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/.


25 comments


  • John

    I think the best solution to this would be as follows:

    -The team returning the serve gets only two touches to get the ball back the first time, after that the game plays out normally.

    -The serving team does not get a fault, if they fail the first serve then they lose the point and possession.

    This would firstly increase the number of serves that hit the net because servers would know that, since the opposing team gets only 2 hits, their serve does not need to be a zinger, and thus they would likely serve safer, more returnable serves.

    It would make it so that the returning team does not easily get a point returning the serve since they only get two hits.

    I think these two rule changes would lead to a much higher rally percentage and more interesting gameplay without fundamentally changing the game. Additionally, the fix would be extremely easy, requiring no new equipment whatsoever.


  • Tobias

    I’m pretty new to the sport but after watching a couple of pro videos and finding them quite boring, I found this post and thought a lot about it.

    I think one problem is that serving changes after an unsuccesful serve, encouraging risky serves.

    I’m wondering, what the following changes would achieve:

    - change back to the old serving rules
    - if you miss the net or do a rimshot during the serve, you lose a point and have to serve (right now you only lose a point but get rewarded by changing service)
    - the receiving team can only score directly by using less than three contacts. If they end the rally during their first turn and used three contacts, it only means that the service stays with the other team.
    - Maybe: An ace is not a point but only changes service
    I’m sure this would have to be balanced further. But before changing the design of the gear or introducing more lines I think it would be worth trying to change rules like this trying to discourage the kind of plays that are undesirable.

    Maybe another quite different way to go would be to have plays like in tennis so serving only changes after a play of a couple of points. On the other hand I’m not sure if this alone will really make much of a difference in the end.


  • Cecelia

    To increase rallies, creating a bulls-eye type of print on the net may ensure less aggressive spikes and less strategic bounces. The print could simply just be a circle that exists within the rim, just large enough to allow athletes to make skillful spikes to keep the excitement alive. There would be less arguments on whether the ball was hit within the pocket of the net and ALSO ensure more direct serves to the opponent to make it easier. This would still allow room for the exciting part of playing to exist, but making it more challenging and fun for athletes to utilize their chemistry and move to their advantage around the net.


  • Bo

    What if they made the net not so tight? Would that help slow the game a little.


  • Steven Murphy

    I say make the court like the size of a tennis court or something like that ( like a 40 ft diameter circle while putting the set in the center) every good sport in the olympics has boundaries. I believe that their is no ceiling right now for spikeball as these hitters can simply crush a ball off the net we are playing on to somewhere like 70 ft away and in the middle of someone else’s gamejust to secure that point? Talent, i don’t think so. I think the better guys right now in the sport of roundnet understand that you don’t have to crush a ball to get a point. if you don’t believe me take a look at Bolivia’s highlight videos (plenty of drops by the net right by the defender, effecting first touch,) example b. Chico spikes killing them softly video on YouTube. I believe that a boundary wld force teams to want to have a consistent partner and passing would then be more important than hitting or set or sets wld then be more important than hitting just to make sure you get the bowl shot/ drop to open space etc. just my thought


Leave a comment