Lorenzo Laporta1, Pantelis Nikolaidis2, Luke Thomas3, José Afonso1

1University of Porto, Faculty of Sport, Porto, Portugal
2National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, Faculty of Physical Education and Sport Science, Athens, Greece
3Top Flight Volley Ltd, Kent, England

The Importance of Loosely Systematized Game Phases in Sports: The Case of Attack Coverage Systems in High-Level Women’s Volleyball

Monten. J. Sports Sci. Med. 2015, 4(1), 19-24


Change is ubiquitous, but its degree and rate often affords detection of emerging patterns and establishing behavioral dynamics based on expected regularities. Match analysis capitalizes on such regularities, capturing information relevant for enhancing structure and reducing improvisation to a minimum. However, what if a game phase is only loosely regular, defying pattern systematization? Is it still possible to unfold principles of behavior capable of abstracting over-arching patterns? Our research focused on analysis of complex IV (KIV) or attack coverage in volleyball. Fourteen matches from the 2013 Volleyball Women’s World Grand Champions Cup were analyzed. Results showed the occurrence of KIV corresponded to fewer than 5% of the total number of actions, and plays where a team successfully conquered a point after attack coverage was circa 1%, meaning this game complex will only make a difference in balanced matches. Overall, twenty-nine attack coverage structures emerged, denoting very high organizational variability. Attack coverage therefore provides an example of principle-based and not structured-based game phase. Associative analysis showed that quick attack tempos constrain the emergence of more complex attack coverage structures. The search for principle-based instead of structure-based game phases may provide useful insights for comprehension of game dynamics and for informing training processes.


structured improvisation, principle-based systemic organization, volleyball

View full article
(PDF – 221KB)


Afonso, J., & Mesquita, I. (2007). Pilot study on the relationship between attack play and attack tempo in women's volleyball [Estudo piloto acerca da relação entre jogada de ataque e tempo de ataque em voleibol feminino]. Portuguese Journal of Sport Sciences, 7(Suppl.1), 46-47.

Afonso, J., Mesquita, I., & Marcelino, R. (2008). Study on contextual variables concerning decision making in attack organization in women’s volleyball [Estudo de variáveis especificadoras da tomada de decisão, na organização do ataque, em voleibol feminino]. Portuguese Journal of Sport Sciences, 8(1), 137-147.

Aicinena, S. (2013). The Impact of Chaos, Complexity, and Luck on Coaching Success. International Journal of Social Sciences & Education, 3(3).

Asher, K. (1998). Coaching volleyball. Illinois (USA). A.V.C.A. Masters Press.

Bergeles, N., Barzouka, K., & Nikolaidou, M. (2009). Performance of male and female setters and attackers on Olympic-level volleyball teams. International Journal of Performance Analysis in Sport, 9(1), 141-148.

Bergeles, N., & Nikolaidou, M. (2011). Setter's performance and attack tempo as determinants of attack efficacy in Olympic-level male volleyball teams. International Journal of Performance Analysis in Sport, 11(3), 535-544.

Castro, J., & Mesquita, I. (2008). Study on the implications of attack space in attack features in the elite men’s Volleybal [Estudo das implicações do espaço ofensivo nas características do ataque no voleibol masculino de elite]. Portuguese Journal of Sports Science, 8(1), 114-125.

Castro, J., Souza, A., & Mesquita, I. (2011). Attack efficacy in volleyball: elite male teams. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 113(2), 395-408.

Ciuffarella, A., Russo, L., Masedu, F., Valenti, M., Izzo, R. E., & De Angelis, M. (2013). Notational Analysis of the Volleyball Serve. Timisoara Physical Education & Rehabilitation Journal, 6(11), 29-35.

Costa, G., Afonso, J., Brant, E., & Mesquita, I. (2012). Differences in game patterns between male and female youth volleyball. Kinesiology, 44(1), 60-66.

Costa, G., Ferreira, N., Junqueira, G., Afonso, J., & Mesquita, I. (2011). Determinants of attack tactics in Youth male elite volleyball. International Journal of Performance Analysis in Sport, 11(1), 96-104.

Dutt-Mazumder, M. A., Button, C., Robins, A., & Bartlett, R. (2011). Neural Network Modelling and Dynamical System Theory. Sports Medicine, 41(12), 1003-1017.

Esteves, F., & Mesquita, I. (2007). Study on the setting zone in elite men’s volleyball according to setter player and set type [Estudo da zona de distribuição no voleibol de elite masculino em função do jogador distribuidor e do tipo de passe]. Portuguese Jounal of Sport Sciences, 7(Suppl.1), 36-37.

García, J., Ibáñez, S. J., Cañadas, M., & Antúnez, A. (2013). Complex system theory in team sports. example in 5 on 5 basketball contest. Jounal of Sport Psychology, 22(1), 209-213.

Garganta, J. (2009). Trends of tactical performance analysis in team sports: bridging the gap between research, training and competition. Portuguese Journal of Sports Science, 9(1), 81-89.

Hileno, R., & Buscà, B. (2012). Observational tool for analyzing attack coverage in volleyball [Herramienta observacional para analizar la cobertura del ataque en voleibol]. International Journal of Medicine and Science in Physical Activity and Sport, 12(47), 557-570.

Laios, Y., & Kountouris, P. (2005). Evolution in men's volleyball skills and tactics as evidenced in the Athens 2004 Olympic Games. International Journal of Performance Analysis in Sport, 5(2), 1-8.

Lames, M., & McGarry, T. (2007). On the search for reliable performance indicators in game sports. International Journal of Performance Analysis in Sport, 7(1), 62-79.

Marcelino, R., César, B., Afonso, J., & Mesquita, I. (2009). Attack-tempo and attack-type as predictors of attack point made by opposite players in volleyball. International Journal of Performance Analysis in Sport, 9(3), 391.

Marcelino, R., Mesquita, I., Sampaio, J., & Moraes, J. C. (2010). Study of performance indicators in male volleyball according to the set results. Brasilian Journal of Phisical Education and Sports, 24(1), 69-78.

McGarry, T. (2009). Applied and theoretical perspectives of performance analysis in sport: scientific issues and challenges. International Journal of Performance Analysis in Sport, 9(1), 128-140.

McGarry, T., Anderson, D., Wallace, S., Hughes, M., & Franks, I. (2002). Sport competition as a dynamical self-organizing system. Journal of Sports Sciences, 20(10), 771-781.

Miskin, M. A., Fellingham, G. W., & Florence, L. W. (2010). Skill Importance in Women's Volleyball. Journal of Quantitative Analysis in Sports, 6(2).

Palao, J. M., Santos, J. A., & Ureña, A. (2007). Effect of the manner of spike execution on spike performance in volleyball. International Journal of Performance Analysis in Sport, 7(2), 126-138.

Peña, J., Rodríguez-Guerra, J., & Serra, N. (2013). Which skills and factors better predict winning and losing in high-level men's volleyball? The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 27(9), 2487-2493.

Rodriguez-Ruiz, D., Quiroga, M., Miralles, J., Sarmiento, S., Saá, U., & García-Manso, J. (2011). Study of the technical and tactical variables determining set win or loss in top-level European men's Volleyball. Journal of Quantitative Analysis in Sports, 7(1), Article 7 (15p).

Selinger, A., & Ackermann-Blount, J. (1986). Arie Selinger's Power Volleyball. New York: St.Martin's Press.

Silva, M., Lacerda, D., & João, P. V. (2013). Match analysis of discrimination skills according to the setter attack zone position in high level volleyball. International Journal of Performance Analysis in Sport, 13(2), 452-460.

Thelen, E. (2005). Dynamic systems theory and the complexity of change. Psychoanalytic Dialogues, 15(2), 255-283.

Walter, F., Lames, M., & McGarry, T. (2007). Analysis of sports performance as a dynamical system by means of the relative phase. International Journal of Computer Science in Sport, 6(2), 35-41.