Have you run into this situation?

Here’s my dilemma: If your serve receive ability is only as good as your own team’s best server, then how do you move them forward? If the coach serves to move their serve receive game along, you are taking away your team’s ability to practice their serve while they have that chance. This is probably true for all level teams, but I’m specifically referring to young developing teams that really need the repetition. Any comments or suggestions?

So the core question here is how you can challenge your receivers when your servers aren’t up to the level needed to do so themselves.

One answer many employ is the coach (or coaches) serving. Maybe they bring in others – boys if it’s a girls’ team, older players, etc. – that can get the job done. Or perhaps one of those serving machines.

What if those solutions are not available, though, or you want to use the time to also keep developing your servers?

The thing I would look at doing is simply to shorten the court for my servers. Pick a distance from the net where the servers can have a reasonable level of success. Then have them serve from there.

The advantage to this approach is it increases the time pressure on the passers. The ball has less distance to travel, so it’s a bit like facing someone with a stronger serve. Also, the servers are likely to be more accurate at the shorter distance. That should mean they can challenge the passers in the seams, short-deep, etc.

Sidenote: If I’m serving to my teams, I often step in the court (if allowed by the drill). That way I can create the same pressure with less stress on my shoulder.

What about the servers?

Turning our attention to the servers, they can benefit from this as well.

With developing players in particular, a lot of the problems I see is mechanical breakdowns when they have to start really incorporating power into their serves to get the ball over the net from behind the end line. This is why I often use a serving warm-up with developmental players. It starts them short – like 3m line. I have them focus on good technique in the early phases, and look for them to sustain that as they progressively back-up from there as their shoulder warms-up. That reinforces the mechanics, which then helps make serving easier (from a power generation standpoint) as the distance increases.

You can take a similar approach when they serve from in the court to receivers. Make them focus on good mechanics. Then, as their success rate increases, move them back to increase the challenge.

The key to really seeing both servers and passers benefit from this, though, is making sure you coach both groups.

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John Forman
John Forman

John is currently the Talent Strategy Manager (oversees the national teams) and Indoor Performance Director for Volleyball England, as well as Global Director for Volleyball for Nation Academy. His volleyball coaching experience includes all three NCAA divisions, plus Junior College, in the US; university and club teams in the UK; professional coaching in Sweden; and both coaching and club management at the Juniors level. He's also been a visiting coach at national team, professional club, and juniors programs in several countries. Learn more on his bio page.

Please share your own ideas and opinions.