Volleyball Skills – How to Serve a Volleyball

Volleyball Skills – How to Serve a Volleyball

Every volleyball rally starts with a serve and teams that are able to consistently serve accurately have a tactical advantage over their opponent.  Knowing how to serve a volleyball is an important volleyball skill that will allow teams to serve to spots on the court that will exploit their opponents weaknesses and make it more challenging for them to receive a serve.  Teams that are able to successfully receive a serve and build an attack have a higher probability to win a volleyball match.  Accurate and tough serves will help teams take away an opponent’s ability to successfully receive.  As with any volleyball skill begin with the basics and get players into good habits early and often, establishing the proper serving form and technique will serve players long into their playing days.  (See what we did there!)  There are a few ways to serve the volleyball including the underhand serve, overhand serve, float serve, and jump serve.  Volleyball beginners should begin with the under hand serve and progress to theory serves after they are able to consistently serve underhand with accuracy.

How to underhand serve a volleyball

The under hand serve is the starting point for beginner volleyball players.  The underhand serve is the easiest serve to hit and when mastered will allow players to accurately serve a volleyball to the desired location on the court.  Begin with the following form:

  • Feet split apart with the foot that corresponds to the serving hand behind the foot that corresponds
    Player serving a volleyball underhand
    Underhand Serve Form

    with the non-serving hand.  For example, a right handed server will place their right foot behind their left, the opposite foot placement for left handed servers.

  • The ball is held in the non-serving hand just below the waist and in front of the hip that corresponds with the serving hand.  Right handed servers will hold the ball in front of their right hip and the opposite for left handed servers.
  • The ball should be held in-line with the hitting shoulder, if a server is right handed the ball would be held in front of their right shoulder.  A straight line should be able to be drawn from the shoulder to the middle of the ball.
  • The upper body and shoulders are forward beyond the hips.
  • Knees slightly bent.
  • Serving arm is held down at the side.

Once the proper form is established players are ready to move onto learning the proper underhand serving technique:

  • Pull the serving arm back behind the body.
  • Shift weight to the back foot.
  • Swing the serving arm forward keeping the serving hand flat and maintaining a strong wrist.  Do not allow the hand to flop at the wrist.
  • As the serving arm comes forward shift the weight to the front foot.
  • Just before the serving hand makes contact drop the ball moving the hand that was holding the ball out of the way.
  • Follow through with the serving arm after contact has been made.
Player starting to underhand serve a volleyball
Underhand Serve Beginning
Player finishing underhand serving a volleyball
Underhand Serve Follow Through

The underhand serve does not have much power behind it and it usually results in a serve with a higher arc than an overhand serve making it easier for the opposing team to receive.  However, most players will be able to serve very accurately using the underhand serve with practice.  Focus on the proper form and technique with beginning players, as they develop the proper form and technique their accuracy will improve. Once players master the underhand serve and are strong enough to consistently serve the ball overhand over the net they are ready to build their volleyball skills by adding the overhand serve to their skill set.

How to overhand serve a volleyball

The overhand serve has more power behind it than the underhand serve and has a flat trajectory making it more difficult for opposing teams to return.  Begin with the proper form:

  • Place feet shoulder width apart with toes pointing towards the net.

    Player preparing to serve a volleyball overhand
    Overhand Serve

  • The foot that corresponds with the non-serving hand should be in front of the foot that corresponds with the serving hand.  For example if a player is serving the ball with their right hand their left foot would be placed slightly in front of their right foot.
  • Shoulders and hips should be square to the net.
  • Hold the ball straight out in front of the body.
  • Pull the serving arm back bending at the elbow and placing the hand near the ear with the palm facing out.

Once the proper form is established use the following technique to execute an overhand volleyball serve:

  • Toss the ball straight up a couple of feet. The quality of overhand serves is very dependent on the quality of the toss, an accurate toss is one that has little to no spin and if not hit should land in line with the serving shoulder and adjacent to the front foot.
  • After the toss step forward with the front foot and swing the arm forward to make contact with the volleyball
  • Contact should be made with the palm, an overhand serve that is hit with the fingers will not be as powerful as one hit with the palm.  Keep the hand strong and stiff at the wrist.
  • Contact with the volleyball should be made with the hand above the head and slightly in front of the face.
  • Follow through with the arm motion.

The overhand serve has more power than the underhand serve, however, it requires players to have much more strength to successfully serve the ball over the net.  If contact with the ball is made by striking it slightly above the middle of the ball along with a solid follow through top spin will be produced.  The top spin will cause the volleyball to dip downward making it more difficult to receive.  The overhand serve and jump serve can be hit with top spin or as a floater.

How to hit a float serve

The form for a float serve is the same as the overhand serve, the difference lies in the technique:

  • Toss the ball straight up a couple of feet.
  • After the toss step forward with the front foot and swing the arm forward to make contact with the volleyball.
  • Contact should be made with an open flat hand.  Do not cup the fingers or hit the volleyball with a fist. Keep the hand rigid when making contact avoid floppy wrists and loose fingers.
  • Contact from the hand should be made in the middle of the volleyball.
  • Strike the ball high above the head. The motion should be similar to giving an enthusiastic high five to a teammate.
  • Contact with the volleyball should be made with the hand above the head and slightly in front of the face.
  • Once contact is made pull the arm back, there should be little to no follow through, again envision giving a high five but after contact holding the hand above the head.

The float serve is similar to a knuckle ball in baseball in that it has very little to no spin, creating a serve that moves in unpredictable ways.  The float serve if executed correctly is difficult to receive and opposing teams will struggle to build an attack.  The float serve similar to the overhand serve with top spin is very dependent on a good toss.  Spend lots of time practicing the toss, once players are able to consistently toss the volleyball correctly they will be able to consistently hit an overhand serve.  A tip that works if players are struggling to toss the ball is to change the way players think about the toss.  Rather than a toss have players think of it as a lift, they should lift the ball in the air to a point where they are able to make solid contact.

How to jump serve a volleyball

The jump serve is the most difficult serve and requires a lot of athletic ability and coordination.  If the jump serve is able to be used it results in a very powerful serve that is difficult for opposing teams to receive.  Begin by:

  • Placing the feet shoulder width apart with toes pointing towards the net.
  • Place the foot that corresponds with the serving hand in front of the other.  For example if a player is going to serve the ball with their right hand their right foot would be placed in front of their left.
  • Hold the volleyball with the serving hand in front of the body at hip height.
  • Toss the ball into the air, practice the toss multiple times, the quality of the toss has a great impact on the quality of the serve.  The toss should not be too high to where players are attempting to hang in the air as they wait for the ball to come down.  The toss should come down in line with the serving shoulder in front of the player as they make contact.
  • As the ball is being tossed step forward with the front foot (the right foot for right handed servers, the left foot for left handed servers).
  • After the first step take three steps then jump.  For right handed servers the sequence is left-right-left-jump and for left handed servers it is right-left-right-jump.
  • As the jump is occurring place the serving hand up above the head, do not cock the arm back, simply place the hand up in a similar position to the overhand serve with the elbow back.
  • Swing the arm forward making contact with the ball at the peak of the jump.  Contact should be made in front of the body above the head and with the palm and heel of the palm making solid contact with a flat strong hand.
  • Land softly by bending the knees after the feet make contact with the floor.

The jump serve takes lots of practice and each player will have slight differences in their serve.  One of those differences is the distance the approach will take.  Players should experiment with the starting location for their jump serve, giving themselves enough distance to take an approach without foot faulting.  Many younger players will be impressed with the flash of the jump serve and want to try it, but encourage them to focus on underhand and overhand serves first.  Teams are much better off serving underhand consistently instead of having a few inconsistent powerful serves.

Continue to develop volleyball skills with players and ensure that proper form and technique are being used when serving, this applies to players at all levels.  Players can work on their volleyball serving skills with these serving drills.  As players begin to execute their serves correctly challenge them by introducing a new serve, beginning with the underhand serve and working up to the jump serve.  The volleyball skills needed to consistently and accurately jump serve will take years to develop, but patience is key when developing volleyball skills in young players.  Take the time to instill good habits early on, it is much easier to build good habits than alter bad habits later on.  The pay off will come when players are able to consistently serve with accuracy and power, giving their team an advantage by making it more difficult for the opposing team to receive.

3 thoughts on “Volleyball Skills – How to Serve a Volleyball

  1. My daughter is considering playing volleyball and I want her to feel like she’s doing well. She hasn’t played before so having her practice is important. I’ll have to get her a net that she can practice on as well as show her these tips to help her get better at serving and aiming the ball.

  2. It’s good to finally know how to serve a volleyball. I’ve seen the Olympic teams serve it every time, but I could never quite figure it out. Now I know that the toss before the serve is really important.

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