Tag Archive for volleyball serve reception

Reader questions on approach, knee slides, and run-throughs

A reader submitted three questions.

  1. Do you prefer a 3 step or 4 step approach for young outside hitters
  2. Is it proper to teach a player to slide to both knees for short serve receive balls
  3. Your thoughts on “run throughs” when passing a ball versus getting a balanced base set?

Let me address them one-by-one.

Approach length

I personally don’t have a strong preference on 3-step or 4-step approach. I know some coaches favor one over the other, but I’m just not one of them. For me it’s more an individual basis sort of thing. Some players do very well with a 3-step, while for others the fourth one definitely helps them.

To my mind, the first major thing new players need to sort out is the last two steps. Those are by far the most important, especially since there are many situations where a player cannot make a full approach. It’s really important for a hitter to be able to use those two steps to open up. If not, they will end up hitting square, which is not good for the back or shoulder.

Slide to knees

I am not in favor of players going to both knees, really in any situation. When I coached the Exeter women I had a player who went straight from standing to both knees to play low balls. And this was one of my middles! I used to cringe every time I saw it. Ouch!

In contrast, one of the Exeter men was excellent at going to one knee to play a short ball in front of him. Think of it as basically a lunge lead step, with the trailing knee then sliding up to be tucked underneath.

My view is that we don’t need players’ knees hitting the floor if we can avoid it. Too easy to cause harm, and given how sweaty kneepads get, they’re bound to leave a wet spot on the floor in the middle of a rally.

The one possible exception to this is when the player is trying to take the ball with their hands. That’s a situation where the ball is perhaps too high for a platform dig or pass. Even there, though, you may argue in favor of a different technique.

Obviously, in emergency situations you have to do whatever it takes. If we’re talking about training techniques, though, I’d not be working on two-knee stuff.


A run-through is for balls you need to chase down, not for balls you can relatively easily get under.¬†Generally speaking, you will have better platform angle control when you are stable than when running. Why add in the extra variable if you don’t need to?

Favorite drills/games to practice serve receive?

What are your favorite drills/games to practice serve receive?

I see that question, or a variation of it, regularly.


Here are a couple of different drills I’ve used, or seen over the years. The names are either what I heard them called, or ones I came up with myself that described them. Feel free to change them if you like.

1-2 Serve & Pass is one that lets at least one of your servers be aggressive, but without the problem of having lots of missed serves or one passer not getting many balls.

If you have a large number and want everyone involved, 2-sided Serve & Pass is an option. I actually prefer the Get-2 variation, though, as it gives weaker passers more reps.

A drill that focuses on individual rather than group passing is 8-Person Serve & Pass. This is something that is good if you have a bunch of players to involve. It is also well suited for a more controlled serving and passing set up as it features one server going to one passer. It’s an extension on the idea of Passing Triplets.


I personally like to make things competitive as much as possible. To that end, I often look to do servers vs. passers games. They do not provide the highly focused individual repetitions of the two drills noted in the paragraph immediately above, but they do offer lots of more game-like ones.

In this post and this other one I wrote about a couple of different ways to think about scoring such games. The trick is to find a scoring approach that is fair for both sides. This is especially true when you do something like pitting your primary passers against non-passers. If you play a more mixed game (passers equally distributed on both teams), then you can use aggregate scoring. Each team has a turn passing and serving. Their final score is the combination of the points they earned in each role. That way, even if there is an imbalance in how points accrue (for example, the scoring tends to favor the passers), both teams will get it when it’s their turn.

Just about anything will work

Here’s something to think about, though. Literally, any drill or game that includes serve reception can be a good way to practice it. You don’t need a new drill for that purpose. You simply need to make sure serve receive is a key focus and gets specific feedback. And realize that the quality of the pass is one big form of that feedback.

To that end, small sided games like Winners, Speedball, and Player WInners offer the opportunity for lots of serve reception practice. Thinking more 6 v 6, there are games like 22 v 22 and 2 in 2 which include lots of team serve reception repetitions – especially if you allow for re-serves on misses.

Game-like reps will always be better than ones that don’t replicate game situations. Even still, to get the most out of them they require focused feedback on the skill. It’s not enough just to let them play.

Considerations in serve reception ratings

In the article Scoring Serving and Passing Effectiveness I talk about the common usage of a 0-3 type of scale for rating serve reception. In this post, fellow volleyball blogger Hai-Binh Ly discusses how he progressed defining these ratings. Basically, he’s reached the point of using very defined zones to judge a pass’s rating. These are the zones defined within the commonly used DataVolley statistical program. Ly outlines them in his post.

I have my concerns with rigid definitions. Ly mentions some of them with respect to grey areas, but I would focus more on the fact that they fail to account for setter athleticism. Simply stated, a pass that might only be a 1 for a given setter might be a 2 for a quicker one. It could even be a 3. Think about a tight pass that a short setter cannot handle, but a taller one has no problem with.

The thing we have to keep in mind is the underlying idea behind these pass ratings.

The intention was to speak to the probability of earning the sideout. This is what Dr. Jim Coleman had in mind when he developed the rating system. The premise is that a 3-pass results in a sideout some percentage of the time. A 2-pass, on average, sees a team sideout at some other frequency – most likely lower. And so on down the line. From this perspective, a team’s average pass rating indicates its approximate sideout rate.

If pass ratings are going to approximate sideout success rates, then it makes sense to use a more discretionary rating approach. By that I mean rating passes based on the circumstances of the team in question. In other words, what can your setter do with the ball? Rigid definitions for each pass rating do not make sense in that context.

If, however, we want to compare serve reception across teams, or between players, then a more fixed system is more appropriate. In that case, we need a common system of measurement. That removes setter variability from the equation.

So which is best?

As a coach, it depends on your setters. Are they of similar quality? If so, you can use the more discretionary approach. If they are noticeably different, though, you probably have to go with a more rigid system. This is especially true if your passers do not work with each setter basically the same amount of time. It’s the only fair way to compare them.

Scoring Serving and Passing Effectiveness

For the sake of making solid objective assessments of your team and players, and to see how they progress over time, it is worth compiling as many volleyball statistics on them as you can during both training and competition. One of the easier stats to keep is that for serving and passing effectiveness.

Let’s start with passing, as it leads into the serving stats I’ll be talking about.

Scoring Serve Receive Passing

The common practice among volleyball coaches is to score passing on a 0 to 3 scale. This is primarily for serve reception, but one could also rate free ball passing and even digging in the same way. The scale looks like this:

3 – Perfect or near perfect pass giving the setter all setting options

2 – Good pass, but the setter has primarily just two options (forward or back)

1 – Poor pass allowing the setter only one option, or forcing a non-setter to set.

0 – Ace or over-pass

Generally speaking, teams want to aim for an average score of 2.0 or better. Squads who are able to do that will usually run an effective offense.

On an individual basis, the best passers will come in around the 2.3-2.4 level on average. Obviously, you probably won’t see that kind of average for lower level players.

I have seen some coaches use modifications on this system. For example, 1 could be an over-pass, shifting the rest of the scale up such that a perfect pass is a 4 rather than a 3. This might be suitable for lower level teams where an over-pass doesn’t translate into points for the opposition as frequently as it does at upper levels. In any case, feel free to adapt the system to suit the needs of your team.

Scoring Serves

As for serving, we use a 0-5 scale which is largely an inverted version of the passing scale.

5 – Ace

4 – Over-pass

3 – Opposing team passes a 1

2 – Opposing team passes a 2

1 – Opposing team passes a 3

0 – Error

As with passing, the objective here it to average 2 or better. Doing so means the other team cannot run its offense consistently, making your defense and transition game more effective. Again, you can make adjustments to suit your needs.

Stat Both Training and Matches

I strongly recommend you score serving and passing in training games as well as in matches. If you only score during matches then your bench players won’t ever get scored. Part of the reason for keeping volleyball statistics like this is to give your players very specific feedback on where they are currently and where they need to get.

Note, I am not in favor of taking stats in passing drills that do not strongly replicate game conditions. I have a couple of reasons for that. First, the serving is often not very realistic. Sometimes it’s overly aggressive. At other time’s it’s too conservative. Second, drills often don’t have the same cooperative dynamics as game play in terms of passers working out seams and things like that.

Scoring serving and passing also gives you a clear an unambiguous way of ranking players for lineup decisions. You’re less likely to have ruffled feathers when you decide to have Joe hidden in serve receive or Jane serving last in the rotation if the player knows they are not one of the better performers in those skills.

Make Sure It’s Consistent

Since the serve and pass are two sides of the same coin, keeping these serving and passing stats is quite easy. The one requirement, though, is that a consistent metric is used to make scoring judgements. If you don’t have consistent ratings then the averages derived won’t be reliable. It may sound easy to define a 3-pass, but it’s going to vary based on the athleticism of your setter and/or the ability of your middle hitter(s) to stay available for a front quick set. You can be more liberal with your scoring if your setter is quick and your middles mobile, but if you have a more slow-footed setter and/or lumbering middles the range of passes which could reasonably be called a 3 will be narrow.

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