Statistics have always been an integral part of sports. From the rise of Moneyball and the modern statistical revolution all the way back to the first box score ever recorded, the two topics have been inseparable.
For Penn volleyball, data analytics have become part of the coaching staff’s routine both in between and during matches, leveraging insights from outside the box score to produce tangible results.
“It’s a little bit of a tightrope walk because as a coach you have some instincts, very subjective ideas about what’s going on in the game," head coach Kerry Carr said. "Then you get stats that prove otherwise, you’re looking at objectivity."
“I think it makes me a better coach getting to be objective about [the game], getting that distance from how I feel about it.”
Analytics tend to be a polarizing subject in the sports world, coming down to competing ideas of the old-school ‘eye test' versus new-school analytics. Carr, currently in her 18th season as the head coach of the Quakers, fits somewhere in the middle of that spectrum, acknowledging the need for analytics while still relying on her instincts on game day.
These insights come from many different places. During games, the team has an assistant on the end of the bench furiously typing into a laptop, recording the outcomes of each rally as it happens in real time. In between games, the coaching staff spends time analyzing video of practices and matches to offer insights into how they should prepare the team for the next weekend.
In the highly competitive Ivy League, every advantage matters, and the ability to go beyond simply counting stats on the publicly available box score is the focus for Penn.
“The stat program that we’re using enables us to see statistics that are more in depth than what we see on the box sheet,” assistant coach Seth Rochlin said. “It’s really about helping quantify what has historically been unquantifiable. We use all sort of programs to keep ourselves at the cutting edge.”
Rochlin, now in his sixth season on Penn’s coaching staff, has been heavily involved in the continued growth of analytics within the program.
For example, when looking at offensive stats in volleyball, it’s easy to pick up on the importance of kills, point-scoring plays produced by a given player. But from a deeper analytical perspective, a lot of factors go into a player notching a kill.
Rochlin and the rest of Penn’s staff are able to look into a hitter’s position on the court, where and who the set came from and where the hitter drove the ball in order to find ways for more effective attacks.
For the players, it’s an adjustment from the way that they’ve been coached in the past — most high school programs don’t take analytics as seriously as the Quakers. According to Carr, the coaching staff has been working to make sure that players don’t necessarily take a positive or negative out of any given number, but rather view it as something they can learn from and improve upon.
Every player learns differently and responds to statistics differently, and the coaching staff is able to provide these insights through different media, whether it’s graphical representations or just cold, hard numbers to help their players grow.
“It’s all getting us to having a better student athlete and a better experience for them,” Rochlin added.
“We’re trying to give them the tools to be a better volleyball player and to be a better student athlete, whether it’s in the weight room, in the classroom or specifically on the volleyball court in set three.”
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