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Training the Serve - Player / Coach

To kick off our new YouTube series, "Technical Tuesday," I'm starting this blog with an exploration of serving skills. This series will delve into various technical aspects of our game every Tuesday.

In our training philosophy, the initial question always revolves around purpose. The primary purpose of serving is to initiate the rally. While “get the ball over” is crucial, a new philosophy is emerging, suggesting that advanced games hinge on the pressure exerted on the opposing team. I recently attended a coaching clinic where a coach believed his team lost a match due to insufficient service errors.

For the majority of us, intentionally making service errors isn't a winning strategy. The game, for most, involves balancing aggressive serving while maintaining accuracy. In the words of our National Women's Team Head Coach, Karch Kiraly, "A good serve goes in." With this in mind, I propose that serving should be viewed as the first attack – a way to challenge the other team and make their return challenging.

At the younger levels, securing a point by merely getting the ball over hinders our young athletes' ability to develop a strong serve. Embracing the philosophy of serving the most aggressive ball that still lands in the court challenges us to explore the limits of each athlete's capacity to deliver their best serve. When working with and training a server, the approach may vary at different developmental stages. However, a consistent principle remains unchanged – the ball must successfully clear the net and land in to initiate the game.

Regarding our youngest athletes, discussions often arise about what to teach them. Should youth players be taught to underhand serve? And when should we introduce jump floats to their programming? Learning is not linear, and serving from the ground is a different motor program than a jump float. Therefore, the answer is yes to both.

In a broader context, the rally cannot start unless the ball successfully clears the net. If a young player encounters challenges with serving overhand, it doesn't necessitate forcing them to keep trying in games until they manage to get the ball over. Our approach involves persistent overhand serving practice with an emphasis on contacting through the ball as fast as possible until it goes over. Every player learns/develops this at a different pace.. During this process, We also introduce the option of an underhand torque serve as needed and introduce the jump float serve earlier in their training, allowing them to refine and progress gradually through each skill.

Notably, we’ve witnessed instances where players successfully executed a jump float serve over the net before achieving success with a standing serve. This highlights a key principle – learning and growth are not always linear. By recognizing and embracing the individualized developmental paths of young players, we create an environment conducive to continual improvement.

What does this generally mean for older kids? Serving shares the same philosophy as an attacking. Sometimes the attack needs to be a controlled ball, and sometimes it needs to be a terminal contact. This is all predicated on the situation and strategy. Therefore, older players need to have control of their serves with the degree of risk involved. Regardless, every player has to develop at least one serve they know is tough but in. So that when the time calls, they have confidence in a specific serve that will pressure the opponent but not risk too much for the team.

Below are the general goals of serving that we want our players to keep in mind.

Step 1: Serve fast enough that the ball goes over the net.

Step 2: Serve fast enough that the ball goes deep and flat.

Step 3: Learn to serve deep and flat with control to a location.

Step 4: Serve short.

Step 5: Serve short to location.

Many different serves can be developed, and we will break down various serves and the concepts behind them in future blogs. Until then, train fearlessly and with purpose.

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