I previously talked about how I saw the USC women’s volleyball team train to serve the ball 40mph (see Why Good Serve Receive Technique is So Important). While I was on my tour of US collegiate volleyball programs, I also witnessed some training that works in the other direction. By that I mean slowing down the serve. A couple of the players on the Long Beach State team were focused on just that while practicing their jump float serves. The reason for this probably requires a bit of explanation.
The main idea behind the float serve is to have the ball move in unexpected ways. This is true for both jump and standing versions. A spinning serve has a predictable trajectory. That makes it easier to pass (assuming you can get in position). A float serve, though, has the potential to frustrate a receiver with a movement at the last moment.
Here’s the thing, though. As you increase the velocity of the serve you start to decrease its potential for that late movement. It’s like a putt in golf. You can strike hard enough to overcome the influence of the break which would normally happen because of the texture of the green. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, mind. A hard, flat serve that is well placed can produce positive results.
If, however, you want that unpredictable movement (and/or want to take some of the strain off your shoulder) you need to slow the serve down. When I coached at Brown and served at the team I called it a low velocity floater. It had a nasty habit of dropping quickly at the last instant as gravity rapidly overwhelmed forward momentum. At other times it curved to the side. A ball which started going toward one player ended up angling to the one next to her. It was fun to watch, but not so fun to pass. 🙂
The risk with a low velocity serve is if you don’t hit it just right it can be a problem. Too soft and it goes in the net. Not exactly dead center and it won’t float well. If you pick your targets properly, though, it can still be effective.
In the case of Long Beach, the coach was using this low velocity serve as part of a mixture of serving styles his team would employ to keep opposition players off balance. He had two jump topspin servers (one lefty, one righty), two players working on the slower jump-floater, and a couple players working on standing float serves they could hit either short or long. Hard to get comfortable as a passer when every server is doing something different.
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