Thursday, January 23, 2020

Offensive Scoring in Elite Women's Beach Volleyball: An Analysis of Zone Usage in the Olympic Games

Action sequence studies have been used to identify tactical patterns and develop sport-specific training programs in a variety of sports.  In beach volleyball the practice is relatively new but is becoming one of the most reliable sources of information concerning the training and competitive demands of the sport.

The aim of this research was to identify the areas of the court used by the offense to score in women's beach volleyball.  The dynamics of the game, its players and other situational factors preclude drawing conclusions applicable across all levels of play.  However, it is expected that knowledge of offensive zone usage can be useful to develop physical training, strategic, and tactical plans for beach volleyball teams competing at the elite level studied.  The data may provide similar guidance for collegiate and junior national levels of development as well.

Methods and Protocol

We compiled data by observing video of a total of 51 matches (94.444%), comprising 123 (94.615%) sets in the 2012 Summer Olympic Women's Beach Volleyball Tournament.  Each team was observed playing at least 2 matches and 4 sets.  A total of 2,601 kills were observed of which 2,370 (91.118%) were recorded by zone in the court according to Figure 1.

Figure 1:  Zone Identification.

   Zone 1
Zone 6
Zone 5
Zone 2
Zone 3
Zone 4

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 at least twice to ensure accurate zone assignment.  Multiple angles (when available), slow motion replay and frame-by-frame analysis were used to enhance the accuracy of the zones assigned to each kill.

A total of 8.881% (n=231) of observed kills were excluded from zone assignment.  Excluded kills were of four types:  (a) kills in an indeterminant zone (n=72), (b) kills that rebounded off a block and landed outside of the court or hit an antennae (n=142), (c) kills for which a blocking error resulted in a kill being awarded to the opposing team, 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=17) ((c) and (d)).


Players whose performances were analyzed were 48 female beach volleyball players, comprising 24 beach volleyball doubles teams.  All players were members of their respective national teams representing 17 different countries.  The average player age on the first day of the Olympic tournament was 27.187 years old.  Players averaged 178.979cm/70.479 inches in height and 68.520kg/151.062lbs in weight.[1]


Overall, players used each zone to score offensively according to the percentage distribution shown in Figure 2.  The 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 = 20.843%, in Zone 2 = 18.691%, in Zone 3 = 6.329%, in Zone 4 = 15.991%, in Zone 5 = 25.021% and in Zone 6 = 13.122%. 

Figure 2:  Zone usage for all offensive kills in Serve Receive and Transition


Zone 1 - 20.843% (n=494)
Zone 2 - 18.691% (n=443)
Zone 3 - 6.329% (n=150)
Zone 4 - 15.991% (n=379)
Zone 5 - 25.021% (n=595)
Zone 6 - 13.122% (n=311)
To determine whether zones were used to score differently in serve receive[2] and in transition[3], we further analyzed all 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 respectively.

In the serve receive offense, players scored in Zone 1 = 21.506%, in Zone 2 = 19.124%, in Zone 3 = 5.602%, in Zone 4 = 16.806%, in Zone 5 = 24.919% and in Zone 6 = 12.041%.

In the transition offense, players scored in Zone 1 = 19.683%, in Zone 2 = 17.870%, in Zone 3 = 7.711%, in Zone 4 = 14.443%, in Zone 5 = 25.214% and in Zone 6 = 15.177%.

Figure 3:  Zone usage for all assigned kills in the serve receive offense.


Zone 1 - 21.506% (n=334)
Zone 2 - 19.124% (n=297)
Zone 3 - 5.602% (n=87)
Zone 4 - 16.806 (n=261)
Zone 5 - 24.919 (n=387)
Zone 6 - 12.041 (n=187)

Figure 4:  Zone usage for all assigned kills in the transition offense.

   19.68%   15.18%   25.21%
   17.87%     7.71%    14.44%

Zone 1 - 19.683% (n=160)
Zone 2 - 17.870% (n= 146)
Zone 3 - 7.711% (n=63)
Zone 4 - 14.443% (n=118)
Zone 5 - 25.214% (n=206)
Zone 6 - 15.177% (n=124)

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 58.987% and used the frontcourt zones at a rate of 41.012% overall.  The backcourt scoring predominance held in both serve receive and transition offenses.  Backcourt scoring in serve receive = 58.467% (n=908) and in transition = 59.975% (n=490) while front court scoring in serve receive = 41.532% (n=645) and in transition = 41.532% (n=327). 

Figure 5:  Zone usage by horizontal grouped zones.


Zones 1, 5 and 6 (backcourt) - 58.987% (n=1398)
Zones 2, 3 and 4 (frontcourt) - 41.012% (n=972)

As indicated in Figure 6, players utilized the middle of the court significantly less to score than either the left or right side overall. Left-side zones were used to score at a rate of 41.012%; right-side zones were used to score at a rate of 39.535%; and the middle zones were used to score at a rate of only 19.451%.  The relative frequency of zone usage remained constant in both serve receive and transition.  However, there was a slight increase (+3.437) in the use of the middle zones (Zones 3-6) with a corresponding decrease (-2.081) in the use of the right-side zones (Zones 2-1) in transition when compared to the overall offense.

Left-side scoring in serve receive = 41.725% (n=648) and in transition = 39.657% (n=324); middle zone scoring in serve receive = 17.643% (n=274) and in transition = 22.888% (n=187); and right-side scoring in serve receive = 40.631% (n=631) and in transition = 37.454% (n=306).

Figure 6:  Zone usage by vertical grouped zones.


Zones 4-5 - 41.012% (n=972)
Zones 3-6 - 19.451% (n=461)
Zones 2-1 - 39.535% (n=937)


Offensive Scoring by Zone

The data indicate some significant differences among zone usage in women's beach volleyball.  Players scored most frequently in Zone 5, at a rate of 25.021% (n=593) and scored least frequently in Zone 3, at a rate of only 6.329% (n=150).  Percent distributions remained constant for both the serve receive and transition phases of the offense.

The data indicate that Zone 3 is not used to a significant degree to score offensively in women's beach volleyball.

Zones 1 and 2 ranked 2nd and 3rd respectively in overall percentage distribution with just a 2% difference between them.  Although the right-side zones are ranked relatively high in overall usage, it does not appear that women predominantly used the right side of the court to score offensively overall.  Comparing the left and right sides of the court, the data indicate a slight scoring preference for the left-side of the court (Zones 4-5), but the statistical difference is negligible and the preference can be seen as a product of Zone 5's predominance over all others.

Completing the statistical rankings, Zones 4 and 6 were the fourth and fifth most used zones to score overall with just a 2.869% difference in their overall usage.  Their relative positions remained the same in serve receive but switched for transition scoring.

Figure 7: Serve Receive and Transition Kills by Zone.

Offensive Scoring - Frontcourt v. Backcourt

The data indicate that offensive scoring in elite women's beach volleyball is predominantly accomplished in the back three zones of the court.[4]  Backcourt kills exceeded frontcourt kills by nearly 18% overall.  These findings suggest possible strategic and training considerations for beach volleyball athletes and coaches.  Further research is recommended for collegiate and junior national levels of development where differences in the size, strength and experience of athletes may suggest alternative strategic and training needs. 

Zone Usage in Serve Receive and Transition

There was remarkable consistency among the zones used to score by players in serve receive and in transition.  In both phases of the game, players used Zone 5 to score most often and least often used Zone 3.  Zones 1 and 2 also saw no change in terms of their relative frequency of use in the serve receive and transition phases.  We identified only one change in relative frequency of use in serve receive and transition.  By percentage, teams used Zone 4 more often than Zone 6 to score in serve receive but used Zone 6 more often than Zone 4 to score in transition.  In fact, not only was Zone 6 used slightly more frequently in transition (15.177%) than serve receive (12.041%), it also experienced a greater percentage change than any other zone when making this comparison (+3.136%).

Figure 8:  Comparison of Serve Receive Kills v. Transition Kills by Zone.

Interesting, we found no evidence to confirm a prediction one might make about transition offenses in beach volleyball.  We might have predicted different zone usages for scoring in transition compared to serve receive based on an assumption that teams in transition are "in system" less frequently than are teams in serve receive.  But the data do not confirm such a result.  Whether the zone usage consistency between serve receive and transition is a product of our question (zone scoring versus zone attempts) or of other factors (e.g., relative quality of service reception and digs, transition setting, opponent blocking tendencies) should be the subject of further research.

Offensive Scoring - First Ball v. Transition

The results of this study indicate that women's beach volleyball is an offensive "first-ball-sideout" game rather than one in which scoring most often occurs in transition.  Kills in serve receive exceeded kills scored in transition by nearly 2:1.  Among 2,370 recorded kills, 65.527% (n=1,553) were scored on the first offensive play by the receiving team following the serve and 34.472% (n=817) were scored in transition - by either team.  Offensive kills in serve receive exceeded kills in transition in 49 out of 51 or 96.078% of all matches observed suggesting the amount of training that should be dedicated to this aspect of the game.

Figure 9:  Kills in Serve Receive and Transition as Percentage of Total Kills.

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 elite levels of development the data indicate performance standards for success at elite levels of play.     


The present study provides researchers, coaches and athletes information concerning the offensive use of various zones of the court in elite women's beach 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.  While data compiled for this study is drawn from the Olympic level of women's beach volleyball, the results of this study have implications beyond elite levels of play.  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]  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.

[2]  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.

[3]  Age, height and weight data for each player was retrieved from

[4]  While we are aware of Chinchilla-Mira's research on gender differences in zone usages, we are unable to compare results as that study reports zone use by percentage of total offensive plays, including service and attack errors, without reporting the actual number of offensive plays or kills by zone.  Chinchilla Mira, J. J., Pérez Turpin, J. A., Martínez Carbonell, J. A., & Jove Tossi, M. (2012). Offensive zones in beach volleyball: differences by gender.  Journal Human Sport & Exercise, 7:3, 727-732.