Increasing Rallies in Roundnet


1 - 2 - 3, done. At the highest level of roundnet, that's the norm. Most people fall in love with the sport after a few great rallies, but as players' skills increase, rallies become less frequent, like Chris Hornacek drop shot infrequent. The consequence of this is that the general viewability of the sport suffers making it harder to attract fans, sponsors, and media coverage.   

Let's take a look at the 2017 National Championship finals for the Premier and Women's Divisions:

  Premier Women
Legal Serves 58.9% 80.9%
Missed Serves 41.1% 19.1%
Aces 14.5% 4.5%
Rallies* 4.8% 8.9%
Touches/Point 1.56 2.79
Change of Possession/Point 0.056 0.111

*A rally is defined as 3 or more changes of possession. 

All around, these stats aren't good. At first glance, it appears that the women's matchups are significantly better. However, if we take away aces and missed serves and only look at points the receiving team played out, we find that Premier matches had rallies 10.9% of the time and Women's matches had rallies 11.8% of the time. Still not good. 

Since it's so hard to get a defensive break, teams are forced to go for lower percentage serves, hoping for an ace. The strategy makes sense, but it leads to a lot of missed serves and makes for a boring match. Here's a stat to consider, according to the International Tennis Federation you could expect to see a double fault at a Grand Slam once every 5 games. At Nationals, our top players missed 40% of their serves. 

Unfortunately, this problem isn't specific to the Nationals Finals. On the biggest stages, we see an acute proliferation of the trend. The Lancaster ESPN broadcast was an opportunity to expose a new market to the sport. Take a look at the stats from those matches: 


The 717 vs. Cisek/Showalter

Serve % = 50%
Ace % = 7%
Rally % = 7%
Rally % on made serves = 14% 
Rally Types = 3 change of possession 1x, 4 COPs 1x

Easy Pass vs. Kris 2.0 

Serve % = 73%
Ace % = 6%
Rally % = 0%
Rally % on made serves = 0% 
Rally Types = None 

Lagertha vs. Ogres Heroes 

Serve % = 58%
Ace % = 0%
Rally % = 0%
Rally % on made serves = 0% 
Rally Types = None 

Cisek/Showalter vs Wabi Sabi 

Serve % = 63%
Ace % = 4%
Rally % = 3%
Rally % on made serves = 5% 
Rally Types = 3 change of possession 1x  

The first step to solving a problem is admitting you have one. We've got a rally problem. 

 

What can we do to increase rallies? 

Do nothing

Some people would say "nothing." We need to let the game develop naturally and allow time for defensive strategies and skills to catch up. The problem here is that there's currently an insurmountable disparity between offense and defense. The offense has the military power equivalent of the United States and the defense is Costa Rica. 

This is another way to look at it - if you compare roundnet to other net-based serving sports the disadvantage of serving in our sport is off the charts...in a bad way. 

 

Roundnet's serve success rate (ie the percentage teams win the point during their service possession) is half of what we see in beach volleyball and their stats are already struggling. 

 

Do Something

At Spikeball™  we've been testing out some ideas to increase rallies while preserving what's core to the sport. The two leading contenders are an inner circle and high rim. 

Inner Circle

The inner circle is an area around the net in which offensive players are not allowed to hit the ball. This boundary forces shots to come from a further distance away from the net and cuts down the angle at which players can hit. These factors contribute to greater rallies. The downside to this solution is that it makes the sport harder to officiate. The upside is that it's pretty easy to implement (at least on grass) and doesn't make it much harder for players just starting out.  

High Rim 

The high rim is an extended ramp around the set that restricts low swings and shots. This modification changes the trajectory that players can hit at and creates more high, long shots that players can chase down. The downside to this solution is that it's costly and time-intensive to produce new equipment. The upside is that it keeps all the rules intact and can be played on any surface. 

 

 The Results

  Control Inner Circle High Rim 
Touches/Point 2.5 2.9 2.9
Change of Possession/Point 1.4 1.5 1.6
Rally % 8% 18% 18%

 

Our methodology was to record all games and then track the results of each point. We used a simple spreadsheet that was laid out like this:

We played ~100 points with standard rules and equipment and then played ~100 points with each modification. We kept teams the same for all games.

 

How you can help 

It's great when people come up with ideas, but it's even better when they put them to the test. 

What's the ideal distance of the inner circle? What's the best angle/height of the extended rim? For validity, we need more data points. We need to keep brainstorming and testing new ideas and to refine the solutions we've come up with. Beyond that, we need qualitative feedback on how these modifications affect the sport. That's where you come in!

Get outside - play, experiment, and let us know the results. If roundnet is going to be the next great American sport, it's going to take open minds, transparency, and the entire community working together.  

 

Sources

1. Perrotta, Tom. “The Untimely Demise of the Double Fault.” The Wall Street Journal, 22 June 2011, www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052702303936704576399800242928430.

2. Bialik, Carl. “Serving Is A Disadvantage In Some Olympic Sports.” FiveThirtyEight, FiveThirtyEight, 18 Aug. 2016, fivethirtyeight.com/features/serving-is-a-disadvantage-in-some-olympic-sports/.


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