From a Coach:

We say that serving is like throwing. But there are two or three players in our program who “shot-put” the ball instead of “throw it.” Any tips on how to get them to use more of a serving motion?

Our Reply:

At the clinics we do, coaches often ask questions like this one, about a variety of subjects. How do I get my hitters to get their feet to the ball? How do I get my blockers to look at the right things? How do I get my setters to have the right footwork? I always laugh when these questions come up because we have the same all-inclusive answer: REPS and FEEDBACK.

So much of developing good mechanics and good volleyball players is just to allow them to have a lot of reps, with good feedback, with appropriate regulatory stimuli.

So lets examine the above:

Reps
With regards to the specific question, we know that we need a lot of serving practice. So working on serving and serving mechanics a lot is key.

Feedback
Here is where the rubber meets the road. Most of the feedback that I give in a practice with regards to mechanics has to do with the “keys” for that particular skill. In terms of serving, we want to generate power by turning/torquing rather than piking or even worse, shot-putting.

If we look at the first key (Bow and Arrow), there are two really important elements that stand out:

– Get turned initially. We need to make sure the player has turned his/her upper body so that they are in a position to rotate their torso. Don’t allow them to stand square to the target. This can be helped by holding the ball in one hand rather than with two hands.

– Keep the elbow up. The shot-put serve happens when the elbow drops below the shoulder when it is coming through. Working to get that elbow up is critical.

With regards to the second key (Place, Step, Hit), there are also two elements that come to mind:

– Instead of Place/Step/Hit, we might try Step/Place/Step/Hit. Getting the extra step in there will help generate some momentum and therefore some power.

– PLACE. Often the toss is in the wrong spot relative to where we want to swing. Make sure they are getting a good, consistent toss.

As always, we have to find a way to connect with the kids, and help them to associate our feedback with their actions. This might be from simply telling them, to reviewing video tape of their serving with them, etc. This might require some creativity on your part as the coach.

Appropriate Stimuli
Often with young servers, the component that “regulates” (is the hard part about) serving is the power required to clear the net with the serve. In order to make this less of an issue, make sure you have the net at the correct height (lower for younger kids), and you might even consider moving them up into the court when they are learning. So often the kids are so concerned about doing whatever it takes to get the ball over the net that they use poor mechanics in an attempt to compensate. This will generate piking, shot-putting, etc. If we can make getting it over the net less of an issue when they are learning, they can focus more on the correct technique. As they get better with more reps, slowly move them back until they are behind the baseline.

Unfortunately there isn’t much more magic than this: reps and feedback. But the things you focus on, and the way you present the feedback can make a big difference.

Good luck in your coaching!