During the early part of my college coaching career it was regular practice for myself or one of the other assistants on staff to give target zone signals to our servers before each ball. These targets were selected based on a combination of scouting the opposition in advance and watching developments during the match. These days I rarely give serving signals. If I do so it’s because of a specific circumstance.

Why?

It’s a developmental thing, really. I want my players learning to think and act for themselves when it comes to identifying and exploiting the weaknesses of their opponent. I don’t want robot players relying on me for instruction all that time. Even if I were the type to be a controlling coach, volleyball just doesn’t allow for that sort of thing. There is very little time between rallies to communicate with the players from the bench and obviously I can do almost nothing to influence what happens while the ball is in play. The players need to be able make judgements and decisions for themselves.

Does this mean I never provide guidance? Of course not!

There are occasions when I do give a server specific instructions. Usually it’s as a reminder of a game plan we’ve discussed before the match, between sets, or during a timeout. Sometimes it’s as a result of my having noticed something. In the latter case, rather than just giving the server a specific target, I try to get the player to recognize what I’ve seen, which helps them develop their volleyball IQ.

Even still, there is a situational element to the question of providing service targets. Some players just don’t have the accuracy, and asking them to hit a specific zone serves very little purpose. There are also times in matches when it’s best to just let a player do a comfortable serve rather than putting the pressure of hitting a certain target on their shoulders (especially if you want aggressive serves). And sometimes you just simply don’t want to break a player’s concentration by yelling at them to get their attention.

That said, some players prefer to be told where to serve. For them they want serving to be just about executing a skill and nothing more. I don’t care for that view myself because I want players to always be engaging their court vision, but I understand it. Sometimes we just have to deal with things as they are and carry on.

Here’s a discussion of serve targets from a different angle.

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John Forman
John Forman

John is currently the Men's & Women's Head Volleyball Coach at Medaille College, as well as Global Director for Volleyball for Nation Academy (formerly Charleston Academy). His previous experience includes the college and university level in the US and UK, professional coaching in Sweden, and both coaching and club management at the Juniors level. Learn more on his bio page.

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