Introduction

The 2014 World Championships for Women took place in Italy from September 23 rd  to Oct 12 th . 24 teams qualified, representing 5 continents. This was the 17 th  time that this competition has been held since 1952 in URSS. They were hosted in Rome, Trieste, Bari, Modena, Verona and the finals in Milano.

 

The event was structured into three phases. Round 1 is where teams were divided into 4 pools, each composed of 6 teams. The first four in every pool advanced to Round 2. Teams were awarded 3 points for winning 3-0 or 3-1 and 2 points if the won 3-2. These points were used to award rankings in each pool.

 

The 16 teams left in Round 2 were divided into two new pools, each composed of 8 teams. Pools A and D formed one new pool as did the first 4 from Pools C and D. These two pools were E and F. Matches that were played in Round 1 were carried over into Round 2 and not replayed. 

 

Round 3, hosted in Milan, qualified the top 3 teams from each of the Round 2 pools. They included in Pool H: BRA, CHI and DOM and in Pool G: ITA, USA and RUS. The top 2 teams advanced to the semi- finals and then the winner’s advanced to the Gold match and the loser’s to the Bronze match.

 

The final rankings were:

 

1

  USA

2

  China

3

  Brazil

4

  Italy

5

  Dominican Republic

5

  Russia

7

  Japan

7

  Serbia

9

  Germany

9

  Turkey

11

  Belgium

11

  Bulgaria

13

  Croatia

13

  Netherlands

15

  Azerbaijan

15

  Kazakhstan

17

  Argentina

17

  Canada

17

  Puerto Rico

17

  Thailand

21

  Cameroon

21

  Cuba

21

  Mexico

21

  Tunisia

 

This technical analysis for the 2014 World Championships was basically the same concept used for the London 2012 Olympic Games. Selected matches of the top four teams (USA, CHN, BRA, ITA) have been used as the focus for this analysis.

 

In the ‘General Impressions’ section we have summarized the highlights of this competition, expected standards that are needed by teams to perform well at this level and questions for further discussion or study. ‘Short Characterization’ chapters present the general team characteristics of the final 4 teams and the uniqueness, similarity or differences of each. The intent is to give coaches further insight into how these teams achieved their final placing’s.

 

 

GENERAL IMPRESSIONS

 

Some countries maintained their high standard of performance from previous competitions like Brazil and the USA. China and Italy showed improvement with solid performances. China may be the team to beat in the next few years, as they are the youngest of the teams in the final 8. Some countries gave less than their best levels in this competition like Russia and Japan. Rising countries like the Dominican Republic, Serbia, Germany, Turkey and Belgium still have to prove themselves in future competitions by getting to the medal podiums. The Netherlands, Azerbaijan, Belgium and Turkey are younger and if those players continue then they may be one of the next teams to move into the top 8. This competition will be seen as the springboard towards a strong performance in Brazil 2016 and the Olympic Games. Teams in the 17 – 24 positions still have to make vast improvements in various aspects of the game in order to move up the volleyball ladder. 

 

HIGHLIGHTS

 

1   TECHNICAL

 

Service

Almost all players utilized the jump float service – probably 80% or higher in this competition. The standing float is the next most utilized choice followed by, surprisingly, not a lot of jump spin servers. In the final round the USA did not have a jump spin server, similar for China (in earlier matches, LIU #9, did spin serve), Brazil (none in the starting unit) and only 1 for Italy. Is this because teams are feeling the importance of maintaining rhythm, not giving opponents easy points and having faith in their defense and block to win points for them? 

 

Players were consistent with their pre-service mental routines before serving. This is not necessarily new but the fact is that many players were taking advantage and using nearly all of the full 8 seconds allowed, before serving. Many players began their routine before they left the court and would not look for the ball until they finished their ‘walking’ ritual where they would turn, ask for the ball, turn and then finalize their preparation procedure before serving.

 

Service seemed to be strong and directed at tactical targets or positions on the court and this seemed to give receivers some difficulties. Difficulties, in the sense that passing was perfect at times, then all of a sudden a seemingly average serve would cause the best receiver to have difficulties. Many coaches feel that the ball does cause difficulties in reception because it can ‘drop’ very quickly. In this competition it seemed that the server’s did cause difficulties for the receiver’s over the course of a long match.

 

Offense

Most teams are using basic volleyball execution with alliance on speed to the peripheral edges of the frontcourt and following this with a lower backcourt 3m attack with the pipe being the most utilized. Highball attack from broken plays or poor digging/passing has to be part of the regular scoring system for the teams at the top. Most teams are good or great when passing within system (i.e. good reception or dig) but not as good when out of system (i.e. bad reception or dig). Teams that find solutions to the latter find a way to get better results. 

 

Interesting enough there was some individual movements by attackers but very little when it came to combination or crossing patterns. Speed of execution in attack and high contact was more important than crossing patterns. The most common attack variation was an inside shoot for left side players and inside 2 nd  tempo for right side players. There was very little use of the right or left cross (X) and sometimes the use of double quick with middle and right side attackers was a variation. It will be interesting to see how teams adapt to the system of fast front and back sets in future competition because it does seem to be part of the direction of present women’s volleyball play. Once teams learn to utilize their blockers to stop that faster outside sets it may cause other ‘tactics’ to be brought back into use in the future. Maybe ‘bunch’ blocking will not be the basis for blocking defense against all types of attack – definitely the USA showed that teams cannot stay inside versus the speed of attack that they are facing. As blockers drift then back row players have a difficult time in establishing a solid defensive structure to build transition offence.

 

Running the middle player 3 m, in front of the setter, or to the antenna, behind the setter, was universal in combination with a quicker ‘pipe’. Teams did move the middle for a front or back quick with a corresponding push of the placement of the ‘pipe’ attack in order to create angles for the ‘pipe’ attacker. China was especially adept at moving the pipe attacker depending upon the place and speed of the middle attacker. Most attackers using the ‘pipe’ were very strong in cutting the ball, sharply, to their opponent’s position 

 

From defensive transition speed to the middle attacker was important and this quickness include the use of speed also from passes around the 3 m line. Backcourt sets in position 1 or 6 keep opponent middles from overloading early to key against a particular position or attacker.

 

Defense

Generally, teams used a conventional style of 6 back defensive system of play. Brazil used their middle, THAISA, in 6, when she served, and put a left side in 5. However, she did not always stay in the game after she finished serving, but this may be their intent for future play. The USA utilized their libero, BANWARTH, in position 6 with their left side in 

 

Blocking was from the ‘bunch’ position on the court and was mostly of the two-blocker variety. Some teams, like USA, Italy and Brazil did put up 3 blockers against highball attacks in 4 and 2 or the pipe. Swing blocking was prevalent for middles, except for China who kept hands up and round the shoulders when moving. Blockers were using maximum jumps whenever possible to create good chances for penetration over the net. As a result there were some impressive blocks. If timing was not as good then there were directed touches by the blockers to their backcourt teammates. The USA was especially good in forcing attackers (to ‘funnel’ the attack) to hit towards angles where their diggers were prepared, the concept utilized by male players in their game.

 

The libero was essential in setting the 2 nd  contact when on the court after the setter was making the first contact. Most attacks were still of the ‘high’ variety when the libero was utilized. Defense for the libero was mainly in position 5 on the court.

 

China was one of the few teams that tried to use some combinations and quicker attacks from good defensive digs. The USA ran their fast sets from the 3 m line when passes were not perfect. Generally, for the rest of the teams, the speed of the front and back sets were higher when 2 nd  ball contact was not good. Occasionally, setters tried to get middle involved in a quick set to the seam of the opponent’s 2 and 3 blocking position or a fast one foot take-off to the right side antenna during defensive transition.

 

Tipping and roll shots were an essential part of the attacking scoring skills. This was because most teams were is a 6 back with ‘dig and react’ reading skills (they stayed deeper in the court). If the ball was set quicker or close to the net on the high ball then the line defensive player (1 and 5) closed quickly toward the net.

 

Biomechanics of Motor Movement and Visual Perception

 

Players who differ in their natural dynamics of moving and thus in their actions

Players who differ in their natural dynamics of movement will also differ in their actions on the court. The main observable contrast is what we call Walking from the Bottom (WB) versus Walking from the Top (WT). 

 

WB demonstrates the need for a deeper starting posture so concentric dynamics can be put into motion. These players make speed and adjust from bottom up.

 

WT demonstrates the need for a higher starting posture so   plyometric dynamics can be put in motion. These players make   speed and adjust from top down. For example, in service reception and backcourt defense both WB and WT contact the ball at the same height. The crucial question is where do they come from and where do the move towards?   

 

The following characteristics apply:

 

WB

WT

Deeper starting posture.

Higher starting position.

Weight more on the lower and back part of the feet.

Weight more on the higher and front part of the feet.

 

This dimension also shows differences in preference actions of setters and attackers.

 

Players who differ in their acceleration around the vertical axis

Do hips and shoulder girdle move together or independent of each other? Attackers who move together accelerate their attacks with the hip girdle. The hip leads the movement around the vertical axis and the movement of the shoulder is due to the action resulting from that movement.

Attackers who move independently accelerate their attacks with the shoulder girdle. The shoulder girdle initiates the movement around the vertical axis and the hip girdle react after this movement occurs. As a consequence players who move both hips and shoulders together have to position themselves in a frontal action. Players who move independently have more diagonal/rotational movement around their vertical axis.

 

Players who differ in their motor eye abilities

Players, depending on their brain hemisphere dominance, have a right or a left motor eye (part of the peripheral sight). It is important because the quality of the execution of the skill depends on the quality of visual information. The motor eye functions in this regard as ‘radar’ and picks up speed, direction and threat quickly and more efficiently. Players need to adjust their visual strategy to the context.

For example:  a player attacking in position 4 with a right motor ‘eye’ can move to this position more straight because his right motor eye is connected with the setter and the ball. On the other hand the favorite route for a player with a left motor eye, in this position has to move firstly, to the left, and then turn so the left eye becomes connected with the setter and the ball. Of course you can follow this concept with the movement patterns in position 2. The motor eye also plays a role in receiving the serve; this visual strategy has to compensate for the weakness on one side.

 

Players who differ in the pattern of their movements

Players with so-called vertical organization of their movements can be distinguished from those with a horizontal organization of movements. Vertical players keep their arm straight in their (attacking) actions. For them it is easy to move the elbow close along the head. Horizontal players are not able to do this in a natural sense; they need to move their hand to bring their elbow in the desired position.

 

What we also observe  concerning this aspect has to do with the cooperation between the setter and the attacker. Vertical players are direct attackers. They prefer a vertical set (played at a higher point; called a “point’ set) to make contact. This is a set that has an arc where the ball almost ‘stops’ at the point of contact and is, if it can happen, slower than ‘flat’ or horizontal sets. Horizontal players are indirect attackers. They have the need to differentiate (take the ball more left or right) depending upon the situation. They prefer a more flat line in the arc of the set to make good contact. This means that the set has to have more speed for them to be efficient as attackers. Whenever possible it’s the setter who has to adapt to the preferences of the attacker. 

 

2   TACTICAL  UTILZATION  OF PLAYERS WITHIN COMPETITION

 

Double Substitution Tactic

All teams used a double substitution at some point in time. For USA, Brazil and Italy it was a commonality in nearly every set. This means that most teams are comfortable with their starters being able to play consistent in tough situations. There are only about 15-18 rotations in the normal 25-point game and so teams used this method of substitution early (around 16 points) to get a jump on their opponents or if they were having troubles they used the double sub as a method of trying to turn the match around.

 

Interestingly, some of the teams did not bring the starting setter back into the game but allowed the specialist player, rotating from the frontcourt, to stay in the match and play defense. This was especially seen when the USA played. After they eventually lost the point, the starting setter came in. This shows confidence in their libero and other players to make a good set in a rally or transition situation.

 

Use of Libero within a Team’s Offensive and Defensive Systems

Top teams have at least one strong libero who is the foundation for their team’s offensive and defensive systems. More and more we are seeing quality in super libero’s such as Italy’s Monica DE GENNARO, USA’s Kayla BANWARTH, Brazil’s Camila BRAIT, Dominican’s Brenda CASTILLO, and Sayaka TSHTSUI of Japan.

 

No team in the top 4 used 2 liberos with specialties of one for reception and one for defense but China did change their 2 liberos within one match, even though they only used one on the court. Teams in the next tier down, such as Russia and a few other teams did use 2 liberos for the specialties of defense and reception. 

 

Some coaches feel that switching the libero and using them for only one role does not allow continuity on the court or a feeling of how the match is moving along. In essence the libero going in for only one action, may be ‘cold’ and not perform as well since they don’t get ‘into’ the match. However, with any new tactic, there does take time to efficiently utilize the strengths of such a system. For some players, who train only for one focus, it means more exciting and exact technical performances on the court and this transfers into excitement for the spectators watching the match. Negatively, each libero may have certain different characteristics or personalities, which means the team has to train for 8 players having a relationship with each other on the court and then with the other specialists that are needed from time to time. However, it is good that teams can chose the ‘system’ that they want to follow and opens up the game to player’s that are not giants.

 

3   ORGANIZATION  WITHIN  A TEAM: FACTORS NEEDED FOR STRONG PERFORMANCE

 

Depth of Players within the Team

Teams are coming to this event with players that have had many international matches, which lead up to this World Championships. Many athletes are playing in 1 or more World Championships and Olympic games before coming to this event. Coaches are keeping older players longer as their experiences and skills provide a good solid framework for their young members on and off the court. As mentioned earlier, some teams carry 2 liberos, even if only one is used but as in China’s case, they switched their starting libero in the 3 rd  set of the Gold medal match. So carrying two liberos on the roster is seen as important, especially if you are allowed to have 14 players in a competition and you can declare the 12 you want before you play again. USA (26.4 av), Brazil (27.7 av) and Italy (28.8 av) generally had older players within their team composition while China (23.4 av) was the only team that had younger players but even they had two former Olympians.

 

The average age in London 2012, for the top 4 teams, was 27.86 while in this World Championships it was 26.6, but China did skew this result, as they were a young team.

 

Height 

The 4 top teams averaged 184.75 with the libero and 186.23 without the libero. Height, along with skill, still plays a fundamental role in better teams and their performance. The average height of the next 4 top teams, except for Japan, was comparable. China was the tallest team in the final 4. This is much higher average than at the 2012 Olympic games where the top 4 with libero averaged 180.90 and 182.27 without libero.

 

Consistency

Teams need consistency with all skills, with less errors being the deciding factors between success and failure. If you follow the statistical data on the final round (1-6) results in the skill by team you would see that the USA was only first in one category, that of ‘digging’ and second in another, that being ‘setting’. During the last round the USA was only the 6 th  best blocking team and 5 th  best attacking team but probably they, as a team, had the most organized system around the block and this resulted in many defensive transitions where there setter utilized both faster and higher sets, depending upon the situation. Many passes that came to the center of the court and on the 3 m line and still were transferred into faster attacks to the antenna’s thus not allowing teams to construct solid blocks. The USA did this with amazing efficiency and reliability.

 

The top 3 teams ranked 1-2-3 as best receivers, best setters and except for Brazil (4 th ) as best diggers. Italy showed that if they were more consistent at crucial times in their matches they could have been playing for the top position in this tournament. Their serve and attack let them down when they had chances to finish in a higher position than they did in the end, even though they were ranked 1 st  in serving and 2 nd  in attack. Russia did not make the final 4 because of serve, setting, and digging inconsistencies. You could make the case that the Dominican Republic, even though they went 5 with China, could have made it into the final 4 if their reception, except for their Libero, was not suspect. 

 

To get to the top you cannot have any ‘big’ weaknesses even though you try to cover for those inadequacies. Fitness also plays a role in a competition like this where many matches have to be played and all results are important because matches between teams in previous pools are carried forward. Perhaps, like for Italy, age caught up to them in the end, which is another consistency where experience cannot over come tired legs.

 

Attack Velocity

Attack with velocity is needed to rise in the volleyball world. As mentioned previously all teams attack well when there is a good pass but teams that are good also attack well when passes are bad. Teams have to be able to score with their powers on broke plays, they need quick attacking and use of this attack even when passes are not perfect and they have to have transition in crucial times in order to have a strong result.

 

This is evident today as teams are starting to score more from the 3m zones and by the outside front row attackers against 2 or 3 blockers. There are still rallies in the women’s game, more and longer than for the men’s game, but attack is becoming quite powerful as a rule and this balance is not always the case. 

 

Pipe and Right 3m attacks

The ’pipe’ is an extremely important attack ‘tool’ for all teams to compete at the top level. Speed of attack to the outside parts of the court is more common off reception and defense. Women are now using the pipe more as a ‘combination’ set rather than just a high ball to generate an attack. Quick attacking and movements within this skill are important to not only set up the front court outside attackers but now the 3m pipe and right side 3m attacks depend on their abilities to hold the blockers so they cannot key on one player or attack variation.

The 3m attack from the right side of the court is still a ‘staple’ for all opposite hitters to have in order to be very effective as attackers. However, it is usually run more as a release set when distances are increased on the court, rather than in combination with a front row attack.

 

Young Talent

Young players already having most of the tools to perform at this level came to the forefront and will become the stalwarts for future major competitions. For some this was their first great contribution to their teams and, under pressure and stress, some came through i.e. GLASS (USA), CHIRICHELLA (ITA), DIOUF (ITA), and YUAN (CHI). Additionally, in order to have a strong performance, veteran players are needed to give stability to a team’s performance. This is evident in all the teams in the 1 to 8 and 9-16 levels where the age average within teams is about 25-26 years. Teams with lower results were usually younger on average.

 

Competition Schedule

Teams need to compete in events like the World Grand Prix, on a regular basis, in order to try and increase their level of performance. Then events like the World Championships and Olympics become a possibility. In the off-season all players are involved in some sort of professional Division I play in various countries. However, at times this competition schedule may hinder the performance of teams because of tiredness and potential nagging injuries to players that sometimes occur because of not enough time to physically prepare for all the competitions they are now facing.

 

4   QUESTIONS FOR  FURTHER  STUDY OR CONSIDERATION

 

New in this competition was the video challenge for touches and line calls. Coaches were allowed two ‘challenges’ each set and at times, some of these seem to be deliberate delays to slow down the momentum of the match. The data from the decisions contested and the wins/losses, to the challenge, are known to the FIVB but to the average person there was a number of ‘wins’ by the coaches when it came to line calls made by the   lines-people. Does this indicate that the standard of line calls is low or does it just show that lines people are normal and errors do occur? Does this put more pressure on the referees to overrule certain calls or just allow the video challenge to occur?

 

Playing time (action on the court) vs. down time (preparation for the next serve or side out) seems to be increasing towards more down time than playing time.

 

Length of matches - are they increasing because of players taking the 8 seconds before service, video challenge time, show time of performers, etc.?

 

New in this competition was the video challenge for touches and line calls. Coaches were allowed two ‘challenges’ each set and at times, some of these seem to be deliberate delays to slow down the momentum of the match. The data from the decisions contested and the wins/losses, to the challenge, are known to the FIVB but to the average person there was a number of ‘wins’ by the coaches when it came to line calls made by the   lines-people. Does this indicate that the standard of line calls is low or does it just show that lines people are normal and errors do occur? Does this put more pressure on the referees to overrule certain calls or just allow the video challenge to occur?

 

The 2-libero system seems to be becoming more common and in time it may become more of a norm.

 

Screening - should it exist when teams serve, as it is rarely called? Teams use screens when player switch in the front or back row and by standing close in the ‘bunch’ block ready position before service does occur.

 

Can more substitutions be allowed than the present 6? Should more specialization be considered through offensive and defensive substitutes being allowed in the game more than once? 

 

The concept used in this competition for final pool placement was awarding 3 points for a 3-0 or 3-1 win and only 2 for a 3-2 win has to be discussed as to its pros and cons. ‘Pro’ is that it causes coaches to ‘play to win’ while, ‘con’ is that a team can gain the top position in a pool but has lost to the 2 nd  place team.

 

Some teams were not at a performance peak and seemed tired. Their consistent execution of skills was not at a high level compared to other events. Events like the Grand Prix were held very close to this performance. Rankings of the Grand Prix, played about 3 weeks before the World Championships, were as follows:

 

Grand Prix 2014

WCH 2014

         1  Brazil

       3 rd

         2  Japan

       7 th

         3  Russia

       5 th

         4  Turkey

       9 th

         5  China

       2 nd

         6  Belgium

      11 th

 

The USA (1 st ), DOM (5 th ), and ITA (4 th ) missed the final round of the Grand Prix due to their performance in that competition (around Sept 17 th ). Did this mean that they used the time, prior, to recover and prepare for a peak at the World Championships?

 

It may be difficult to prepare a team for peaking in this competition because of the number of matches that have to be played and its affect upon performance. With the present format of having to play starters most of the time in order to win either 3-1 or 3-0 to maximize your point totals, it can hard on players that are on the court most of the time. Teams have to play, 13 matches in 20 days, to become the champion. Being allowed to dress 14 players for that many matches is a positive but in the scheme of the total picture are teams at their best level when they get to the last round? Definitely Italy and China were not at their best and many of their better players like ZHU (CHN) or COSTAGRANDE (ITA) seemed tired. Even Brazil did not execute like the team that everyone thought they should be in this final round? The ‘ups and downs’ during the matches of teams seems to indicate that this may have been the case.

 

Initially when the rally point system was initiated coaches felt that there would be no chance for teams to recover after they fell down by 3 or 4 points. As this competition showed, teams had many ups and downs, which were caused by their own errors and by various pressures put upon them by their opponent and themselves. Within the final 4 matches of this competition there were 40 ‘runs’ (approx.) of 3-5 points and 9 runs of 5 or more points with the largest run being 14 in a row scored by Brazil against Italy. In 14 of the 16 sets played in the final round both teams had at least one run of 3 or more points in the same set. Interesting was the fact that teams seem to be mentally stronger and even if they were on the wrong side of a bad run they could refocus and still come back within that set or within that match (Italy vs. Brazil for Bronze is a good example). This gave spectators a ‘roller coaster’ ride that kept them on the edge of their seats for many matches. No lead was enough!

 

 

 

 

Dr. Lorne Sawula (Technical Evaluator, Canada)

 

Dr. Berthold Fröhner (Technical Evaluator / External Technical Consultant, Germany)

 

Peter Murphy (Technical Commission FIVB / Technical Evaluator/ Project Coordinator, The Netherlands)