Volleyball – covering games

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Covering sports can be daunting at first — watching the action, keeping score, writing effective notes and then talking with coaches and players. Then, you must organize and understand these notes before writing a story under deadline pressure. This entry is the first in a series created to help reporters focus on key information and statistics, both before and during the game. At the end of this post, I have suggsted some general questions to ask players and coaches. (I plan to keep adding to this entry, so, if you have suggestions, please send them along.) I plan to create a web site where you can download these tips in printable cheat sheets. I’ll post that site on this blog. I hope this helps in your sports reporting.

LEAD ELEMENTS
■ Score
■ Key play or player
■ Significant trend
■ Impact of game on conference or district standings or on postseason possibilities. Does this game put the team in position to reach the postseason, eliminate them from a tournament? Mention that in the opening few paragraphs.
■ School names (do not feel compelled to put the nicknames until second or third reference).

KEY INFORMATION
■ Rally scoring – A team scores a point on each serve, regardless who’s scoring.
■ Winning score – Teams need to win three of five games that go to 30 points. The fifth game, though, only goes to 15 points.
■ Libero – a relatively new defensive position player who can play the back row only. This person, who can be substituted for any back-row player, is primarily a passer and defender. The libero can replace anybody on the back row so long as she sits out for one play in between changes. The libero, who wears a different colored jersey, can serve as well.
■ Time outs – teams are allotted two per game.
■ Teams must win games by two points, meaning they will have to go beyond 30 points for some wins. Thus, a team might have to go 33-31 in order to get ahead by the requisite points.
■ Setter – this player is much like a point guard or quarterback in that she runs the offensive schemes. This player must be able to read opposing defenses and offenses to determine what plays to call and how to implement them.
■ First contact – the first hit by the opposition off a serve. All other touches are considered second contact.

KEY STATISTICS
■ Digs – Back-row players with four-plus digs a game have performed well.
■ Kills – Front-row players with four-plus kills have performed well.
■ Assists – Players with 12-plus have played exceptionally well.
■ Servers – Players (or teams) with an equal number of aces and errors have played pretty aggressively and pretty well.
■ Hitting percentage – Players with an average above .200 have played well. Those over .300 have played tremendously well. Outside hitters typically have a lower percentage than an inside hitter. A team with five players hitting over .200 has done very well. Address that somewhere in the story. [This percentage is determined by taking KILLS minus ERRORS divided by TOTAL BALLS ATTEMPTED]

THINGS TO FOCUS ON
■ Coaches typically will not call time outs when the score is at 29.
■ Momentum – Volleyball is a gem of momentum. Teams typically go on many runs during a match, whether it is an 8-0 run or 10-2 run. It is unusual for teams to mount major rallies after they’ve fallen behind by large margins, especially now that games rely on rally scoring. A team ahead 20-10, for example, will usually win. If a team does find a way to rally, focus on the reasons for the shift in momentum.
■ Key plays – Focus on key plays during any rally. Sometimes, this key play could be a solid serve, a block, a dig or a tricky set.
■ Trends – Did a team score more often for certain servers? Did a team rely heavily on a certain player or play? Did one team, or player, have many more blocks than the opponents?
■ Time outs – cite the moments a coach calls time outs. What is the score? Did she call them more after they opposition rallied?
■ Focus on setters at times, not just on the big plays.
■ Strategy – Did the team set more to the outside hitters? Send two blockers to the net against certain hitters or in certain spots?
■ Ball control – Coaches refer to narrow focus and wide focus when speaking about players on the court. A narrow focus elements would concern passes while a wide focus means how a player sees what’s coming at them from the other side of the net.
■ First few points of a game. Some teams rely more heavily on emotion, which is most evident at the start of a game. Emotions can much more easily help a team go on an early run; however, teams have difficulty retaining intense emotions throughout an entire game, much less through a three to five-game match. Ask coaches about this afterwards.
■ See how a team plays when its front-row hitters are forced to the back row. Can they set as well?
■ Weak middle blockers. You can determine this if you see holes between blockers. Look for spacing between players.
■ Determine how front-row players hit at the net. A player who leaps off one foot is much more difficult to defend since they can jump at angles as they hit the ball, which means defenders are less certain where to go to block such hits. Players who leap off two feet typically go right to the ball only.
■ Double blocks. See if this is successful or whether it opens other spots on the field.
■ Front row. Which players get more elevated. Check the height of these players before the matches to see if a team has a clear advantage. Then, determine if the team took advantage of its height advantage, or did the opposing team do a great job compensating for its lack of height.
■ Remember, defense is the result of hard work, much like in other sports.
■ Short hits, or tips, that fall over the front line for points.
■ Spinning balls. This means a player hit the ball off two hands, which is considered a lift on second contact.

QUESTIONS TO ASK AFTER THE MATCH

■ What was the turning point in the match. (Ask the coach to describe a play that defines this turning point. Compare this moment to your own notes.)
■ Did you think the team was focused during the match? Follow this up by asking a moment that revealed this focus (or lack of focus).
■ Did anything surprise you about today’s match?
■ How well did the opposing team adjust during the match?
■ Ask a player to comment on someone who played directly opposite. So, front-row hitters can comment on one another. Plus, a back-row player can speak about the velocity and angles of slams from the opposing front line, as well.
■ Ask who runs the offense and defense.
■ Always ask why a coach pulls a setter from the game. If that happens, something is drastically wrong because a team typically has difficult adjusting to a new setter.
■ Ask players to describe key plays.
■ Ask front-row hitters to describe the play of the setter.

PHOTO CREDIT: Eric J. Hiltner/Daily Eastern News

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