The Older…The Better??

 The Volleyball World Cup is a great tournament, with the best teams from around the world battling it out for a place in the Olympic Games. But what makes these teams the best teams in the world? Of course, any team competing in this tournament must be good, but what separates 1st from 12th?

 I have reviewed the average age, average number of games (national representations) and average height of each of the teams, to try and identify some trends and figure out the role these variables play in the make up of a successful team.

Women’s World Cup

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* Taismary Aguero has played 350 international games with Cuba, but was making her debut for this tournament for Italy (she recently became a citizen). The above average is calculated with her having represented her country in 0 games and hence is low. If calculated with her 350 games for Cuba, the average is 133.0.

Age & Games
Age and experience are big factors in performance of a team. The statistics above are a very superficial look at some patterns that may be present. As a general rule the older and more experienced teams are more successful. A more in depth look may be able to identify the optimal age and games required to achieve at a high level.

The top three teams are amongst the oldest, and the most experienced. The bottom three teams do not have quite as high average age, and certainly average less games.

There are experienced teams who finished a bit lower such as Dominican Republic, with an average of 133.6, finishing in 9th place and less experienced teams such as Brazil, with an average of 78.5 games finishing 2nd. A possible explanation for this is that in such a strong volleyball nation like Brazil it is harder to break into the national team, and it takes players a little longer to do so, whereas talented players may walk into a national team in Dominican Republic at a younger age, and hence play more games for their country.

Poland is an interesting team in terms of average games. They have a low average of 47.9, and the make up of the team is basically a couple of veterans with 150, and 200 games, a couple of players with 50 or so games, and an entire group of inexperienced players with only a handful of games. It should be interesting to see this group develop.

The youngest team is Serbia with an average age of 22.7 and oldest team is the USA with an average of 27.7. It is interesting that all teams fall within this five year range, perhaps this is the window of opportunity for teams to dominate in?

Height
There is a distinct pattern with height, with the last three placed teams being three of the shorter teams, with average heights all less than 180cm. This certainly doesn’t mean that the biggest teams are the best teams, but it appears that teams must have an average height of approximately 180cm to match it with the best teams in the world.

Men’s World Cup

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Age & Games
In the Men’s World Cup there was a similar pattern of the older and more experienced teams doing well. This is not a perfect relationship, but the statistics above demonstrate it to some extent. The top teams tend to have a combination of a high average age and games played, whilst the teams that finished down the bottom tended to have a lower average age and games played (Brazil- age 29.2, games 140.4 VS Tunisia- age 25.7, games 47.6). There are of course exceptions to this, but as a general rule it seems the older and more experienced teams were more successful at this tournament. Again, a more in depth analysis may show exactly what age and games are optimal. For example, USA and Spain both are old and experienced teams with average ages of 30.1 & 29.9, and average games of 152 & 208, but these teams finished 4th and 5th. Maybe these teams have just passed their prime and are now too old?

The good news for the Australian team is that it has a bit of maturing left in it as team, with the average age being 24.8. It already has got a lot of games into some of the younger guys, giving it a chance to be a force in a few years.

Height
There is no pattern with regard to height. The only thing that I see is that all the teams are tall, with an average height of over 190cm. This is nothing surprising; the best teams in the world are tall. The best team in the world is not the tallest, but it appears that all the top teams in the world average above this cut off point of 190cm.

Age, Games or Height?
So which factor is the most important in separating the top teams?

Height is definitely not the most important factor. The best teams are all above a certain threshold of 180cm in women’s and 190cm in men’s. Once above this threshold it doesn’t matter how tall the team is. The key point is, it is tall, and has a chance to compete in international volleyball. Brazil won the Men’s World Cup and has an average height of 194.3. USA was the tallest team with an average of 200.4 and finished 4th. The same was true in the Women’s World Cup with Italy winning with an average height of 180.6, and many taller teams finishing lower down.

Games played have a big influence with a lot of the top teams in men’s and women’s having a high number of average games. In the men’s Brazil and Russia both have average games of around 140 and the top three teams in the women’s average around 130.

Whilst average number of games seems to be important, it is not as important as the average age of the team. In the men’s, Australia’s average games is almost the same as Brazil and Russia. So why isn’t Australia up there with them? Because the average age of the team is 24.6 compared to Brazil with 29.2. A possible reason for this is the depth of players in Brazil. With volleyball being one of the top sports over there, they have a large talent pool to choose from. Young players must really prove themselves, and may have to wait a few years to break into the team, and hence don’t have as many games to their name.

Peurto Rico is an inexperienced team in terms of games played, with an average of 36.3 but they still finished in sixth place, above more experienced teams such as Australia (138.0 games) and Egypt (101.3 games). However they have a significantly higher average age than these teams demonstrating that it is an important factor.

A good example in the women’s is the Dominican Republic. They have played as many games as the top teams, however have an average age 4 years younger than the top teams, and are not quite right up there at the moment.

Conclusion
The higher ranked teams tend to have a high average age. So the best thing a team can do in a lot of situations is just keep playing.

8 Replies to “The Older…The Better??”

  1. Interesting stuff. But if I may make a couple of points.
    I wouldn’t take too much into account with the number of international games as different countries count games differently. For example, Australia counts being in the 12 as a match, while USA only counts it if you get on the court. I’m pretty sure Russia don’t count friendly matches at all and Puerto Rico just hasn’t played international matches. And the figure for Brazil can’t be accurate. I don’t know how they end up with a number like that. Maybe they only count matches in tournaments they win.
    Plus international matches doesn’t take into account other experience factors like the standard of the league the individual players play in. A player who is playing every year in the playoffs in Italy or Russia has a different level of experience as someone playing in Germany (sorry 🙂 ) or Denmark even if the number of international matches might say otherwise.
    When I look at how heights compare, I always take the libero out of the calculations. The libero is height independent and I think it makes it a more accurate reflection, although it wouldn’t change your conclusion just maybe the cutoff point.

  2. Thanks for the comment Mark.
    I took the stats from the FIVB website for the World Cup. The figure i used for games was “National Representations”. I’m not sure if the FIVB have a definition for this…I’d assume it would be any official game in which a player was in the 12, but thats just my guess.
    You are right on the experience factor. National Representations is only one facet of a players experience, and gives no indication of what the player may have done outside of playing for their country.
    Older players generally have more experience, in all facets; international games, friendly games, club games etc. One of the main points was that age (and the experience that comes with that age) is a more important factor than games.
    Oh, and no offence taken, in terms of my volleyball, Germany is a great experience.

  3. Some interesting points have been raised here, and I’d like to comment too. Mark had some good responses as well.
    The stats for the World Cup as far as average games player per team needs to be looked at closer.
    Take Russia, to say that because they average 140 games they are very experienced is wrong. They have a very inexperienced team at the moment with a lot of newer young players. If you take out the captains 500 games see what the average goes down to then, a hell of a lot less I’m sure.
    Mark is right about what games count, for example Australia, we count every game we play, if we actually play or not. Now I like this because it reflects how long you’ve been with the team and can show dedication to the national team. But showing games actually played would be very different, we have a number of players to have played over 150 games, and maybe only started in 20 or 30. Now I take nothing away from them, they are still representing the Australian Men’s Team in my mind, but as far as experience goes, it doesn’t really count.
    The teams of Spain and the USA have definitely not “passed their primes” as far as age goes. The Spanish team has been the most improved team in the World this season, without a doubt, so saying they are past it is way off. They should be respected as a great “team” as they play as a unit, something that makes them better.
    The USA for me, is the 2nd best “team” in the world next to Brazil. They work together perfectly and have been together for a long time so know each other’s games. In my opinion they are not past it, but we will see how they go in 2009 when the majority of this team finishes, then you can say if they were past it, or still better than the new age.
    As far as height goes, I think it is highly over rated in most positions. Take setters, the best setter in the last 10 years probably come from the Brazilian, French, Russian, Argentinean and Polish national teams and they are all under 200cm and many under 190cm. There have been 2 exceptions in the last 10 years, Ball form USA and Blange from Holland, both over 200cm and both great great setters.
    The best pass hitters shows the same thing. Players like Giba, Papi, Tetyukhin, Antiga, Murilo, our own Hardy, Vujevic and Cisolla are all under 200cm and some down to 190! Yes of course there will be exceptions and that great, everyone can play our sport.
    Middle is where height is very popular, but still not essential. Ok the best are tall, Howard, Mastralangalo and Gustavo but they are not over 210. And there are many very good middles 200 and under like Heller and Hubner.
    Opposites seem to be getting bigger and bigger and this for me is the position that height will become most important. The best are massive guys, well over 200 and strong and very mobile.
    In case you can’t tell I don’t rate height as an essential, however skill and speed are.

  4. Thanks for your comment Luke, its great to get some input from someone who was involved in the World Cup.
    You are correct in saying further analysis of games played is required, before drawing definitive conclusions. The weakness of these statistics is that they look at team averages, which can be misleading. The Russian team is a good example with a couple of veterans with 200 or 300 games, and with a large proportion of the team relatively new, with a lot of players around the 50 game mark. A better analysis may be to see what proportion of the team is within certain catergories e.g. 0-50 games, 50-100, etc.
    I also referred to “experience” when talking about games played, however it is difficult to actually quantify experience as there are many factors involved. Mark mentioned club games, and playing in different leagues. Your point of games started vs games in the 12 is good too.
    As far as Spain and USA goes, I was just putting it out there as a question based on nothing more than the stats in front of me. My main contention was that older teams tend to do better, but these are the two oldest teams and did not finish right at the top. So is there an optimal average age for a team? Well yes, older is generally better up to a point, however, age is not the most important factor, how well you play volleyball is.
    I agree with you about height, it is more important in some positions but at the end of the day you can still be a gun player regardless of height. Keep in mind the statistics for height are team averages, which of course means there will be some shorter individuals and some taller ones.

  5. The other point I forgot about age is that just becasue the 2 oldest teams didn’t finish at the top doesn’t mean they are past it. Only one team can be the best, and that’s Brazil by a mile. Take Spain, no matter how much they trained that group of players could never be the best in the world at any time. They are just not good enough. Not that they are washed up at all they just aren’t the best.
    Same as AUS, we have some really good players, but we are not and will not be the best in the world anytime soon becasue we are just not good enough, not matter what our age or experience level is.

  6. I agree Luke, I think each team will tend to improve as the team gets older, but this does not mean the oldest team is the best team.

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