Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Playing time distribution at Washington?

In the Volleyblog Seattle mailbag, this comment from reader Dan Fan:
It’s been mystifying why (junior setter) Jenni [Nogueras) has not been allowed to play more often, especially given that no player is invincible and there is a strong likelihood of—at some point—needing an experienced backup. Since it’s impossible to gain experience without actually playing, it’s been frustrating as a fan (and undoubtedly as a player) to see starters continue to play in the sets in which the UW has built big leads.
During his decade at Washington, Coach Jim McLaughlin has used game-time substitutions sparingly.
McLaughlin’s system is based on competition and merit. Virtually all practice drills are gamelike, and almost every serve, serve-receive, pass, set, attack, dig and block during both training and matches are recorded and graded. For the most part, those with the highest scores earn the right to start and stay throughout the match.
At UW, players learn that playing time depends on winning those inter-team competitions. If you want to play, you have to beat out others at your position.
Of all the basic volleyball skills, setting is perhaps the toughest (and most subjective) to score. Fans who saw senior Evan Sanders give way to junior Jenni Nogueras during the third set of the Colorado and Utah matches commented that Sanders seems more in synch with Lauren Barfield than Nogueras did, and that the reverse was true for their timing with Bianca Rowland.
I have reason to believe the training competitions between Sanders and Nogueras are extremely close and spirited, and that McLaughlin is happy that the two setters are pushing each other hard. He wants that kind of competition at every position.
Washington setter Jenni Nogueras
[Volleyblog Seattle photo by Leslie Hamann]
There are also some broader strategic issues to consider:
Unlike basketball or football or ice hockey, a college volleyball coach is allowed just 12 substitutions per set. Whenever two players share a rotation position (one playing front row, the other playing back row,) the team uses two substitutions every six rotations. If a match see-saws (without a server on either side going on a long serving run), those substitutions can be burned quickly.
One of the beautiful things about volleyball is that matches are never over until they’re over. Unlike basketball, there’s really no such thing as “garbage time” when subs can game experience (and get their names in the boxscore.) In volleyball, a team can be down two sets to none, with the opponent at match point, and still find a way to win. I’ve seen it happen, more than once. If a coach runs through those 12 substitutions, tall middle blockers may end up in the back row, and diminutive defensive specialists must move around to block and attack. Not the ideal lineup.


  1. Hi Jack,

    Thanks for the explanation; I had no idea that there was a substitution limit. While what you say makes sense, I still think there is an argument that backups need playing time; since we are starting to see it (as opposed to earlier in the season), that argument is significantly diminished.

    Thanks again for answering the question; when the comment wasn't visible, I was afraid that commenting was disabled, and am appreciative that you can read and respond as appropriate. And thanks again for this great resource.

    Best wishes,

  2. Don't know why your first comment wasn't visible,
    Dan ... but feedback and commentary is always appreciated ...


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