Written by Hillsboro Free Press Tuesday, 04 January 2011 15:40
In the “Wizard of Oz,” Dorothy said, “There’s no place like home.” Is that true for all of the major team sports?
I’ve been intrigued by the so-called home-court or home-field advantage for some time. Generally, I agree there’s some advantage to playing at home, but it’s hard to say how great the advantage is.
I’ve always thought there must be some advantage to a team playing at home in an 80,000-plus seat stadium in football or a 10,000-plus seat arena in basketball.
Still, good teams find a way to win on the road.
As a small-college soccer and baseball player at Tabor College, I never thought playing at home or away mattered much. With generally small crowds, fans weren’t much of a factor, although the verbal abuse was greater on the road in baseball with fans closer to the action.
I decided to ask our local coaches what they think about playing home versus away games. Let’s start with feedback from two local volleyball coaches: Hillsboro High School coach Sandy Arnold and Tabor College coach Amy Ratzlaff. Both coaches have been successful in their own right and offered some insights that I found interesting.
I asked both coaches to rate the home-court advantage as a high-school coach and small-college coach.
Coach Arnold doesn’t believe the home-court advantage is significant in high school because, “I think volleyball is such an emotional game in itself.
She said, “I have seen my girls play extremely well, both at home and on the road. I have also seen them play extremely poorly at home and on the road.”
Playing at home is an advantage because “we know the court and lighting and the kids can go home or to a friend’s house after school and we don’t miss much school,” Arnold said. “However, I think they feel the pressure to do well because people might be watching them that don’t always go to the away games.
“I like playing at home just for the sake of the ease of everything—no rushing, no getting home late, knowing where everything is,” Arnold said.
Coach Ratzlaff, on the other hand, believes playing at home is a huge advantage in small college volleyball.
“A home crowd will certainly affect the side that they are near,” she said. “That impact is so great that even the sport recognizes a home-court advantage.
“If a match goes to Game 5, we only play to 15 points, but at point 8 we are allowed to switch sides,” she added. “That helps accommodate for home-court advantage. In volleyball, your team is stationary, unlike basketball, so a crowd that is a few feet from your players for the whole game can affect their play.”
Ratzlaff also says young or inexperienced players are more affected by crowds early in the season because they don’t know what to expect.
She also feels that line judges are occasionally affected by the crowd because they are often students from that school.
“On occasion, it has significantly affected the outcome of the game,” Ratzlaff said.
There’s no doubt where Ratzlaff prefers to play.
“The noise level in the gym certainly gives us an advantage because our players are used to it,” she said.
“Also, volleyball involves a significant amount of depth perception and court awareness. There are some gyms with an enormous space behind the serving line or an overhang or stage behind the court. Both of those situations change the depth perception when serving or attacking and can sometimes lead to more errors.”
Court markings also can be vague on some courts, and teams sometimes play the wrong lines.
Warm-up music is even a factor, Ratzlaff said.
“Some teams will put on bizarre music to try to manipulate you away from your game. We’ve had everything played for us from circus music to Mozart to tribal animal sacrifice music.
“The advantage to games on the road is the extra opportunities for team bonding,” she said. “Volleyball is a sport of team chemistry, so road trips are often a great way to build a team.”
Next time, I’ll share some feedback from our local football coaches.