I remember when seeing the Brazilians doing jump serves in the Olympics was a revelation. Those were the top spin variety, sometimes call spike serves. Later, jump float serves developed. Now jump serves are commonplace.
But what’s the value of jumping?
The answer is very simple – ball flight angle. A player serving from the ground, unless they are quite tall, has to hit the ball with somewhat of an upward trajectory to clear the net. A server who jumps, however, flattens that out and can even hit the ball with a downward trajectory. This makes life harder for the receivers.
A second simple answer is power. The forward movement of the body through a jump serve allows the player to serve the ball harder. This is more so the case for the spin serve because of the more explosive approach. Harder serve = more pressure on the receivers.
So the bottom line is jump serves are generally harder to pass than standing serves. That’s why you want your players jump serving (give a listen to this Coaching Conversation to hear why we need to pay attention to service landings, though).
When should we train jump serves?
My quick response to this question is to say as soon as they demonstrate enough power to consistently get the ball over the net while standing. This is not just about physical strength, though. I’ve seen an 11-year-old girl jump spin serve with an adult ball on an adult court – in a match! And she wasn’t above average in size for her age. Just happened to be that her mom was a former pro beach player, so she learned the mechanics early.
I always begin teaching youngsters the standing serve so they can work out controlled tossing, where they need to strike the ball relative to their hitting shoulder, good hand contact, etc. As soon as I see they have things pretty well in-hand, though, I starting working in the jump.
It’s not a full switch, though. Just like standing serves tend to be ugly in the early learning stages, so too are jump serves. After all, it’s a very different skill. As a result, I have the players work on both for a while. It lets them continue having success with the standing serve while working through the jump serve’s new challenges. As the jump serving improves, I wean them off the standing version.
With older, more physically mature individuals I’d probably go right into jump serving, depending on the situation.
Coaching short-term vs. long-term
In a thread discussing this topic online I saw one coach respond with the following:
I don’t allow jump serving until they can consistently put the ball where I want it…when I want it there.
My gut response to this sort of statement is that I hate the idea of putting limits on our players’ development the way this mentality suggests. I can understand it in the context of current performance (winning now). The jump serve has clear advantages, however, so anything that curbs its development now inherently means limiting its value down the line.
And beware the idea of thinking of jump serving as incremental development. It’s more like the move from underhand serving to overhand serving than a next step along the standing serve progression. In fact, it’s quite possible that a player could get effective at jump serving without ever learning to serve standing.
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