Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Home Court Advantage in Volleyball: Fact, Fiction and Mystery

Playing and Coaching at Home

Everyone knows there are advantages to playing at home.  You get to sleep in your own bed, eat your own food, and you don't have to pack a bag.  No airports, airplanes or bus rides.  When you arrive at the gym you're in familiar surroundings.  You know the locker room, the gym, the lighting and the floor.  You know the space around the court and the height of the ceiling.  Friends and family watch and support you.  You're as comfortable as you can be before a match.

Life is good. . . .  

The Home Advantage in Sports

But wait, it gets even better.  If there are advantages to playing at home there's also a home court advantage.    Depending on who you listen to home teams win 52% of all baseball games, 58% of football games and 66% of basketball games.[1]  Whatever the reasons (nobody seems to know why) home teams win more often than visitors[2].  Could there be a home court advantage in volleyball too?  Some researchers say yes. 

Home Advantage in Volleyball

In the first research study of its kind researchers in Portugal examined whether there is a home court advantage in volleyball by analyzing 275 volleyball games played in the 2005 Men's Senior World League.  They concluded that home teams in volleyball have a greater probability of winning across all sets and have a greater advantage at the beginning and end of a match.  The study is published in the Journal of Sports Science and Medicine.[3]

While there are many great benefits to playing and coaching at home, it's still not clear why home teams have more success.  Across sports the research is ambiguous and unfortunately the current study sheds little more light on the subject.  

While stopping short of offering "causes," the authors posit varied possible explanations for their findings including: (a) a perception of social support for the home team reduces stress and promotes performance; (b) home teams' greater familiarity with "situational variables" allow them to outperform opponents who need more time in a match to adjust; and (c) support and familiarity factors maximize home teams' advantages in the most critical points in a match (the 1st and 5th sets), justifying a higher probability of winning those sets.

The precise reasons for the home advantage, and whether it extends beyond the men's senior world league in volleyball, awaits further exploration.  Until then, players and coaches, enjoy those home matches and train to get better on the road.


[1] Albert, J., Bennett, J. (2003)  Curve ball: Baseball, statistics and the role of chance in the game. New York: Copernicus Books.

[2]  For an interesting discussion of possible reasons I recommend Tobias Moskowitz and L. Jon Wertheim's new book, Scorecasting: The Hidden Influences Behnd How Sports Are Played and Games Are Won.

[3]  Marcelino, R., Mesquita, I., Palao, J., Sampaio, J. (2009).  Home advantage in high-level volleyball varies according to set number.  Journal of Sports Science and Medicine. 8, 352-356.