A while back I wrote a post sharing my philosophy on calling service targets. In it I focus mainly on the player development side of things. In this post I want to look at things from a different perspective. Is it actually even worth doing?
Picking targets – Method 1
There tend to be two primary ways coaches go about picking service targets. One is based on passer proficiency. That’s taking a look at each likely passer the other team has and assessing them relative to their pass rating. Whichever one is lowest is your target. The idea is pretty straightforward. You’re targeting the player most likely to get aced or produce a lower quality pass.
That’s all fine and good, but consider this. What if that passer is currently passing in your server’s weakest target area? Does it still make sense to serve them? Unless that passer is very weak compared to their teammates, there’s a good chance the answer to that question is “No”.
The point is that in many cases, because there isn’t a huge difference between passer skill, you probably get the best result from simply letting your server go with their best serve. Chances are, it’s also their most confident one. That means a higher likelihood of producing what you’re after in a pressure moment.
Picking targets – Method 2
The other way coaches think about picking serving targets is tactical. Maybe they’ve seen something in the scouting. Or maybe they just want to focus on a particular strategy that tends to work generally.
An example of the former comes from the 2021 NCAA Women’s Semifinals. Pitt noted that Nebraska hit at an efficiency 100 points lower when the pass came from Zone 1. So they targeted that area relentlessly throughout the match. I had something similar come up back when I coached at Brown. I noticed their setter set significantly faster sets – especially to 4 – when the pass/dig came from in front of her than when it came from behind. Our strategy was thus to pound Zone 1 in every possible situation.
An example of a more general idea is something like serving deep in Zone 5 to try to take the front row OH out of the play. Similarly, a short ball to Zone 2 in certain rotations can create problems getting the MB in to the attack.
As useful as these serving tactics can be, though, you still have to consider your server’s skill and confidence. If they just aren’t good at putting a solid serve in that area – and doing it when you really need them to – then no matter what the scouting report says, you probably want to let them go elsewhere.
Some things to think about before you put those figures down behind your clipboard.