Ask Coach Houser: Serving Fundamentals

Manon Flier of the Netherlands takes a jumping serve during the 2006 Women's Volleyball World Championships. Photo: Kazuhiro Nogi/AFP/Getty

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Q: I'm looking for some fundamental mechanics for accurate serving. Specifically, correcting weak serves based on incorrect fundamentals: throwing the ball too high, twisting, following through incorrectly, etc.? Can poor fundamentals be corrected??

Kids pick up detrimental overhand serving habits when they're young.? They often learn a stroll, a lean, a twist or an across-the-body follow through -- otherwise knows as "softballing."

All of these habits are merely efforts to try to get the ball over the net. But as the player becomes older, these habits become useless and must be eliminated.? The analogy I use at camps is, "When you first started shooting a basketball, didn't you invent a shot that was just an effort to get the ball to the rim?? Then as you got older and stronger, you had to change your shot." Serving is the same way.

As the player gets older, she needs to rid her serve of all the extra movement that will promote inconsistency.? The stroll is useless.? The lean/twist/softball will lead to an occasional "grandma serve" -- that's the one that rifles into the bleachers, making the surprised grandmas duck for cover. This occurs when your shoulders move away from the ball, taking the hand with them, thus making it more difficult to keep the center of the hand contacting the center of the ball.??

Softballing a serve will create an occasional pulled serve -- like a "pull" hitter in baseball -- or a shanked serve as the ball hits the outside of the server's hand.? From my experience, these habits increase a player's errors by five to 10 percent, and that's more than enough to require a sub each time it's her turn to serve.??

Now, if a player eliminates all of the above habits, she will lose some power at first. And that's fine. I ask my kids, "You want 20 mph in the court, or 30 mph out?"? Young players have a tough decision to make: overhand serve correctly and only get 50% in the court, overhand serve incorrectly and get 70% in the court or learn an underhand serve that'll be 90% accurate?

Many kids think that serving underhand means you're a weaker player.? But I tell them, "I want you to serve 90% in the court, I don't care how you do it.? If you can't, you will most likely lose the privilege of serving in a match."

Some players have a toss that's way too high. And a lower toss often times makes the serve more difficult to execute. But if a player were to simply "toss, prepare, step, hit," then the toss could be much lower. One tip to remember is not to drop your serving hand after the ball is tossed. This will save you the crucial time needed to execute a proper serve based on a low toss.

With a low toss, the ball is only traveling about 1 mph when a player contacts it. But if the toss is higher, the dropping speed increases, thus increasing error.?

If the server wants the ball to go higher, then she uses the same serving motion, but tosses the ball closer to her or even over her head.? If the server wants the ball to travel lower, then she should toss the ball more in front of her.? An out-in-front toss is risky, though.? It requires more arm speed to hit the ball so that gravity doesn't pull the serve down into the net.? A low toss may increase serving errors, so be careful.

The mantra is "Toss, prepare, step, hit".? That's it.? No lean, no twist. A follow-through isn't even necessary.? "Toss, prepare, step, hit."? Shoulders parallel to both the floor and to the wall behind the server.? The server hits the center of the ball with the center of her hand.? If done properly, she will notice an added benefit:? The ball will float.

Recently, my team finished the season tied for first place in the conference and we had a one-game playoff; best two of three to 15, old side-out scoring.? Well, my team missed eight serves in the first game -- my seniors were so anxious their serving was out of control.?

The second game started the same way. I think we missed five of our first 10 serves.? One of the seniors even asked me to put in someone to serve for her.? So we finished the night with two freshmen serving underhand in place of two of our star players.? They had 11 service points and four aces! We ended up winning the match, and no one thought less of the player with the underhand serve.

Coach Tom Houser is the head coach for the Roanoke Juniors 15s, as well as the director of STAR volleyball camps. He is the author of the volleyball drill collection, "I Can't Wait," and two eBooks on volleyball technique. Visit for more resources on coaching and playing volleyball.

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