Serving is a totally unique skill in volleyball. Unlike the other skills, no one else plays the ball before you serve… if you are passing, a great serve can be make it difficult to pass. If you are setting, a bad pass can affect your ability to set. A good set can make your attack successful. When you serve, though, you are in complete control, and you don’t depend on anyone else.
Before we get into the “how to” stuff, you need to do a little thinking about serving. If your ONLY concern is putting the ball over the net and inside the court, you may want to explore the underhand serve. I’m only going to focus on the overhand serve here, which requires timing and strength, and is more difficult to learn. If you have trouble underhand serving, send an email requesting instructions.
Now, I have weeded out the underhand servers. The next decision you must make is… Do I want to float serve or spin serve? I’ll briefly describe them to help you in your decision:
Float serve: The ball does not spin when you float serve. If the ball does not spin, it is affected by pressure and current changes in the air and it will take an unpredictable path.
Spin Serve: The ball spins rapidly. You can hit a spin serve much harder than a float serve, but the spin of the ball gives it a predictable flight.
At lower levels, the float serve is not used very often. Most people simply try to get the ball over the net, and some brave souls try to spike the ball from the end line (standing spin serve). The better you get at volleyball, the more valuable a float serve is…
The starting point of the serving motion is the toss. There are no real rules for tossing a volleyball, but here are a few things to consider…
1. A high toss is more difficult to time correctly than a low toss.
2. The toss must be in front of your serving arm (that means if you are right-handed, your toss should not be straight up and down in front of your left shoulder).
3. Your toss must be in front of you, preferably far enough that you must take a little step to reach it.
New rules in volleyball have eliminated the second toss… I don’t know how fast that will trickle down to your particular league, but try to hit any toss you throw, and try to toss consistently.
Float Serve – When you float serve, you must imagine a steel rod connecting your hand to forearm. You cannot bend your wrist at all during the serving motion. Ideally, you should contact the ball high (your arm should be straight) and you should not “follow through”. Stopping your serving hand upon contact will give the ball the spinless flight that is needed to make the ball float.
Spin Serve – I have not yet spelled out the armswing used for spiking, so you can read this as a primer. Putting topspin on a volleyball is a very important skill. It is achieved by hitting the top half of the volleyball and snapping your wrist so it is completely bent after the ball has left. Again, the ball should be contacted with a straight arm (no bend at the elbow), and in this case, you can follow through.
Tying it all together
I like people to take a step forward when they serve, because if a 90lb. person can effectively translate momentum to a one-pound volleyball, the ball will go over the net. The step should be small and controlled or else timing enters the equation, making the skill more difficult.
Here’s how I think the serve should happen:
(Right handers do this, lefties reverse my instructions)
1. Stand with your left foot in front of your right, with all your weight on your back (right) foot.
2. Toss, step with your LEFT foot, then hit the ball. The toss should promote the step (that means that the toss should be in front of you). You must strike the ball while you are moving forward, not before or after. The power of a float serve comes from weight transfer involving the whole body, not just the serving arm.
Here are some things to check when your serve is unsuccessful…
1. Contact – Pretend you are shaking hands with somebody and extend your hand with your thumb up. This is how your hand should look when you serve. If you are using a fist or your thumb is lined up with your fingers, the skill is more difficult. Here is my only **sexist remark**… Women tend to wind up for serves with their wrist “cocked” or flexed. This makes it tougher to contact the ball so remember the steel rod and keep your wrist straight.
2. Power – if the ball does go over the net, or reach the net, HIT IT HARDER! How? First, envision your boss or your ex’s face on the ball and hammer it. If that doesn’t work, remember the weight transfer. You must hit the ball as you are going forward, not before or after. If you are very small or have little upper body strength, rotate your shoulders like you would if you were throwing a baseball. The forward momentum should be plenty, but more power can be accessed this way.
3. Never make the same mistake twice – If you are serving unsuccessfully, CHANGE something. I see new players glowering at the net with hatred in their eyes, and then serving the same soft serve into the net over and over again. Don’t aim for the net, aim for the back of the gym! Aim for the ceiling! If you always serve out to the right, turn your body and practice serving out to the left.
We’ll get into the strategy of serving… locations, identifying who to serve, and how to keep lame games fun.
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