The title of this post comes from a search query which brought someone to the website. When I saw it I was immediately struck by how often that question must get asked by coaches in any given season. They certainly ask it inside their own heads! I know it flashed through my head a number of times in years when I watched teams miss several serves in a row – often costing us momentum in the process.

So let’s think about why players miss their serves.

Poor mechanics

The first area we have to look at in addressing serving is the mechanics of the servers. The specifics there are best left for another time. Suffice it to say, players lacking good mechanics are very likely to be inconsistent (at best) with their serves. Much of the time it’s the toss which is the biggest culprit. Sometimes, however, mental issues can creep in which lead to faulty mechanics in an otherwise competent server (see below).

Tentative

Nervous players make mistakes. I had a player a while back who demonstrated clearly in training more than sufficient power to get the ball over the net. Once she was put into a situation where there was some kind of pressure (drill or game), though, everything changed. Suddenly she could barely get the ball to the net. That’s an extreme case, but I see many players make mistakes serving because they are trying to avoid mistakes. This tends to manifest in poor ball contact coming from a weak arm swing and/or a soft hand rather than a firm one on impact (this happens a lot in hitting too). If you’re seeing a lot of balls come up short, you could have a problem in this area.

Overly Aggressive

The reverse of tentative serving is being too aggressive. Balls hit hard into the net or flying well long are symptomatic of this issue. You as a coach have to define what is appropriate aggressiveness, as you will naturally see more missed serves when you ask your team to serve tough than would likely otherwise be the case. Of course there are also the cases of players just simply trying to hit the ball too hard (often boys).

Poor Situational Awareness

Players need to know when it’s acceptable to take risk and when they really need to focus on getting the serve in (see When the Serve Needs to Be In). If players are missing serves at bad times, it is up to the coach to get that corrected in training by making sure there are consequences for that sort of thing in drills and games.

Insufficient skill

Sometimes players simply are being asked to do something for which they lack the skill required. This is most likely to manifest when a coach calls a serving target either by zone or player (“Serve #2”). Players who just simply can’t consistently target their serves will often miss more serves in trying to do what the coach wants.

I think this list covers miss serve causality pretty well. If you can think of something else that should be here, though, definitely leave a comment.

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John Forman
John Forman

John is currently the Volleyball Director 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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