Powerful volleyball serves depend heavily on what the server does before ever contacting the ball. Juliann Faucette-Johnson, a former member of the U.S. National Team and a three-time All American during her collegiate career at the University of Texas, says three of the keys to improving your volleyball serve are establishing a pre-serve routine, understanding when to “go for it” and when to just get it in, and developing a consistent toss.
This video will cover:
- 00:23 – 00:51 The importance of a routine at the service line.
- 00:52 – 01:43 When is it OK to miss a serve?
- 02:24 – 03:00 How the hand should contact the ball.
- 03:01 – 04:15 Technique for your toss.
- 04:57 – 5:53 Hitting a jump topspin serve.
Step 1: Build confidence with your pre-serve routine
Olympic volleyball players nearly always go through a routine before hitting their serve. Reid Priddy, a starting outside hitter on the U.S.’s 2008 Olympic gold medal team, would simply hold the ball in front of him and say five words to himself: “Just me and the ball.”
Faucette-Johnson’s routine was bouncing the ball off the floor five times and saying to herself, “I can do this. It’s about confidence,” she says. “You control your toss. You control your serve.”
As a coach, you can help instill that confidence in your players by encouraging them to come up with a saying and a routine that they like, Faucette-Johnson says.
Step 2: Understand that missing a serve is not always bad
For beginner and low-level intermediate volleyball players, the goal of serving is usually just to get the ball in the court — first with an underhand serve, then, as they gain more experience, with an overhand serve. But that changes at the higher levels.
As teams get better, a lollipop serve is too easy for the opponent to pass, set and hit for a point. Servers at these levels need to become more aggressive, whether it’s with a traditional standing float serve, a jump float or a jump topspin. The basic technique for a jump float is similar to the standing float, but athletes use different footwork to generate more forward momentum and propel themselves into the air.
More aggressive serves will mean more service errors, but it’s a good tradeoff if you’re putting more pressure on the serve receive team and scoring more points overall.
Three trademarks of tougher serves are:
- Greater velocity
- Flatter trajectory
- Serving the ball near a weaker passer
When is it OK to miss serves? Here's what Faucette-Johnson says:
“That’s up to you (as the coach). If you have athletes who can go after certain areas on the court or be more aggressive and flat with their serves, it’s great. But sometimes you just want to get the ball in. When is that? Maybe after a time out, when you don’t want to let the team off the hook. But there is a fine line between being too passive and too aggressive.”
Step 3: Toss in front of your hitting shoulder and in front of your body
A good volleyball serve starts with a well-located toss. The ball should be in front of your body, far enough where it would hit the court in front of your forward foot if you were to let it drop. It should also be directly in front of your hitting shoulder. A toss that’s too close to your body or inside or outside of your hitting shoulder is much less likely to travel in the desired flight path — flat, not too high over the net, with little to no spin.
One tip to pass on to your players: If you’re going to miss, get the ball over the net and miss long. There’s always a chance the other team will play a long serve, but there’s no chance if the ball is in the net.
Own your serve
Faucette-Johnson emphasizes in the video that each player should “own” their serve. Three keys to getting there are finding that pre-serve routine that works, knowing when to be aggressive and when to just get the ball in, and developing a good, consistent toss by doing lots and lots of reps. Good serves equal points, so make plenty of time to practice them.