Want to take your serving skills to the next level? If you’re a beginner or intermediate volleyball player, learning how to have a great overhand serve will ensure your spot on the court. We’ll start with the basics and then give some helpful hints for how to improve your overhand serve.
- Location relative to body
- Hand contact/Power
- Location on the court
Your toss when overhand serve in volleyball
The most important part of your overhand serve in volleyball is how you set yourself up; the toss. A good toss is everything, it’s one of the rare times you are able to handle a volleyball. First things first, decide how you like to make your toss. What feels comfortable? Tossing with both hands, or just one? This is purely your choice unless your coach has you do otherwise. Note that all levels of volleyball players do both. There are pros who toss single-handedly and others who use both hands. There is no wrong way to start this skill, and one is not superior to the other.
Whether you are left or right-handed start with your dominant foot forward. Then, take the ball and hold it directly in front of you. Second, lift the ball like it’s on an elevator. You want the ball to move in the same pattern every single time you toss the ball. Flipping your hand or starting your toss too low could result in a variance that will cause you to miss your serve. The most important thing to do for your toss is to make it consistent.
The ball should remain in your hand or hands from about shoulder height to just about the height you will be contacting the ball. Too high, and you have to wait for the ball to come back down. Too low, and you will risk not making the ball over the net. The perfect toss will give you just enough time to contact the ball with an extended arm and with it in front of you.
This applies even if you want to begin jump serving. Having a consistent and steady toss will set you up for success as you adjust where you toss, how you contact the ball, and how hard you are able to hit it.
Location, Location, location
The toss and the location of the toss pretty much go hand in hand, however, I divided these sections to talk about the importance of the manner in which you lift the ball into its place, but also its relation to your body. As I mentioned earlier you need to hold your arms out in front of you, but you should be lifting the ball at an angle to be in line with your dominant arm.
If you are serving with one hand, slightly shift your torso so that the path of your toss will meet your dominant hand. For example, you should be in line to toss with your dominant arm. Your non-dominant foot should be forward about half a step. If you’re tossing one-handed then your serving arm should be drawn back with your elbow high, hand about face level. Toss the ball at about one o’clock In line with your dominant shoulder! This means that the ball is in front of you, allowing you to get the most power. You should still be leading with your non-dominant foot and taking a step forward to generate power. It should be two very simple motions; a toss in line with your shoulder and an arm swing to contact the ball (while stepping forward).
An important queue for a solid toss is that you’re not arching your back to contact the ball. Try keeping your ribs slightly tucked to your back. It should be straight up and down. If you ever feel yourself reaching either forwards or backward, adjust your toss to meet the needs of your body. Your shoulders should remain perpendicular to the floor. Compensating in either direction will cause you to lose sight of the court in your peripherals (more on that later).
If you are doing a two-handed toss, adjust your arms to elevate the ball in front of your dominant shoulder. You SHOULD NOT be tossing directly in front of your body. Start the serving motion with the ball extended in front of you and your dominant foot forward. By the time you contact the ball, you will be stepping forward with your non-dominant foot. Again, lift the ball into place. It should feel as though you are an elevator bringing the ball into place instead of just flipping it out of your hands.
One way to create a consistent two-handed toss is with a good hand position. Grab the ball on either side, fingers facing the net, and thumbs straight up in the air. If you feel like the toss is going behind you, rather than in front of you to the one o’clock position, identify if your hands are flicking the ball back towards you. It could also be too much bend in the elbows. Maintain straight arms the entire time. Your lift should not put any spin on the ball, ever.
Hand contact is debatably the most important part of your serve. Even if you have a bad toss, a good contact might be able to save your serve. After you lift the ball into position, create a big flat surface to drive through the middle of the ball. If you are lacking power; due to age or injury, contacting slightly beneath the middle of the ball will help you get the ball over the net. Keep your fingers relatively close, it is not the same hand that you attack with! Your hand needs to remain in line with your wrist.
Overhand serving isn’t about using full strength to hit the ball. A good float serve can be achieved by proper hand contact. Once you’ve figured out your toss and its position relative to your body, stepping through the contact with your non-dominant foot will generate enough power to get your serve over the net. Using full strength on a serve is okay, as long as that means your serve is in bounds. But the hardest serves aren’t always the best ones. Hand contact and power go hand-in-hand because of this. A solid float serve will make the ball move, drop, or lift making it difficult for the other team’s passers.
A solid contact, driven straight through the center of the ball is exactly what creates a good serve. I’ve outlined a few coaching queues that you can identify yourself. Reflect on what needs to be changed for your serve to work. Take your time in developing each step of a serve before focusing on where on the court to serve it to.
Make your opponent work
The final step of learning an overhand serve in volleyball is where on the court you want to place the ball. It’s more than just starting game play – it’s a crucial part of your own team’s success. A good serve puts the other team in a difficult starting position and makes everything easier for you in the long run. A great serve can score points by itself.
Choosing a location on the court is easier said than done, but there are a few tips and tricks I have learned over the years to be successful. First, pick a small target to aim at. If you pick a large area to serve to, then there is a wider margin for error. I like to pick something like lines crossing the court, a kneepad of a weak passer, a glare on the floor, or anything else about that same size. The best snipers in the world will aim for a button on a shirt, not just the chest area.
There’s no point in trying to be tricky with your serve. You don’t need to face an entirely different direction than the one you plan on doing. As I mentioned before, a good serve can do your team a lot of good. Even if they have an idea of where the serve is going, your power, float and precision can have a positive impact.
Thirdly, because it is the only solo skill in volleyball, serving has a tendency to make people nervous. Just like free throws in basketball, many players will take a deep breath and center themselves. It’s just you the ball and the court. Give yourself the time to execute the skill to the best of your ability.
Lastly, never shift your gaze to the court while you are serving. You know where the court is, simply visualize your small target and keep it in mind. Your body will know how to get the ball there. Use your peripheral vision if you need to, but maintaining eye contact with the ball ensures that the whole thing works together. A great serve comes from a good toss and good hand contact. Both of which are possible only if your focus is on yourself and the ball.