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Attacking Tendencies - The Success of the Soft Attack


Stephen Lee - BeachStats Analyst In September 2022 the King of the Court returned to Utrecht for the European Finals. Featuring some of the best teams European beach volleyball has to offer, the competition was fierce. In a game all about offense and creating opportunities to score, what does the breakdown look like between the type of attacks used that makes the best players so successful? We examined the balance of soft attacks (shots and cut attacks) and hard-swing attacks that players utilized. In this article we take a look at the soft attack.

How do we classify a hard attack from a soft attack? Keeping it simple to help with recording the data, we distinguish a hard attack as a hard-driven hit or ball that the player swings on. Soft attacks are everything else, cuts or shots for example, the more precise placement hits.

Soft attack usage, defined as the number of soft attacks divided by total attacks, provides a piece of the puzzle but not the total picture. The Men averaged 50.9% soft attack usage compared to the Women who beat them with 61.1%. River Day had the highest soft attack percentage of the men with 87.5%. This number is far above the men’s average of 50.9% and the tournament average of 56% as well as being considerably higher than the other top 5. The Israeli team had a small sample size as they were knocked out in the first stage of their group play and then first in the fifth-place playoff game. Felix Friedl made it into the quarterfinals and chose a soft attack 71.4% of the time. Alfred Brink wasn’t far behind at 70.6% and was eliminated in the last round of the first playoff match for sixteenth place. Coming in fourth on the list is Arnaud Gauthier-Rat, competing with his new partner, Youssef Krou. In the event, he had a 68% soft attack usage. Of that 68%, he scored 53% of his soft shots. Gauthier-Rat stands out from the others for another reason, as well. He has the largest sample size of this group with 66 too. The French team was short just two points in the last quarterfinal round but played a fantastic event. The player who took the fifth most frequent soft attack is Audrius Knasas, who also ranked in the top 5 in the percentage of successful soft attacks. 66.7% of his attacks were shots or cuts, and he scored on 57.1% of those soft attacks! Finishing in sixteenth, Audrius’s Lithuanian team didn’t have a large sample size, but in that small sample, he was very effective on soft attacks.

Ball control and placement are huge pieces of beach volleyball and something successful women's teams generally excel at. Lisa Van den Vonder had the highest sot attack usage of anyone at the tournament for any attack. She hit a soft attack 93.8% of the time. Percentages this high tend to be outliers, and this one is no different because of the small sample size of 16 total attacks. Liisa Soomets is next with 87.5%. While having more attempts than her partner, Heleene Hollas, Liisa opted for the soft shots over hard swings. Third, Mexime Van Driel and Gerda Gruszczynska finished with 80% soft attack percentages and 17th-place finishes in Utrecht. Iryna Makhno had the fifth-highest soft attack usage of 79.2%, which was not far off from the others, but her sixth-place finish gives us a larger sample size. This gets us closer to seeing what her true tendencies are. Iryna Makhno scored on 54.1% of those soft attacks.

After looking at the tendencies to lean towards the soft attack, let's talk about who had the highest successful soft attack percentages. The successful soft attack is similar to hitting percentages but doesn’t take into account errors, the formula is soft attack kills divided by total soft attacks. Mees Sengers had the highest rate of successful soft attacks, with 75%. He did have a small sample size and chose the hard swing (61.9%) more often, so it is interesting that he had a higher successful soft attack percentage. The Netherlands' own Alexander Brouwer had the second highest with 60.6% successful soft attacks, which is interesting to see because he is known for hitting hard. A close third was Eduard Reznik. The Ukrainian had a 60.0% and also finished sixth along with Brouwer. Not far behind, David Åhman had an impressive 57.5% successful soft attack percentage to finish second overall. Playing through the entire tournament, there is a large sample size for Åhman. He had a fairly balanced offense, choosing soft attacks 48.3% of the time and hard attacks 51.7% of the time. The last two in the top 5 tied with 57.1%, Sergiy Popov and Audrius Knasas. Popov had a larger sample size as well and only hit a soft shot 31.1% of the time. Knasas is the only one from this list that ranked the highest in choosing the soft shot and his success rate with it.

The women’s side is remarkably similar to the highs and lows of the top 5 performances. Successful soft attacks are a huge part of the game, but it is interesting seeing how steady it is across both sexes. Sofia Gonzalez has the number one spot with a 75.0% successful soft attack percentage. Second is Taru Lahti-Liukkonen, the Finnish blocker, who had a 66.7% for successful soft shots and registered a 75% of her overall attacks as soft attacks. Inna Makhno follows just behind at 65.7% for the event, as the Makhno’s pushed to a 6th place finish. From the other Ukrainian team, Ievgeniia Baieva had a 59.6% successful soft attack percentage. Rounding out the top 5 is one of the winners, Chantal Laboureur, with a 58.2% percentage which is interesting to see since she had the largest sample size.

Next time we'll tell you all about hard attack usage in Utrecht, check it out!