Thoughts on Serving

Serving is the only skill in volleyball that begins and ends with the individual. You toss, you hit. You don’t have to react to another player’s previous contact. Because of this you can simulate game-like conditions by simply visualizing yourself in a match: the score is 14-14, the crowd is roaring (or is deathly silent), you hear the ref’s whistle, you serve the seam between two passers.

Immediate Feedback
Serve a ball and you get immediate feedback without a coach saying a word. Did the serve go in? Was there spin, or did it float? Did you hit the zone you were aiming for?

The Great Equalizer
Most servers in the world today are serving floaters. Even in international men’s volleyball more and more 6’7” behemoths are hitting nasty little floaters. Why? Because they know how tough it is to pass. Us little guys should be thrilled to know this because you do not have to be tall or jump high or hit hard to be an effective server. You can strike fear in the hearts of passers everywhere by mastering the float serve.

Steady as She Goes
There is a balance between serving tough and minimizing errors. If you are never making errors you are not serving tough enough. But if you are making a lot of errors you are hurting your team. The key is to see how tough you can serve while minimizing (not eliminating) errors. Once you find that serve, stick with it! There is no need to hit it harder or try to paint the end line with it. Conversely, you should not back down when the score is tight or the pressure is on. This last idea is unpopular and controversial, but I believe that the very essence of mental toughness is to do what you have trained to do regardless of the circumstances. While many teach that there are certain situations where you should never make a service error (after a time out, following a teammate’s service error, etc.), I believe that you simply need to ‘hit your serve’. How many service errors have occurred because the server has changed her serve to ‘play it safe’?

Aces Happen
To continue the point above, it’s unwise to go for the ace. Just hit your good serve to the right zone or at the right player and good things will happen, including aces. Going for the ace means abandoning the serve you have been working so hard to develop and increasing the risk of making an error. Develop a good serve and hit it relentlessly at your opponent. Aces will happen. (Isn’t that what Forrest Gump said?)

Teaching Young Volleyball Players To Serve

Teaching Young Volleyball Players How to Serve

We have a thread going in our toolbox message board regarding teaching young kids how to serve.  Rob Browning contributed some ideas that I thought would be helpful for some of you…

Kids should practice their overhand serve every practice.  They should stand however far from the net where they are just barely missing.  When they get it over they move back a step or two and practice from there.

-they should ideally be striking the ball with the heel of their hand.  It’s a hard part of the hand and will make the ball go farther.  It will also help take the spin off the ball.  This is where I want all my players to make contact, from 12s to college and beyond.

-keep track of their progress by having them record how many serves out of 5, for example, they make in practice.  Even if they aren’t very good yet, you can encourage them by showing them that they are improving.

Some tips if they cannot make it over from the service line:

-Make sure they are taking a big forward just before striking the ball.  Many kids don’t step at all.

-Have them take a step, then toss, then step again.  This will give them some forward momentum

-Teach them a simple jump float serve to give them forward momentum

-Let them use a fist if necessary to make the ball go farther.  They should keep practicing with an open hand, but in games can use a fist until they can make it over with an open hand.  They will not want to use a fist forever, because the big girls use an open hand.

-If they aren’t even close, because they are physically and technically underdeveloped, teach them an underhand serve to use in matches so that they can contribute.  Again, they won’t want to do this forever and will keep working on their overhand serve until they get it.

Rob Browning
St. Marys Women’s Volleyball

Mid-Season Choices

A good question recently came in from a coach:

“I’m in my current HS season, and my middle hitters are hitting horribly. I know middles aren’t nearly as valuable as OH’s and OP’s but here are the stats:

M1: .176

M2: .021

M3: -.150

My OH1 is hitting: .269 and my OH2 is hitting .331. I’m thinking of swapping the two…

My OP is hitting .143. So things are looking pretty bleak offensively. Here are my questions:

1) Should I swap OH1 and OH2? OH1 was better earlier in the season, but OH2 has been better the past month.

2) Should I move my OP to the middle since they are not very good?

3) I have one libero who is slow but a good passer. But she has a very limited court range (often gets beat by shorts balls/serves) and often does not communicate with her teammates (get quiet in intense moments). Another is faster and can cover more court, but her passing is just a tad lower (like 1-2%). She hustles a lot but sometimes tears-up when she makes an error. Are there any good drills to assist in making that decision between these two?”

Our Answer:

These are questions for which a Cauldron environment is tailor-made:  run a LOT of point-scored activities and a bunch of tournaments where you keep everything the same but switch the players that you are looking to evaluate.

Based on the data you gave, here is my first impression: I have no idea. Numbers in isolation don’t help much, simply because I don’t know everything else. For example, should you switch OH1 and OH2? Hard to say, since OH1 probably has to hit on the right in rotation 1 (Can OH2 do that?) and she has to hit with only one middle in the front row in two rotations (OH2 only has that in one rotation) so the defense can gang up on her a little better. What you should do is run a ton of practice games where you keep all the players the same and switch OH1 and OH2 in each row and see how it goes. Bear in mind this will probably take at least 10 practices to really sort itself out, so it might be a little late to start asking this question.

Same deal with your OP. Your middles have the easiest job – if they can’t hit better than .171, I don’t know how they are going to do any better on the right.  I almost value my MB1 more than my OPP in girls HS volleyball, since they have to carry a big load hitting slide in rotations 4 and 5, so that complicates things as well. Once again, you’ll need to run some experiments to figure this out.

Finally the libero. I’ll be the proverbial broken record, but how can anyone eyeball these two and know anything? As you mentioned, it’s a really tough call. You’ll have to just keep cauldron numbers and let that sort itself out.

Sorry I don’t have more definitive answers, but you are asking very difficult questions (as you know) that are highly specific to your players and your team. The best thing you can do is set up the cauldron and measure things that way.

Finally, whenever I hear that a team is performing poorly offensively, I want to take a close look at the following:

– How is your passing? You can get a LOT better offensively if you’ll spend a lot more time on passing mechanics and passing reps. Probably you aren’t serving and passing enough in practice. If I had a HS team, I’d spend AT LEAST 1/3 of my time in dedicated serving and passing drills (then get a lot of serving and passing in other activities as well).

– How is your setter? Does she make good choices? Does she have good tempo with the hitters? Can you improve her mechanics, footwork, and decisions?

– How well do your hitters move in transition? Do they have really good trans footwork? Do they get way off the net and can they choose between 4 and 3 step moves?

I hope this helps,