills per set (2), assists per set (3), digs per set (4), aces per set (5), blocks per set (6), points per set (7), and the number of attacks per set (8).

If serve receive was such a valuable skill in the game, why is there no measurable outcome that coaches and teams are tracking and reporting?

The Other Options

Aside from passing, serving got a lot of responses. Rotation sideout percentage and attack percentage each garnered some attention.

Serving is based on the same premise as passing. If you can break down the other team's offense, your team should be more successful. Sideout percentage has to do with how quickly you can get the opportunity to be serving.

Attack percentage is about your ability to score without error. It is this statistic that needs more investigation.


Attack Percentage - The Overlying Key to Success

When you look at statistical rankings at the end of the year, there are a few key ones that stand out compared to the way teams finished at the National Championship. The two big ones are attack percentage and kills per game.

At the Division III level for example, seven of the eight teams in the national tournament quarterfinals were teams that ranked in the top fifteen in the country for team attack percentage (419 total teams). Three of the four Final 4 teams were in the top five for this statistic.

For kills per set, all the national quarterfinalist teams were in the top thirty-two, including five of the top ten. All four Final 4 teams were in the top ten for kills per set.

Of the eight stats listed at the NCAA site, none carry so many of the teams that finished in the top eight.

The Chicken and the Egg

The argument becomes that in order to attack at a high percentage, a team must be able to pass effectively. To this, there would be a large amount of agreement. So while team attacking and kills per set are very important to team success, there must be a foundation built first in passing.

Along those same lines, it was interesting to note that not one single coach mentioned the word setting as one of the key statistics to help you determine what to do in practice. Again, setting is rather subjective to measure when we are talking about locations. But the case could be made that it is just as important to measure.


Measuring Passing's Effectiveness

Determining the effect that serve receive passing has on the sport is very difficult because there is not a whole lot of reported data on the skill. Total receive errors are listed at some sites, but many do not give a background of how many passes were taken to reach those numbers.

While many coaches keep a passing rating, it is a fairly subjective number according to who the rater would be. It is also not a statistic that gets publicized to allow many comparisons. While passing percentage (total passes minus errors, then divide by total passes) can give a certain measure, it certainly does not paint as accurate of a picture as a subjective passing rating.

Herein, lies a problem. How do we measure the effect of serve receive passing on the game? Coaches seem to find it crucial, but how do we measure it against other teams?


It would great to see governing bodies within the sport of volleyball come up with some kind of measurement to allow comparisons and analysis of the impact that passing has on the level of play. Currently, there is not one that exists.

With the subjective nature of the sport, it almost seems that it will have to be serve receive percentage (total passes-minus receive errors, then divide by total passes). Like the skills of attacking, serving, and blocking, those are outcome based results. So either you got a pass in the air or you didn't.

Will it be a true measure of the passing accuracy of a team? Not remotely close. But it's a start until there is a way to standardize and report on passer rating.


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