Keys to Great Serve Reception

Coach Houser: I find no matter what I do and how hard we practice, we have problems with "serve receive." My players can't pass a serve to the setter. Is there any special formula you tell players to get them to perfect their forearm passing?

I can think of four things that will have the greatest affect on your serve receive:

  • Athleticism
  • Proper fundamentals
  • Practice
  • Deciding IN ADVANCE whose ball is whose


Not much coaching here. I've seen great athletes who have horrible fundamentals that are pretty good passers. In fact, I saw one at Virginia Beach a few weekends ago.

Now, if we teach these athletes proper fundamentals, WATCH OUT, we'll have an outstanding back row player and our setters will love us forever. That's the one and only thing about serve receive that we, as coaches, have no influence over.

Proper Fundamentals

Since most of your kids aren't Karch Kiraly, we must teach them proper fundamentals. Here are few hints:

  • No. 1 Rule of Serve Receive: "Upper body still, lower body does the work."
  • "Pass the ball at your thighs or use your hands," I heard a coach say last year. It's a little extreme, but he was trying to teach his kids to MOVE to the ball and not reach.
  • "Early and Still" is another key phrase is which refers to the platform. Girls who poke, pray, swing, etc., will only pass well when they're lucky.


After the fundamentals are mastered, it's practice, practice, practice. Teachers require kids in math class to practice, and it must happen on athletic teams also.

In volleyball, if you can only pass 80 percent of the opponent's serves, that's NOT average. That's NOT even a grade of C. Your serve receive MUST be better than that.

The higher the quality of a school team I coach, the more we work on serve receive. My teams have gone entire seasons where we out-serve received our opponents in each and every match. It's fun to out-pass and out-dig your opponents and we take a lot of pride in it. We even post our team's and our opponent's passing stats up on the board and smile.

Ball Responsibility

I let my team decide this until they show me that they're incapable of that. Then I do it for them.

In other words, either they decide who had the short, the corner, etc., or I do it for them. This past junior season, we would get beat in a seam of our serve reception about once a day. And that's GREAT for 8th and 9th graders.

Next, we try to position ourselves so "We respect their deep serve, but we'll take away their short serve." In other words, we're ready for the normal serve, but if a girl tries to beat us short, she won't be able to.

Coach Tom Houser is director of STAR Volleyball Camps as well as author of the “I Can’t Wait” Drill Collection and Ebooks. For more info check out

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