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Serving - It's All in the Toss

posted Apr 4, 2015, 1:58 PM by Debbie Sokol

When you are a young volleyball player, going from the underhand to the overhand serve can be a challenge. With young girls who have little shoulder strength, it is very important that they utilize all the tools they have to get more power on the ball so that it has a chance to clear the net. Any deficiencies in their serving form will prevent them from serving successfully.

When young players try to serve, they often get ahead of themselves. They focus on contacting the ball and hitting it hard enough to get it up and over the net. But in doing this, they overlook the fundamental skill that would make successful serving much easier. In my experience, the toss is the key to serving, and I believe more time should be dedicated to getting it right because that is often where the problems start.

Here are the top five things new players do wrong when tossing the ball for an overhand serve.

1. Toss is too low
When attempting a standing overhand serve, it’s important to toss the ball high enough so that the player does not have to get underneath the ball as if they are trying to shot put it over the net. This form means wasted motion and less power transferred to the ball.

2. Toss is too high
The opposite is also a problem. Unless you are attempting a jump serve, there is no need to toss the ball high in the air either. It gives a young player way too much time to think about the swing, worry about the timing of the swing and adds unnecessary motion. Players can end up chasing the toss, which is a way to guarantee a miss.

3. Toss is not far enough in front
The idea is to step into the ball and then swing at it. This is the key to getting power behind the ball in order to get it over the net, especially for younger players. If the toss is behind them or just straight up, it does not allow the transfer of power that stepping into the ball provides. Ideally, if the server tosses, but does not swing at the ball, it should land enough in front to allow for a small and comfortable step. If the toss is too far in front, the player will chase the ball. This puts them in the position of simply trying to get the ball to clear the net and allows no choices as to where to place the serve in the other team's court.

4. Toss is not in front of hitting shoulder
Some young players struggle with the position of the toss. Though you are tossing it with one hand, the ball should end up in front of the shoulder with which they're going to contact the ball. There should be no leaning or contorting in order to hit the ball with your serving hand.

5. Toss is spinning
The toss should come out of the server’s hand with little or no spin. This allows for a cleaner contact on the ball and allows for a better chance at a float serve if desired.

Practice, Practice, Practice
One way to practice the toss is to just toss and not worry about swinging at the ball. Unlike most skills in volleyball, this is something that a player can practice by themselves. Just make sure they know where the ball should land as they go through the motion of stepping toward the ball. They can either catch the ball or let it drop. They should see that the ball is not so high that they are waiting to time the swing and not so low that they have to shot put it over the net. Make sure the ball is a comfortable distance out in front without needing to be chased and that it is directly in front of the hitting shoulder with no spin. They can do this over and over again until they get it exactly right every time.

Once the toss is mastered, work on the contact on the ball. But with the ball in the correct location, contact should be easy to teach. by Bev Oden