Your team wins the pre-match coin toss. Do you take serve? Or do you take receive?

At the upper levels of the sport the answer is very simple. You take receive. Why? Two reasons.

First, the sideout percentages are quite high for top level teams. Mark Lebedew shared some stats from the German men’s Bundesliga (top league) a while back which indicated that teams scored just about 2/3rds of the time when receiving serve. He’s since also provided data from Poland, France, Italy, and Russia. So from the perspective of getting on the board first, you don’t want to be serving.

Second, as Mark points out, the receiving team actually has less to do to win a set than the serving team:

“…in any given set, the number or sideouts is equal, give or take one.  What decides the set is the number of points the teams win on serve. The receiving team must win one more point on serve than its opponent to win the set. The serving team must win two more points on serve to win the set. Scoring a point on serve is more difficult than winning a point on reception. Therefore the team receiving first has an advantage.”

Of course the considerations are quite a bit different at the other end of the talent spectrum. There serving is much more dominant. If you’re coaching at a level where the sideout percentage is only about 1 in 3, then you’re going to want to have the first serve. The frequency at which points are scored on serve will tend to make what Mark outlines above irrelevant.

If you’re coaching in the middling zone where sideout rates are close to 50%, then other considerations may come into play.

Regardless, this is one area of coaching where knowing the relevant statistics can make for quite clear-cut decision-making. Of course, this might also tie in with how you decide your starting rotation.

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John Forman
John Forman

John is currently the Men's & Women's Head Volleyball Coach at Medaille College, as well as Global Director for Volleyball for Nation Academy (formerly Charleston Academy). His previous experience includes the college and university level in the US and UK, professional coaching in Sweden, and both coaching and club management at the Juniors level. Learn more on his bio page.

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