The posting to the USA Volleyball blog a while back of a brief article related to serving stimulated a debate. Is an aggressive serving mentality better, or should one be more conservative and minimize errors? This is a subject I’ve written about before in Looking at Serving Risk and Reward. No doubt I’ll write about it again in the future as well. In any case, there are a couple of points worth making related to some of the comments I saw in the exchange.
One coach made the comment that on the male side of the sport you have to take an aggressive, let it rip mentality to have success. This is no doubt driven by the the relatively high sideout percentages seen in the men’s game. I coached men’s volleyball for a couple of years at Exeter. It’s certainly true that you need to put of the opposing offense off-balance. You don’t want them able to just ram the ball down your throat every time. The idea that you have to have your servers going back and being aggressive all the time is just wrong, in my mind. In fact, I would contend that it is a recipe for trouble.
As I wrote in When the Serve Needs to Be In, there are such things as bad misses. I had a team cost themselves a match and potentially three spots in the final standings of a championship tournament because of one string of bad serves. It happened in the middle of a set we were winning – in a match they looked to have in-hand. At the top levels the trade-off may most often favor bombing the serve. Where most of us operate, though, that isn’t always the case.
Actually, even at the top level a more conservative approach can be desirable. In a discussion in late 2014, USA women’s national team coach, Karch Kiraly, talked about a change they made between the Grand Prix and the World Championships that year. They switched all their jump spin servers to jump floats because they found the spin serves simply were not providing enough incremental benefit to outweigh the increased number of service errors. You can read Karch’s comments in this Volleyball Magazine article.
Having said that, it is possible to have too few service errors. At one point during a season in my time at Brown we realized the team was serving too tentatively. They were only making maybe 2 errors per set. This was back in the days of 30-point games, so this was a paltry number of points dropped. We figured at the time that 3-4 errors was probably indicative of being at an appropriate level of aggressiveness.
The bottom line is that you need to find a good balance between going for it and making sure to keep the ball in for your team and level of play. Don’t go simply by what you see or hear from those working at a very different level of competition. Also realize that sometimes match conditions will favor being either more or less aggressive.