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A Deeper Look at Middle-Middle Defense

Category : Analytics, Research · by Dec 6th, 2013

A Deeper Look at Middle-Middle Defense

Earlier this season I developed an app to aid in scouting opponents. What I do is watch a whole bunch of scout video and input the location of every attacked ball into the app. It generates a “radius of success” depending on the speed of the attack. Then, after all the locations are entered, it overlays all of them to create a density map. Higher density means that a defender standing in that spot will dig more balls.

I thought it would be interesting to combine the charts for every hitter we scouted an “all attacks” map:

All Attacks

I marked middle-middle with a green X, and marked a second green X at the location with the highest density. They are less than a foot away from each other. (A quick note of clarification: this is a chart of all 3rd-contact attacks and excludes freeballs/downballs/etc. If I included the other stuff you would probably see a little more short junk on the chart.)

I also made a chart of all the outside attacks. As you can see, middle-middle still looks like a pretty good place to stand. As you might expect, there’s a lot of balls toward the crosscourt corner, a fair amount of tips, and some balls hit sharp cross or sharp line.


Now of course, these are general tendencies. Some players hit more in the seam and don’t tip much.

Some like the sharp cross shot:

Some tip a lot:

And some have more range than others:

So there are definitely times to make defensive adjustments, especially with regards to the wing defenders and off blockers. A good way to approach defensive alignments is:

(1)   Understand the general trends and set your base defense off that.

(2)   Study your opponents and know when to adjust. The most common decisions will be:

a:  Does my line digger:

i.     Stay on the line

ii.     Get off the line and in the seam

iii.     Stay up for tips and junk

b:  Does my off blocker:

i.     Try to get to 10’ to dig the cutshot?

ii.     Come across to cover tips and junk

c:  Does my crosscourt digger

i.     Stay sharp for the cutshot

ii.     Get toward the corner

d:  Middle-middle is generally a good place to play (as different as the 4 charts above are, they all have   a big clump of red within a step or two of middle-middle), but maybe that player needs to know there’s more balls coming toward the corner or the seam.

(3)   Realize that, even with knowing tendencies, the most important thing a defender needs to be able to do is read the hitter. Scouting can’t replace reading. Even if a hitter loves to hit crosscourt, but the set is tight and pushing across their body, I might need to be ready for the line shot.

The other factor is to know that your league might be different than other leagues. Most D1 collegiate leagues are going to look pretty similar to what’s above. A chart of men’s international volleyball would look a lot different. I suspect a chart of U-12s would be pushed up a lot closer to the net because of all the tipping.

If anybody here has charted a lot of attacks from their league (remember that charting just a few dozen attacks is too small a sample size for broad conclusions, the above “all attacks” chart is over 1,000 attacks, from about 20 matches) and has some info to share, please drop a line in the comments. And if anybody is interested in generating some charts, let’s get in touch.


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