Ask Coach Houser: Tips for Successful Underhand Serves

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Q: I coach 5th & 7th graders.? I don't allow them to underhand serve because I think it's obsolete.? What do you think??

In all my rookie and middle school camps my staff and I teach kids how to underhand serve.? In fact, the "Server Of? The Week" at a veteran camp two years ago was an underhand server.? The player stood against the back wall of the gym, served bombs from 30 feet behind her endline and got shank pass after shank pass for her team.

I have to say, she had an injured shoulder, thus was forced to serve underhand.? But to this day, even though her shoulder is better, she still serves underhand.? When I asked why, she said, "I'm the best server on my team.? Why change?"?

I know that was an extreme case, however underhand serving is not obsolete.? If your girls are too young/weak to overhand serve, then why require them to fail over and over?? The parents will probably be more upset with watching their daughter's immense frustration than they will be with losing.? Even people who coach baseball realize that there's a time when a "T" is needed.?? And even volleyball under 10s get a lower net, a softer ball and a smaller court.??

I want the kids I coach to be successful.? If they can't serve in the court, then they cannot be successful.? Overhand serving is nice, but for 5th graders it's like controlling a riding lawn mover--some are old/mature enough to do it, some aren't.?

For 99 percent of kids, they will eventually start overhand serving.? Some will start in the 5th grade, but some won't be proficient until the 10th grade.? I just let it happen.? And when they can serve 80 percent in the court overhand in practice, then it's time to try to overhand serving in a game situation.

There was a man who was the head varsity coach of a suburban school in a neighboring county.? He always required everyone on his JV team to serve overhand.? Even though we beat them about half the time, I distinctly remember three matches that were given to us because his team missed so many serves.

"But Coach Houser, you're doing a disservice to your kids by allowing them to serve underhand!"? No, I'm not.? Allowing my girls to underhand serve had no detrimental impact on their future.? How do I know?? Because our varsity team would beat the suburban school 80 percent of the time.

A few hints on underhand serve (for right-handed kids):?

*Have your players hold the ball in their left hand.? Don't allow them to toss it.? Yes, they can just hold it.? It's legal.?? If you want to check the 2006-07 NFHS Rules Book, it's on page 29, Rule 8, Article 1.? I tell my kids, "Now you can play T-ball!? Everyone likes to play T-ball!"?

*When your players are learning to underhand serve, have them learn the following: "Backswing, step and hit".?? Notice that I didn't say "drop" or "toss."?

* Keep that left arm frozen solid.? If that left arm moves, then the server is no longer playing T-ball, but playing a harder game where they're trying to hit a moving target.?

*If the ball isn't going far enough, the girl needs more backswing.?

*The biggest problems my youngsters have is not being able to hit the back of the ball.? They hit the ball too far towards the bottom, thus directing the ball up into the rafters of the gym.? Show your girls tricks like how to turn her body 45 degrees to the net, drop their left shoulder, until they can contact the back of the ball, thus making it go forward.?

*Any flat service can be used to hit the ball.? I recommend that girls ball up their fist, then contact the ball with their "candlestick," (a word I got from a cheerleader). Other coaches recommend serving with an open hand, or serving with the heal of the hand.? If it works for your players, then stick with it.
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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