What I Value When Teaching Serve Receive
In a previous piece, I focused on the importance of increasing the degree of difficulty in the serve. Increasing velocity, accuracy, and consistency will place pressure on the opponent’s side-out offense, which is critical to victory. An additional aspect of becoming a better serving team will be as your squad faces a higher quality of serve in training; they will need to improve their reception skills. As a follow-up, let’s focus on various aspects of serve receive that I emphasize when working with young players.
In my role as YNT coach, by necessity, I modified how I taught passing to my players. I learned in my first YNT experience at the world championships that the quality of the serve by the international teams was significantly better than what my team had faced in their club experience.
The previous version of me taught players to get behind every ball; the contact point was the midline, feet stopped, etc. You know, the standard keys to effective passing. Those keys were perfectly fine when receiving serves of average quality. However, when receiving serves from the best U-18 players in the world, the keys I was presenting were not feasible. Note the video below at the 2015 U-18 World Championships with a focus on the ball movement and the reaction time by the passer.
I re-worked the aspects of passing that allowed the players to deal with serves of higher velocity and more significant ball movement with greater success. With the exception of serving, all skills are situational. Meaning, the passer does not have control of all aspects of the skill. The server will present a variety of speeds, spins, and trajectories the passer must be able to navigate. The coach must ensure that in the course of training, the passer must confront all these variables.
I’ve listed below items that I encourage (in no particular order of importance).
**The importance of being relaxed. I see the stiff, erect postures that so many passers assume, and it is no wonder they have difficulty moving both feet and platform to the ball. I believe in long, loose arms with palms of the hands facing each other.
**The passer shouldn’t focus on trying to be stopped when passing. The ball has too much velocity, and there is too much court to cover. Instead, be focused on a quiet upper body and a calm platform. The lower body can move through the pass. If fact, I encourage the passer to move through the pass. See Video on the Art of Coaching Website.
**When receiving a jump float serve, protect the short serve first. Statistically, this serve causes the most problems for the passer. It is easier to manage the ball that is traveling deep (not easy, but easier). Practice using a “drop-step” and maintain the platform to the target area. Check out the AOC Video.
**The passer shouldn’t form the platform too early. Too often, the first thing that moves with younger passers is they put the hands together to shape the platform without regard to the flight path of the ball. Then they perform the last moment lurch of the platform to the flight path of the ball. See the video on the Art of Coaching website.
**I want to emphasize the importance of a quiet platform when passing. In a nutshell, with so many players, I see no movement with the lower body and a lot of action with the upper body. We need to reverse these items. In the video below, Megan Courtney, libero for the USA Women’s National Team, does a great job of having a quiet upper body when receiving serve
**The passer must be comfortable in presenting the passing platform that will angle the ball both right to left and left to right. When receiving in zone 1 (right-back area), the platform must angle the ball back to the target area (right to left). When receiving serve in areas 5&6, the platform angles are must be different (left to right).
**Watch the server very close and pick up on “reading” the direction and velocity of the serve. The visual keys might include where the server is facing, the speed of the arm, spin on the ball, the trajectory leaving the hand of the server, etc. As part of a scouting report, a coach should prepare their passers for the type of serve they will be facing.
As a takeaway, you can win without being a great passing team. You just cannot be bad passers! Reception errors are a killer. So, work hard with your passers to not get aced! Many times the difference between a reception error and getting the ball up in the air for a second contact is a determination to not get aced! Get the ball up in the air so we can get a swing and have a chance to score.
The other point to re-emphasize is to allow your players to be athletic. The stiff, robotic approach to receiving a serve will promote poor contacts. I hope how I have evolved with teaching serve receive will foster some thought as to how you move forward when teaching the skill.