Periodically I hear a volleyball coach ponder an investment in additional equipment for their program. This is often as a result of having spare or donor funds. At other times coaches specifically fund raise for some item they think would be desirable. In cases like this, the subject of hitting/serving machines comes up. They tend to be the big price tag “it would be great to have” thing on coaching wish lists.

But is something like that really a good investment?

The bottom line is it comes down to how much you’ll end up using it. If it’s quite a bit, then it’s a good investment. Otherwise, spend the money elsewhere. The impression I get is that hitting/serving machines probably are not used as much as their buyers anticipated, especially when talking about a school team/program (clubs have more opportunity).

Related to this is the question of whether you should use one of these machines.

The rationale in favor is that they allow you to get in a lot of reps without putting a big strain on coach and/or player shoulders. They are especially useful in the men’s game where getting a bunch high velocity serve reps is a lot of work. Plus, they are pretty consistent, which allows for specific focus. Those are not bad reasons. They were why we got one when I coached at Brown University – especially for training in the Spring when it was individuals or smaller groups (back then the NCAA only allowed D1 coaches to work with up to 4 players at a time).

The argument against using a machine is that it removes the read element from the passing/defense process. If you’re receiving serve you’re getting a bunch of cues from the server’s position, toss, contact point, etc. Inserting a machine removes all those cues, cutting down on the receivers training per the concept of the read-plan-execute chain.

In the outside hitting and serving seminar I attended in 2014, instructor Mark Lebedew expressed the view that sometimes hitting/serving machines can be useful. He felt that was true in a situation when an individual just wants reps to work through some mechanics stuff. As soon as you have multiple players, however, he said he’s against using the machine. When players must communicate seams, etc. the lack of a read aspect is compounded, he argued.

Some things to consider if you’re thinking about making an investment in a hitting/serving machine.

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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.

    1 Response to "Using a serving machine in training"

    • stupac56

      I agree with the comments made in this article. I have use of an AirCat and I really like it. It isn’t something I use as much as to get great value out of it, the cost is quite high. I do see value in it though. I would find that younger teams may not have anyone who can serve in a consistent manner thus a machine will make it possible to at least have practice receiving a strong serve. I have found during some practice sessions we spend more time shagging missed served balls than passing serve. I also like that I can use the AirCat for setting, and blocking practice when I only have 6 or 7 players.

Please share your own ideas and opinions.