Friday, May 10, 2013

An Analysis of Offensive Scoring in the 2013 AVCA Collegiate Sand Volleyball Championships

Collegiate beach volleyball is on the rise.  In 2009, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) approved beach volleyball as an emerging sport for women, creating both participation and scholarship opportunities for collegiate beach athletes.   During the first season of competition in 2012, 15 Division I schools sponsored "sand volleyball" programs.  That number doubled by 2013 with the addition of 14 additional schools from Division I and one school from Division II.  By 2014, the number of sponsoring schools is expected to exceed 40 - a threshold that will allow sand volleyball to reach championship status with the NCAA.  Collegiate sand volleyball is on pace to reach championship status faster than any other collegiate sport in history.


The aim of this study was to identify the areas of the court used to score offensively in collegiate beach or "sand" volleyball.  This is the first study of its kind of which we are aware and we fully acknowledge that the data collected and summarized here represents merely an initial foray into action sequence analysis of the college women's beach volleyball game.  The information presented represents a collegiate parallel to our study of offensive scoring in women's beach volleyball at the Olympic level.  Read alone or in conjunction with our previous findings the data suggest training, tactical and strategic considerations for players and coaches in the sport.  

Methods and Protocol

Data were compiled by observing a total of 26 matches in the 2013 AVCA Collegiate Sand Volleyball Championships.  Matches were observed in both the team championship and pairs championship segments of the event.  A total of 1,062 kills were observed of which 994 (93.596%) were recorded by zone in the court according to Figure 1.

FIGURE 1  (Zone identification)

A kill was assigned a zone when the ball (1) landed untouched in the specified zone of the court; (2) rebounded off the block and landed in a specified zone of the court; and (3) rebounded off a defensive player in a specified zone in the court and landed out of bounds.  Each kill in a zone was viewed from a slightly elevated position approximately three feet above the ground level of the court and from a location approximately 35 feet from the center of the court.

A total of 6.403% (n=68) of observed kills were excluded from zone assignment.  Excluded kills were of four types:  (a) kills in an indeterminant zone (n=20), (b) kills that rebounded off a block and landed outside of the court or hit an antennae (n=34), (c) kills for which a blocking error resulted in a kill being awarded to the opposing team (n=4), and (d) kills for which a ball handling error by a non-blocking defensive player resulted in a kill being awarded to the offensive team (n=10).


Athletes whose performances were analyzed were female collegiate sand volleyball players, comprising beach volleyball doubles teams.  All players were members of their respective collegiate sand volleyball programs representing 14 different institutions.[1]  Results include performances from at least one doubles team from each institution participating in the tournament and are drawn from matches in both the team and pairs championship segments of the event.


Overall, each zone was used to score offensively according to the percentage distribution shown in Figure 2.  This data includes all observed kills, except excluded kills, whether accomplished on the first ball received by a team in service reception or by either team in transition.  Players scored in Zone 1 = 26.156%, in Zone 2 = 11.468%, in Zone 3 = 7.243%, in Zone 4 = 14.285%, in Zone 5 = 24.547% and in Zone 6 = 16.297%. 

FIGURE 2:  (Overall zone usage for all offensive kills)

Zone 1 - 26.156% (n=260)
Zone 2 - 11.468% (n=114)
Zone 3 - 7.243% (n=72)
Zone 4 - 14.285% (n=142)
Zone 5 - 24.547% (n=244)
Zone 6 - 16.297% (n=162)

To determine whether zones were used to score differently in serve receive[2] and in transition[3], we analyzed all zone kills according to the phase of play in which the kills were earned.  Zone usage by kill in serve receive and in transition is shown in Figures 3 and 4.

In the serve receive offense, players scored in Zone 1 = 28.178 in Zone 2 = 12.027%, in Zone 3 = 6.872%, in Zone 4 = 13.402%, in Zone 5 = 22.336% and in Zone 6 = 17.182%.  In the transition offense, players scored in Zone 1 = 23.300%, in Zone 2 = 10.679%, in Zone 3 = 7.766%, in Zone 4 = 15.533%, in Zone 5 = 27.669% and in Zone 6 = 15.048%.

FIGURE 3: (Zone usage for all assigned kills in the serve receive offense)

Zone 1 - 28.178% (n=164)
Zone 2 - 12.027% (n=70)
Zone 3 - 6.872% (n=40)
Zone 4 - 13.402% (n=78)
Zone 5 - 22.336% (n=130)
Zone 6 - 17.182% (n=100)

 FIGURE 4:  (Zone usage for all assigned kills in the transition offense)

Zone 1 - 23.300% (n=96)
Zone 2 - 10.679% (n=44)
Zone 3 - 7.766% (n=32)
Zone 4 - 15.533% (n=64)
Zone 5 - 27.669% (n=114)
Zone 6 - 15.408% (n=62) 

Lastly, we analyzed the data to determine whether significant differences existed in the collective use of adjacent zones of the court to score offensively.  In particular, we sought to determine whether the front zones or back zones were used more often to score and whether the left-side, right-side or middle vertical zones were used significantly differently from each other in offensive scoring. 

As indicated in Figure 5, players used the backcourt zones to score at a rate 67.002% and used the frontcourt zones at a rate of 32.997% overall.  The backcourt scoring predominance held in both serve receive and transition offenses.  Backcourt scoring in serve receive = 67.697% (n=394) and in transition = 66.019% (n=272) while front court scoring in serve receive = 32.302% (n=188) and in transition = 33.980% (n=140). 

FIGURE 5:  (Overall zone usage by horizontal grouped zones)

Zones 1, 5 and 6 (backcourt) - 67.002% (n=999)
Zones 2, 3 and 4 (frontcourt) - 32.997% (n=328)

As indicated in Figure 6, players utilized the middle of the court to score significantly less often than either the left or right side overall. Left-side zones were used to score at a rate of 38.832%, right-side zones were used to score at a rate of 37.625%, and the middle zones were used to score at a rate of only 23.541% overall.  In serve receive, there was 4.468% increase in the right side of the court over the left side.  In transition, the data are reversed.  The left-side of the court was used 9.223% more often to score than the right side.  Player use of the middle zones to score offensively remained relatively constant in the overall offense and in both serve receive and transition.

Left-side scoring in serve receive = 35.738% (n=208) and in transition = 43.203% (n=178); middle zone scoring in serve receive = 24.054% (n=140) and in transition = 22.815% (n=94); and right-side scoring in serve receive = 40.206% (n=234) and in transition = 33.980% (n=140).

FIGURE 6:  (Overall zone usage by vertical grouped zones)

Zones 4-5 - 38.832% (n=386)
Zones 3-6 - 23.541% (n=234)
Zones 2-1 - 37.625% (n=374)


Offensive Scoring by Zone

The results indicate some significant differences among zone usage in women's collegiate sand volleyball.  Players scored most frequently in Zones 1 and 5, at rates of 26.156% (n=260) and 24.457% (n=244), respectively.  Zones 6 and 4 ranked 3rd and 4th respectively in overall percentage distribution with just a 2% difference between them.  The fifth most used zone to score overall was zone 2.  Players scored least frequently in Zone 3, at a rate of only 7.243% (n=72).  The data indicate that Zone 3 is not used to a significant degree to score offensively in women's collegiate sand volleyball.

There was no significant difference in the overall use of the left and right sides of the court to score offensively but results do indicate that the middle zones (zones 3 and 6) were used less frequently than either the left or right side.  Players scored in the middle zones of the court approximately 15% less often than either the left or right side.  Zone 3 was the used least among front row zones and zone 6 was used least among back row zones.     

Offensive Scoring - Frontcourt v. Backcourt

The statistical data indicate that offensive scoring in women's collegiate sand volleyball is predominantly accomplished in the back three zones of the court.  This is consistent with our earlier findings in a study of beach volleyball at the Olympic level in which backcourt scoring exceeded frontcourt scoring by nearly 18%.[4]  In the collegiate game, the predominance of backcourt scoring was even more pronounced.  Kills in zones 5, 6 and 1 exceeded kills in zones 4, 3 and 2 by more than 34% overall.

 Zone Usage in Serve Receive and Transition

There was considerable consistency among the zones used to score by teams in serve receive and in transition.  As shown in Figure 7, in both phases of the game players scored least frequently ("F") in zones 2 and 3.  Beyond those zones, relative use frequencies varied between the two phases of offense, but the statistical differences were minor, with one exception.  Players used zone 1 to score nearly 5% more often in serve receive than in transition and used zone 5 to score slightly more than 5% more frequently in transition than in serve receive.

FIGURE 6:  (zone use frequencies by serve receive and transition offenses)


In terms of the most and least used zones, our findings closely track data from our Olympic research in which we determined that players used Zone 5 to score most often and used Zone 3 to score least often in both phases of the game.  Lastly, the data show no significant difference in front and backcourt scoring when comparing the serve receive and transition offense.  In both serve reception and in transition, backcourt scoring exceeded frontcourt scoring by approximately 2:1.  Consistent with our findings from the Olympic level of competition, offensive scoring in women's collegiate beach volleyball occurs predominantly in the back half of the court.  

Offensive Scoring - First Ball v. Transition

Our results indicate that the majority of offensive scoring by kill in women's collegiate sand volleyball is in the serve receive offense rather than primarily in transition.  Kills in serve receive exceeded kills scored in transition by nearly 1.5: 1, which is slightly less than the 2:1 ratio we found at the Olympic level, suggesting that collegiate serve receive offenses are less efficient than at elite competitive levels.  Among 994 recorded kills, 58.551% (n=582) were scored on the first offensive play by the receiving team following the serve and 41.448 (n=412) were scored in transition - by either team.  Offensive kills in serve receive exceeded kills in transition in 25 out of 26 or 96.153% of all matches observed suggesting the amount of training that should be dedicated to this aspect of the game.
The relative frequency of scoring in serve receive and concomitantly fewer transition points also has implications for the physical work load demands of beach volleyball.  Fewer rallies translates into shorter plays, more "down-time" and smaller workloads.  Physical training programs should reflect these realities of the game and coaches should analyze action sequences to determine the training needs of their players.  For less than collegiate levels of competition the data indicate performance standards for success at more advanced levels of play.


The present study provides researchers, coaches and athletes information concerning the offensive use of various zones of the court in collegiate women's sand volleyball.  Information obtained from the study of action sequences in beach volleyball is valuable for designing optimal training programs and practices.  Action sequence analysis also assists in the identification of tactical patterns and the development of counter-strategies in competition.  The present research will undoubtedly be improved upon and expanded by future studies designed to improve our understanding of the nature, tactics, skills, physical demands and strategies of the evolving game of beach volleyball.  


[1]  Institutions included were: Pepperdine University, Long Beach State University, University of Southern California, University of North Florida, Florida State University, University of Louisiana-Monroe, Georgia State University, University of California/Los Angeles, Florida International University, the University of Alabama/Birmingham, the University of the Pacific, Jacksonville University, Loyola Marymount University and Saint Mary's College of California.  None of these institutions, players or coaches are affiliated with this study nor have endorsed it.

[2]  For purposes of this study, we define serve receive as the offensive phase in which the receiving team executes its offense on the first ball received from the serving team.

[3]  For purposes of this study, we define transition to mean any phase of play after the first attack of the first ball received by a team in serve receive.

[4]  Holly, W.D., Offensive Scoring in Women's Beach Volleyball: An Analysis of Zone Usage in the 2012 Summer Olympic Games., available at, April 2013.