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Develop a serve strategy that attacks the opponents weakness

By Bob Miller

Players need to develop the ability to make tough, playable serves that force the opponent to move. I have seen many hard floaters or vicious topspin serves that, because of their initial trajectory, are easily seen by the opponent to be traveling out of bounds. Therefore, the opponent knows that these serves do not have to be played. Developing a good serve requires recognizing and attacking an opponent’s weakness by directing a serve to a receiver who has committed an error on a pass or has just come into the game. In addition, each reception pattern has inherent soft areas that can be exploited. A good serving option in today’s game is a serve that is played inside the 5-foot (1.5-meter) line, by someone other than the opponent’s middle hitter. This short serve can disrupt the hitters’ attack angles and force the opponent to use more a standard type of offense.

Coaches also must consider several variables when deciding what serving strategy to teach. These variables include

  • whether or not they have the option of entering serving specialists at least once a game. These serving specialists count toward the 18 total entries for a game. Coaches using serving specialists should also strive to have the best players on the court at the end of the game without having reached the maximum entries. This strategy also involves saving one entry so that a critical player can be entered in a tight game.
  • whether or not coaches can set up the initial team rotation so that the first three serving spots are filled by the team’s best three servers. This ensures that the best servers get the most opportunities to serve in each game.
  • whether or not they are going to signal the service zones on each play. This takes the pressure of making this decision off the server. It does, however, put pressure on the server to serve where the coach indicates. A server who demonstrates his or her own awareness of where to serve shows an understanding of game strategy.
  • whether or not the team has received instructions about a receiver to whom the server should or should not serve. Servers knowing to whom they should not serve show good listening skills and the ability to respond effectively to the opponent’s receiving pattern.
  • whether or not there are servers who can serve to weak receiving areas. A server can also take receivers out of their intended offensive pattern by serving to a weak area. This may force a less capable player to receive the serve or interrupt the intended attack angles of the opponent’s hitters.
  • whether or not they would prefer to have each server use his or her best serve and direct it to the area he or she can hit most consistently. When a server serves to this area, it forces the opponent to field the ball instead of letting the ball go out of bounds--which can happen when the server is trying to serve to an area with which he or she has had little or no success. Basically players and coaches must decide if it is better to force opponents to play the ball or try to surprise or ace them.
  • what to tell the server who is serving directly after a time-out. One time-out strategy that may be used by the opponent is to disrupt the rhythm of a server who has been successful on his or her previous two or three serves. Coaches should ask the server to start the rhythm over and concentrate on forcing the opponent to play the ball. I’ve heard a coach joke that if he had a nickel for every serve missed coming out of a time-out, he could take his family on a vacation.

Serving is one aspect of volleyball in which players can strive for consistency without a partner. Players can serve against a wall, or serve 20 consecutive balls taken from a carrier over the net and then retrieve the balls and start the drill again. The following are good, basic drills to help improve players’ serves.



Players should avoid changing their motion when serving to different receivers (who are at varying depths), as this gives away the intent of the serve. The motion should remain the same; the speed of the server’s arm and subsequent contact allows the ball to travel short or deep.


Partners face one another across the net; three other sets of partners can share the court and net at the same time.

  1. Two players face one another across the net with 20 feet (6 meters) between them; each player starts on his or her own 10-foot (3-meter) line.
  2. One player serves a flat serve, a floater or topspin, that crosses the net no higher than midway up the antenna. Preferably, the ball crosses within 6 inches (15 centimeters) of the net or lower. The receiving partner should be able to catch the ball at face height while in a setting position.
  3. The partner who first receives the ball returns the serve by duplicating the initial serve.
  4. The second serve taken by each player should look exactly the same, except that the arm swing should decelerate before contact. The ball should cross the net with reduced speed, land inside the 5-foot (1.5-meter) line, and bounce one time to the partner.
  5. Each player takes six serves at this distance.
  6. Next, each player moves back 3 to 5 feet (1 to 1.5 meters) and repeats steps 1 through 5, aiming to get the second serve of each pair inside the 10-foot (3-meter) line.
  7. The players then move back 5 more feet (1.5 meters) and repeat steps 1 through 5. If players have moved 5 feet (1.5 meters) each time, they end up serving from the 20-foot (6-meter) line for a total serving distance of 40 feet (12 meters). The goal for the second serve of each pair would be to land the ball inside the 10-foot (3-meter) line, preferably even closer to the net.
  8. The players now remain at the 20-foot (6-meter) line and repeat steps 1 through 5 but with the goal of having the first three serves caught and the last three bounce. The last three serves should be short enough that they bounce at least two times before reaching the partner.
  9. The players now move behind the end line. The first player to serve aims to put the ball within the last 3 feet (1 meter) of the court. The partner no longer catches the first serve but allows it to land deep and determines its distance from the end line. The next serve should be short and bounce three times before reaching the partner.



This drill, named for the path the players create as they rotate, not only helps them control their serves but also permits each player to work on his or her individual serve-receive techniques.


When working with groups of 12 players or fewer per court, players set themselves up in three columns: servers, passers, and receivers. When using both sides of the net, place additional players in the passing column and try to maintain three servers and no more than three targets. When you have more than three in the target area, the players tend to move forward out of the target zone. Each player waits until he or she is at the head of one of the three columns to be part of the action. When a larger squad is training, this drill can accommodate all players by using both sides of the court.

  1. Players on both sides of the net rotate through the different stations of serving, targeting, and passing. Servers can start in the right back 20 feet (6 meters) from the net and can move to 25 and 30 feet (7.5 to 9 meters) from the net and then behind the end line once they are warmed up. Receivers can start in the left back and as a group can be switched to middle back, right back, left front, middle front, and right front throughout the drill so that the serves are made at different depths and into different zones. Using the left-back first passer as an example, the player passes the serve directed to his or her area, rotates to the net and waits in a short line before receiving a ball from the corresponding passer. The player takes that ball back to the service area to serve to a receiver across the net.
  2. After the serve, the player jogs around one of the net poles to the end of the opposite receiving line.
  3. Players count the number of perfect target passes, and the drill is not over until the players have reached a goal set by the coach (either reaching a time limit or a certain number of perfect passes).

This is an excerpt from The Volleyball Handbook.

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