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
* 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?
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
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.
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.
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.