Joe Trinsey, expert volleyball coach and elite statistician, found a few minutes to share with us his experience and thoughts about using data in making smart coaching decisions.
First Statistical Analysis
The first “statistical analysis” I ever did was when I was coaching club, and it was mind-bogglingly simple. I noticed that most young teams (I was coaching U14) aren’t really playing against each other, they’re playing against the ball. Whichever team could get a decent set and swing into the court more often usually won. I noticed that if teams could get a good swing 80% of the time out of the serve receive (Meaning, if they got a pass good enough for somebody to set, and got a set good enough to for somebody to hit, and then a hitter jumped and just got a decent swing in the court), they almost always won.
Armed with that idea, I went into my next practice with my team and we did a “6 v 0” drill where the server started with 7 points and the receiving team with 0. So if the server put the ball in play, all the receiving team had to do was pass-set-hit it back into the other court (if they just bumped it or tipped it over, it didn’t count) and they would win. The receiving team lost every time! That was a humbling experience to see that your team can’t even beat an empty court! It’s also where I started to really understand just how important first-contact skills were. Activities that were based around that idea (maybe getting 5 serves and needing 4 out of the 5 good swings to rotate, etc.) were really important to me. That one idea, getting just a “good” swing 80% of the time really guided us for the rest of the year, and within a few weeks, we were consistently winning that drill and winning a lot more matches.
Simplifying the Game
Beyond that, the statistical analysis that I found most helpful for club volleyball was actually incredibly simple, but it formed the guidelines for my system even now up to the national team level. I just tracked our passing as a team, our hitting after we made a good pass, and our hitting after we made a bad pass and the same for our opponents. This is incredibly simple but tells you a tremendous amount of actionable information.
First of all, I noticed that we were not passing at a high enough level. We had aspirations to qualify and compete at Junior Olympic Nationals, but we were undersized and not very athletic compared to the top teams in the country. We were passing better than our opponents but not by enough of a margin. We made a commitment to achieving a level of passing, and structured our entire training around that. As that improved, this basic statistic showed us that we were actually quite good out-of-system (after a bad pass) but not as terminal as our opponents were in-system. This forced me to look at our offense more closely and try to figure out how we could get a little more creative with our middle attack to steal a few in-system kills here and there.
Trinsey’s Coaching System
That system has evolved considerably as I’ve gone to the collegiate and international level, but the roots of it are still the same, and workable for any coach:
- Split the game up into a few discrete parts and analyze performance, of both you, and your opponents.
- See where you are lagging. Use your coaching experience and make a judgment on where you can have the most “bang for your buck.”
- Focus relentlessly on this area in training.
- Track the results in the game. If you improved this area, you should be a better team.
Many areas have a “tipping point”, where a little improvement goes a long way. For example, in women’s NCAA Division I volleyball, improving hitting percentage from 0.160 to 0.170 has very little effect on winning more games. Improving from 0.270 to 0.280 doesn’t have a huge effect either. But improving from 0.210 to 0.220 could mean winning 15% more games.
Finding which areas of the game that is a sweet spot for your team–where a little improvement in one skill will lead to a dramatic change in winning games–it’s critical. Great coaches do this intuitively, using experience they’ve gathered over years. If that’s not you, you need to be analyzing statistics to help inform your decision making.