When you’ve been coaching, or generally just involved in the sport, for a long time it’s easy to forget what it was like to be a newbie. You throw out terms on the assumption that people know what you’re talking about. While in general they might, it’s not a 100% thing. Alternatively, how people define something may vary.

A reminder of this happened when I came across someone asking what people mean by “aggressive serve”. So let me offer my definition.

An aggressive serve is one intended to create problems for the other team.

Note the word “intended” in there. That means you’re trying to do something on purpose. The actual outcome isn’t the question. An ace isn’t automatically an aggressive serve just as a perfect pass doesn’t inherently mean the serve wasn’t aggressive.

So what makes for an aggressive serve? Pace and/or targeting.

Faster serves are harder to pass well because they give the receiver(s) less time to get in good position. Jump topspin serves are obvious examples of this approach, but one need not go that far to take advantage of harder serves. All you have to do is reduce the time between serve and pass. I should note, however, that slowing the serve down can also be an aggressive tactic.

Turning our attention to targeting, I should note that I’m not talking about calling service zones. While strategies like serving the other team’s weakest passer or putting the ball in an area that creates movement issues (e.g. taking the MB out of a quick set option) shifts the odds, it is not inherently aggressive.

When I say targeting I mean trying to put the ball in places that will likely cause passing difficulties. Push the passer deep or make them pass a short ball. Put the ball in the seam between players. The idea is to create bad passes, if not aces.

This can, of course, be combined with serving specific zones (see Advanced service zones).

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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.

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