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How to Serve a Volleyball

Serving is one of the fundamental skills in volleyball—to be a good player, you have to be a good server. A killer serve is the first step to solid, offensive volleyball and will keep your opponent off balance by limiting their own offensive opportunities.

There are two main types of serves in volleyball: The underhand serve and the overhand serve. Both types of serves can be broken down into three main components:

  • Serving posture: The athlete’s body position—correct weight distribution and ideal arm and foot placement—before the actual serve.
  • The toss: The lifting or throwing of the ball into the air before contact is made. Discussions about the toss usually focus on correct ball positioning, the ideal toss height for each type of serve, and preferred toss techniques.
  • Contact point: The position of the server’s hand upon the moment of contact. The contact point is significant because it determines the trajectory of the ball.

This guide will discuss both basic types of serves in terms of the concepts outlined above because each stage is critical to the successful execution of the serve.

The Underhand Serve

The underhand serve is a great option for beginning players because it is the easiest of the three types of serves to master. Since every rally begins with a serve, the primary goal of any inexperienced server should be to just put the ball into play.

Posture

Practicing good underhand serving posture prepares you to be a consistent underhand server and can also prepare you for overhand serving. Here are some serving posture tips to keep in mind:

  • Feet should be slightly staggered with the foot opposite your hitting arm out in front.
  • The majority of the server’s body weight should be shifted to the back foot.
  • Hips should be positioned so they are facing square towards the net.

The Toss

Though the underhand serve does not require the server to toss the ball into the air, the mechanics are still similar to the overhand serve toss:

  • The server should hold the ball in the hand opposite their serving hand—the hand that will eventually hit the ball over the net.
  • The server should bring the ball across their body so that the ball is positioned in front of their hitting arm.

Contact Point

The ideal contact point for the underhand serve is slightly below the center of the ball, because the ball needs to have an upward trajectory in order to make it over the net. Other things to keep in mind:

  • The server should aim to hit the ball on the bottom half of the ball, slightly below the center of the ball.
  • The point of contact determines the direction and trajectory of the served ball.
  • Remember to follow-through straight ahead—the direction of your follow through will also affect the track of your serve.

Try the Underhand Serve

Now that you’re armed with a multitude of underhand serving knowledge it’s time to get on the court and start practicing.

Follow the steps below, and you’ll be a serving machine in no time:

  1. Start in the correct serving posture, with feet slightly staggered and hips square to the net (discussed above).
  2. Hold the ball in front of the hip on same side as your serving hand. (For example: if you are right handed hold the ball in front of your right hip.)
  3. Bring your serving arm back behind your body in a quick underhand motion.
  4. Step forward with the foot opposite your serving arm.
  5. Swing the serving arm forward towards the ball.
  6. Contact the ball with the heel of your hand, slightly below the center of the ball.
  7. Practice, practice, practice.

Overhand Serve

Once you master the underhanded method, you might want to consider learning how to overhand serve. While the former is great for putting the ball into play, it is easy for the opponent to pass, and the overhand serve—generally faster and more powerful than its underhand counterpart—is far more aggressive and can be used as a valuable offensive weapon.

Serving Posture

The belief that the overhand serve requires a significant amount of upper body strength is a myth—the majority of a server’s power is actually generated through the legs as a server’s body weight is transferred from their back foot to the front foot. Because a server’s power is determined by the ability to transfer their weight correctly, it is important to make sure your starting position is correct. Here are some things to keep in mind and notice that the overhand serving stance is not all that different from an underhanded serve position:

  • Feet should be about shoulder width apart and slightly staggered (the foot opposite your hitting arm positioned in front).
  • The majority of the server’s body weight should be shifted to the server’s back foot.
  • Hips should be positioned so they are facing square towards the net.

The Toss

The toss is one of the most crucial—but often overlooked—elements of a successful overhand serve. Here are some things to keep in mind when tossing the ball for your serve:

  • The server should toss the ball with the hand opposite their serving hand.
  • The toss should only be two to four feet above the server’s head and tossed in front of the server’s strong hand.
  • A consistent toss is the key to being a consistent server, so a server should take the extra time to practice until it is consistent.

Contact Point

A server should aim to contact the center of the ball so as to keep the trajectory of the ball as flat as possible. A serve that is low to the net is very difficult to pass. Here are a few focus points regarding the contact point:

  • You want to contact the ball on the upper part of the palm of your hand.
  • Spreading your fingers as far apart as possible before contact will help ensure that you don’t contact the ball with the fingers.
  • A consistent contact point will result in a consistent serve

Try the Overhand Serve

To execute the overhand serve follow the steps below:

  1. Start in the serving posture discussed above (staggered feet, square hips).
  2. Hold the ball in the hand opposite your serving arm.
  3. Bring the ball in front of your serving arm’s shoulder while still keeping your hips square to the net
  4. Gently toss the volleyball two to four feet high, in front of your serving shoulder.
  5. Step towards the tossed ball with the foot opposite your serving side.
  6. Contact the center of the ball with your serving hand.
  7. As you contact the ball, make sure to follow through until your serving arm is completely extended out in front of your body.
  8. Practice, practice, practice.

Serve it Up

Serving is one of the few skills in volleyball that one can practice alone so it is a great thing to practice if you have extra time. Also, because serving practice doesn't require a net (hitting the ball against a wall is a good way to get reps in) you can practice almost anywhere. So take advantage and grab a ball and get to it.

From the underhand serve to the overhand serve, this guide focuses on proper serving mechanics and provides you with all the tools you'll need to ace the competition.
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