Monday, June 2, 2008

Tips for serving a volleyball

Serving To Win!

At the beginning of my summer camps, I often ask people what is the single most important skill. Many will answer” passing” or “setting” As I pointed out in a previous article, the correct answer is hitting. Outside hitting to be exact.
Participants who claim serving is the most important skill are close to the truth. Serving is confidence. Coaches can keep track of many statistics on their laptops: passing, blocks, hitting percentage and digs. But the one skill they can look at to determine a players’ confidence level is serving.
Coaches will do four things to disrupt the confidence of a server:
1 They will call a time-out.
2 The coach will make a substitution
3 Coaches will question or argue a call with a referee or linesperson
4 A player on the court will tie his or her shoe or call to wipe up a wet spot on the floor.

All of these have the same effect: the coach is trying to “ice” the server.
The best thing I can suggest is to establish a routine when you go to the service line. Where do you find such routines in sports? A good example is when a basketball player goes to the free throw line. They always do the same pre-shot ritual. The ritual acts as a calming force to center and focus their mechanics and thoughts. I suggest you get a pre-serve ritual going as soon as possible. It could be bouncing the ball off of the floor or slapping it on the side. Make sure it is the same each time.

There are three types of serve commonly found in today’s game. The jump serve, the float serve and the hybrid jump float.

Jump serving
I have people ask me all the time about teaching them how to be an effective jump server. My first question is “How well do you hit the ball?” “Not very well” is the response I get. Players need to learn not to put the cart before the horse. You should start jump serving when you hit the ball well. The other side of this argument is I have a team of 14 year old girls or boys, I would have them jump serve in practice as players need to hit 40-60 balls a day to build up arm strength.
With these thoughts in mind, let me give you five tips to improve your jump serve:
Tip # 1 Keep the ball in front of you as you take your approach to jump. In other words, don’t drop the ball (and your hand) down to throw it up in the air. Why? One of the most crucial aspects of the jump serve is the set. You get a much better set when you don’t drop the ball down. It takes some time to get used to, but eventually you learn how to keep the ball up on your approach. The reason we bring the ball down is because we want to…
Tip # 2 ……throw the ball high when jump serving! The number one error I see in jump serving is players throwing the ball too low. When we throw the ball high, it gives us time to generate power with our arm swing.
Tip #3 land in the court when jump serving. In the men’s game, jump servers should be landing about 3-4 feet inside of the court. For the ladies, it is 2-3 feet inside the court. Make sure you take off as close to the end line as possible. Give yourself some room for error. When you land behind the end line you have to serve the ball a longer distance, thus reducing the power and effectiveness of the serve.
Tip #4 Swing your arms back deep when approaching the jump serve. Coaches can watch a hitter hit two to three balls and know instantly how effective a hitter is based on one thing: how far they swing their arms back during their approach. Swinging your arms back when hitting or jump serving is what we call a “Two for one move.” It is how we generate power on our hitting stroke and it is how we jump high. It is why we throw the ball high to give us time to bring our arms back.
Tip #5 Use off arm as a guide and as a source for power. If you ever watch a tennis match, notice how high the sever reaches up with their “off” arm and shoulder during their hitting motion. It is how we generate additional power and it serves as a source of balance for the serving motion.

Float serving

Float serving is fairly easy to teach as you have one main objective: Indent the ball. Before I explain how we indent ball let me give you a few tips that will help your float serve.
Tip #1 Look under the ball when you go to throw it up. Again, very similar to jump serving, the toss is critical to insure proper contact of the ball. The added benefit of looking under the ball is servers will have greater accuracy on where they want to the serve to go to.
Tip # 2 Step into the ball when serving. If you are right handed, you will step into the ball with your left foot to allow the torso more power in the serve. Do not do a cross over step ending up with your right foot forward.
Tip # 3 Hit the ball at the base of your hand when serving. When we serve, we want the base of our hand—not the open palm—to make contact with the ball to insure good contact with the ball. What most of us do is to tilt our hand back to expose the two bones at the base of the wrist. It should feel like a “thud” instead of a slap when you serve.
Tip #4 Snap the ball, do not hit it. In sports, we hit out of our shoulder but we snap from our wrist and elbow. Since we do not follow through with our wrist—we keep it taught—the only place we snap from when float serving is our elbow. If you could see a good float serve in slow motion, you would notice a snap from the elbow with a follow through of the arm. The snap, not the arm, is what powers the ball. To teach this phenomenon at my volleyball camps, what I do is to over-correct what players want to do and simply have them keep their hand up after they serve the ball. What this does it to force all the action into the elbow to “indent” the ball. When we indent the ball we do several things: we take the spin off of the ball—the ball loses control and will knuckle into the passers arms. The other benefit of keeping your hand up is you get what we call extension. Meaning the distance between the elbow and shoulder is upright and used in an effective manner.

Jump float

Serving a jump float is a hybrid of a jump serve and a float serve. My guess is it originated out of jump servers who consistently threw the ball to low yet still had to hit the ball over the net. It is one of the trendy things we see in the sport. There are a couple of things I like about the jump float. What I like about it is it gets you going towards your defensive position and you contact the ball at a much higher point than a regular float serve. Similar to jump serving, start the ball high. It will help you with the control of your toss.


Serving is confidence. Teams that are consistently serving tough are usually winning a lot of matches. Develop a routine before you serve the ball. The game is moving more towards the jump serve as a way of over-powering the opponent. Float servers should work on indenting the ball as much as possible. Jump floaters should contact the ball as high as possible and land in the court.