Serving is the only closed-chain skill in volleyball. By that I mean it’s the only skill which is not reliant on someone else first doing something. Setters need a pass. Hitters need a set. Blockers and defenders need an attack. The server, though, is in full control of their own execution. That allows them to develop a routine before they put the ball in play.
Having a pre-execution routine is something we see in other sports. Baseball is probably the most obvious example for American sports fans because it has so many discreet plays. You can definitely put tennis in the same category, though.
In volleyball, some servers have very simple routines – hold the ball up, wait for the whistle, toss and hit. Others get more involved with a bunch of bouncing and/or hitting the ball. Perhaps the most over-the-top pre-serve routine I’ve ever seen involved a bunch of bouncing with weaving body/leg movement. Not something I personally would have encouraged.
An example of how important the pre-serve routine can be is our starting setter at Midwestern State during my two seasons there. She was an effective server, generally. If, however, she failed to do her pre-serve routine the odds she missed her serve went way up. In her case, it seemed to have to do with rushing it.
And it doesn’t just apply to the player with the ball – the server or the pitcher. It also applies to the receiver, as Natalie Hagglund (former US national team and USC libero) pointed out in an article once. In fact, hitters in baseball have some of the more ridiculous pre- routines.
In particular, Natalie’s discussion of pre-serve routine focused on keeping things simple.
“Your process should be short, sweet and should be able to trigger some sort of reaction.”
And beyond the process, there’s also the focus. Here too Natalie recommends keeping this limited. If you’re focused on too many things you’ll probably find yourself overwhelmed. This applies to coaches just as much to players, by the way.
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