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The Lo-Down: How Serving Has Evolved
Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

The Lo-Down: How Serving Has Evolved

November 19, 2019

We are going to turn these next few Lo-Down’s into a series, beginning with last week’s topic of how setting has evolved over the years. This week we will be focusing on how serving has changed and the effect it is having on the sport, especially during games. One of Coach John Cook’s most used statements is, “if you want to win matches, you have to be able to serve tough.”

Back in the day, you would find that most players who went to serve, simply stayed on the ground and hit the ball over the net as hard as they could. Most of the time, the ball would soar high in the air, giving passers more time to track the ball. However, now we are seeing the majority of volleyball players use some sort of jump float or jump top spin serve and the ball is barely making it over the net. That may sound risky, wanting the ball to barely go above the net, but it is something that Nebraska trains every single day. The coaching staff will put up an elastic band (tied on each antenna) and raise it about a foot up from the top of the net. During practices, the players are challenged to hit the ball over the net but below the elastic band.

One might ask the advantages of doing a jump float or jump top spin serve as opposed to staying on the ground. Well, you are able to provide more power behind the serve while using an approach (think of it as an attack) and you are able to have a higher contact point, which can cause the ball to drop in front of the opposing passer once it crosses the net. 

I am personally a fan of the jump float serve. I did a two-handed jump float serve throughout my career, meaning I used two hands to toss the ball in the air. Most of the Husker players currently use a one-handed jump float serve, but either one is effective.

The reason I prefer a jump float serve over a jump top spin serve is because it is harder to pass a float serve than a top spin serve. When a player is able to contact the ball without any spin, the ball then moves, causing it to float. It can be very difficult for passers to track the ball and then make contact. It travels similarly to a knuckleball for all the baseball fans. When a player is adding spin to their contact, it is similar to digging an attack and there isn’t as much movement on the ball, therefore making it easier for the passer to track and make contact. This serve would be comparable to a fastball in baseball.

No matter if you are using a one-handed or two-handed jump float serve, staying on the ground to serve or using a jump top spin serve, your routine, toss and hand contact will always be key in a successful serve. If you ever watch collegiate players serve, you will notice that they all have a different routine before sending the ball over. Whether it is bouncing the ball multiple times, spinning it in their hands or taking a deep breath, every single player has a routine before they serve.

The toss and hand contact are also keys because if you have a poor toss that is too far out in front of you or too far behind you, then you are most likely missing that serve in the net. And if you have trouble contacting the ball with your hand, especially with a float serve, then you won’t be able to serve the ball without any spin.

I don’t think players were focusing on these aspects of serving back in the day. From what I have heard, players were just told to toss the ball up high, make contact wherever they could and hit the ball as hard as they could, so it would make it over the net. 

I sure am glad that the game has evolved when it comes to serving and that coaches started focusing on teaching serving fundamentals. Who knows what serves would look like now and how it would affect the game if most players still stayed on the ground and didn’t use any technique once they got behind the end line. 

Nebraska works on serving and each player’s technique every single day in practice. I don’t see that changing any time soon, nor do I see Coach Cook’s perspective on how important serving is.

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