The Men’s U21 World Championships and the Women’s U20 World Championships are just one month away. Many are looking forward to seeing the new talented players cropping up and how their favourite nations fare against their competitors at the junior level. Some even assume that such competitions can indirectly tell fans what the future of their national team is going to be. The logic behind it is that if team X wins a Junior World Championship in 2015, in five years’ time when the young generation develops fully, they have a reasonable shot at the senior World Championship title. But does success at the junior competitions eventually lead to senior success? We at VolleyCountry have sought to determine whether such success is indeed transferable.
It is not easy to objectively measure the connection between junior and senior success without performing complex statistical analyses and tests of correlation. This is because of the many factors in play which can cause problems in a simple analysis. For example, not all junior champions are relatively on the same level and one generation can win a junior cup one year and then dominate the world volleyball for a decade. Moreover, senior teams are not just compiled of players from one generation, and comparing generations can be extremely difficult. Other factors which no doubt influence the team’s results include injuries, competition location and luck.
Nevertheless, we were curious if we could observe some patterns of transferred success between the junior and senior level just by checking the results of the last 10-12 junior competitions and the Senior World Championships of the past 15-20 years. Let’s start with the women:
The first table shows the teams occupying the top 3 places in the last 10 editions of the Women’s U20 World Championships. Brazil (coloured in dark yellow) and China (red) have won the most medals – 9 and 8 respectively. In fact, Brazil haven’t won a medal only once and China only twice. Russia are the only other consistent winners, and by consistent it is meant a team winning a medal at least 3 times in five years’ time.
We can compare these results with the table below showing the medallists of the Women’s World Championships since 1998. After their bronze at the juniors in 1995, followed by two gold medals in 1997 and 1999, Russia carried on their success at the senior level with two consecutive 3rd places (1998 and 2002) and, immediately after that, two gold medals in 2006 and 2010. This run included two silver medals at the Olympic Games.
After their four consecutive junior golds between 2001 and 2007, Brazil managed to become second twice in a row and then third at the senior WC from 2006 to 2014. More impressively, however, they are the defending Olympic Champions, having won the competition in its past two editions.
China can also claim to have achieved success at the senior level in the recent years (two silver medals at the WC, one Olympic Gold), but considering their constant excellent runs in the junior championships, one may think they are slightly underperforming.
Therefore, from looking at the results in the women’s section, it is clear that consistent success at the junior championships does lead to success at the senior level. However, is it necessary? Well, Team USA might disagree. They have won 1 gold and 1 silver in the World Championships since 1998, in addition to their two Olympic silver medals. And yet they haven’t won a single junior medal since 1995.
With the men, the correlation is even more pronounced. As you can see from the tables below, Italy made it consistently in the top 3 of the junior competitions between 1991 and 1995. They also won 3 consecutive senior gold medals from 1990 to 1998. Then, their dominance faded away only to be replaced by Brazil. The South Americans won the staggering 9 consecutive medals from the junior competitions between 1993 and 2009. This enormous success made them the superpower of the first decade of the 21st century, winning three WC golds in a row (2002, 2006, 2010) and winning the Olympics in 2004.
Russia is the underachiever in the senior level considering their success at the junior worlds. Although they are the reigning Olympic Champions, Russians have won only one senior WC silver medal compared to their 8 medals in the youth competitions. Nevertheless, they have won the last 2 junior championships and are, therefore, expected to be one of the dominating volleyball nations in the next 5+ years.
The men’s rankings in the junior and senior competition reinforce the hypothesis that consistent success in junior competitions leads to success in the senior competitions. But once again, this is not a necessary condition which has to be met. 1996 Olympic Champions and 1994 WC silver medallists the Netherlands have never been in the top 4 of a junior World Championship until 2005. Same for Serbia/Yugoslavia, who have won a junior medal for the first time in 2011 and yet are Olympic Champions from 2000 and WC silver medallists from 1998.
Finally, there are examples of relative success in the junior editions that do not translate into excellent performance at the senior level. Teams like Venezuela and India have been in the top 4 of the youth competitions but have never achieved anything later on. Venezuela in particular, was in the top 4 in three consecutive editions (between 1997 and 2001), in two of which they won a medal. Yet Venezuela are now 29th in the world, and are rarely even competing at a world championship.
As a conclusion, therefore, it can be said that: 1) consistent success (i.e. medals in consecutive years, at least one of which is gold/silver) at the Junior World Championships leads to eventual success at the senior WC; 2) success at senior World Championships is not pre-determined by success at the Junior WC; and 3) a ‘good’ performance at Junior WC does not promise equal performance at the Senior WC.