Coaching Concept: Tennis serving

As coaches, we sometimes have to walk a fine line. We want to encourage players to serve tough. We also, though want sufficiently good service to facilitate our drills and games in training. You can borrow from tennis to help with that.

I’m talking about the idea of a let serve. If the player misses their first serve, they get a second. This allows them to take chances with the first ball, which has the secondary benefit of challenging the receiver(s) that much more. It also reinforces the idea I expressed in my When the Serve Needs to Be In post about not missing consecutive serves.

To the latter point, there should be some negative consequence for missing the second serve. For example, I sometimes use the let serve approach when running a Winners 3s game. Normally, a player who misses is replaced by a new server. With tennis serving, if they missed the second serve they were likewise replaced, and then hit with two push-ups as a pattern interruption.

This is not something you can use in all situations. In drills or games where second serves can be quickly initiated, though, it makes sense.

Player push-back

I have, on a couple occasions, received push-back or questions about this approach. It usually comes from the thought that accepting missed serves leads to more missed serves in matches. Or at least it could. This is not an unreasonable point.

I respond to the concern in a couple of ways.

First, I don’t normally use the tennis serve concept when approaching competition.

Second, I don’t use it in all games. Also, I generally don’t allow a re-serve for serves into the net. We’re aiming for positive errors – long or wide. Net serves are not positive errors.

Third, there are three long-term benefits to allowing a missed first serve. As I noted above, it helps develop more aggressive serves and forces the passers to face tougher serves. The passers also receive more balls overall. Additionally, it promotes more rallies.

None of these things have much impact in the short term. Over time, though, they can definitely pay dividends.

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John Forman
About the Author: John Forman
John most recently coached for an NCAA Division II women's team. That followed a stint as head coach for a women's professional team in Sweden. Prior to that he was the head coach for the University of Exeter Volleyball Club BUCS teams (roughly the UK version of the NCAA) while working toward a PhD. He previously coached in Division I of NCAA Women's Volleyball in the US, with additional experience at the Juniors club level, both coaching and managing, among numerous other volleyball adventures. Learn more on his bio page.

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