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.
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’?
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?)