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What Is Point Differential And Why Does It Matter? - Part 1

Stats LessonsJoseph TrinseyComment

In a previous blog post we showed the Point Differential screen of the GMS Stats App.

Nebraska Point Differential Screen; 2018 National Semifinal vs Illinois

Nebraska Point Differential Screen; 2018 National Semifinal vs Illinois

But what is Point Differential? Why does it matter? How does it affect me as a coach?

Point Differential is simply the difference between how many points I score, and how many points my opponent scores. It’s a fancy way of saying, “the score.” Most of us intuitively grasp the following two equations:

Scoring More Points Than The Other Team = “Good”

Scoring Fewer Points Than The Other Team = “Bad”

“Great, Joe, score more points than the other team. I can see why the National Team hired you.”

Calm down, unnecessarily sarcastic imaginary reader.

This screen from the app actually shows Sideout Differential, which gives us a little bit more information. This screen shows Nebraska (“your”) Sideout and Illinois (“Opponent”) Sideout. What’s the difference between Sideout Differential and Point Differential? It’s really just a matter of perspective.

Quick Volleyball Stats 101 Lesson:

A “Sideout” is any time the other team starts the rally with a serve and we win the point, whether they miss the serve, or we win on the first chance to attack, or it’s a long rally that we win in the end. If the rally started with the opponent serving, and we win the point, that’s a Sideout. (So an Opponent Sideout is any time we start the rally with the serve and the opponent wins the point.)

“Sideout %” is the number of chances we had to sideout (also: the number of times the opponent serves) divided by the number of times we actually sideout. So if the other team serves 100 times, and we sideout 54 times, our Sideout % is 54%.

So Sideout Differential is just a way of looking at Point Differential from a different perspective. You cannot have a better Sideout % than your opponent, but a worse Point Differential. And you cannot have a better Point Differential than your opponent, but a worse Sideout %. So why use Sideout Differential instead of Point Differential?

The best reason is that Sideout % is a reliable indicator of level of play. In U12 volleyball, the serving team has an overwhelming advantage. Sideout % is well under 50%. At the professional level, the receiving team now has the advantage. Both teams will Sideout well above 50% in most matches. So imagine two different matches:

Match 1: Sideout 41%, Opponent Sideout 40%

Match 2: Sideout 61%, Opponent Sideout 60%

In both these matches, the Differential was 1%, but the style was different. Match 1 was a defensive battle where both teams were going on runs. Match 2 was more of a sideout battle, with the offenses at an advantage over the defenses. Knowing the differential as well as the overall sideout rate between the two teams allows you to get an idea of the overall level of play, as well as how your team fared.

In Part 2, we look at more uses of Point or Sideout Differential and go from looking at one match to multiple matches.