Sunday, 14 Jul 2024

You Win with Serve Reception, not Passing

I am often reminded of the importance of winning the serve/serve reception war. For decades, the focus has been on the technique of passing, but I believe it’s time to shift our perspective. Instead of mindlessly practicing passing, we should prioritize developing our serve reception skills and understanding the dynamics of a real match.

Let’s start with some facts. Every single point starts with a serve. The receiving team must read the server and the ball flight before they can receive it. This is where the game truly begins. Yet, how many of our drills actually start with a serve? Not enough. U.S. Men’s National Team head coach John Speraw and CAP Cadre member Rob Browning both emphasize the need to dedicate more time to serve/serve receive training.

National and international players have reported that at least 80 percent of their success in serve receive comes before the ball crosses the net. This highlights the importance of reading the ball during a match. Unfortunately, many teams spend a significant amount of time on pair pass and wall pass drills, which have limited transfer to on-court performance.

When we ask setters where their teammates are likely to send the serve reception, they often point in front of the receiver or over the net in front of the receiver. However, most serve receivers tend to pass the ball back to where it came from. This creates a discrepancy and limits the effectiveness of our setters. We need to break this pattern and encourage our players to develop a more diverse range of pass placements.

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To understand the significance of this over-the-net reality, we can draw inspiration from other sports. The Toronto Blue Jays, for example, hire former pitchers to pitch during batting practice. This provides their players with additional experience in reading incoming balls. Similarly, tennis pros always practice on opposite sides of the net, even during warm-ups for a grand slam final.

In volleyball, we should adopt a similar mindset and prioritize quality repetitions of the most important contact in every point – the serve/serve reception. To excel in reception, we must focus on three key aspects:

  • Who’s ball? – Encourage communication among teammates to determine who will receive the serve. This can be done non-verbally.
  • Play it or let it go? – Many out balls are incorrectly played. Teach players to make the right decision.
  • How to angle it? – Aim for the setter and create a flight path that gives them enough time and space to set the ball.

None of these key components of serve reception can be effectively learned through pair or wall passing drills. It’s time to rethink our training methods and prioritize game-like situations that replicate the challenges of serve/serve receive scenarios.

After more than 25 years in the Paralympic sports world, I have come to understand that technique is individualistic. Rather than dictating specific positions and techniques, we should guide our players to discover their own best way of playing the game, while adhering to biomechanical principles. Players are not machines, and there will naturally be variations in their actions.

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Our focus should not be solely on technical training. Instead, players should learn techniques through playing. Harvey Penick, one of the best golf coaches, would give brand new golfers a set of clubs and tell them to hit the ball and come back in six months. His approach emphasized the importance of practical experience. Similarly, volleyball players need game-like repetitions to develop a sense of ideal positioning. They must also learn to adapt when the perfect position is not feasible, using their entire bodies to keep the ball off the floor.

The principle of serve reception is simple: reflect the incoming serve off your body to the target. In the past, I asked kids in Italy to deflect high serves off the back of their forearms. They surprised me by using their foreheads to pass the ball to the setter instead. This taught me that sometimes, simplicity is better than complexity. If you want to see brilliant examples of technically volleying the ball without using arms, check out FootVolley and Sepak Takraw.

Let’s challenge ourselves to break free from the traditional teaching methods and embrace the full potential of our players. Volleyball is not limited to using just our arms – the whole body is legal in the game. Whether it’s beach or indoor volleyball, we should encourage our players to explore different techniques and rebounding methods. By prioritizing serve reception, we can truly elevate our game.


Coming soon…


It’s time to shift our focus from passing to serve reception. By dedicating more time to training our players in the crucial aspects of serve/serve receive, we can improve our performance on the court. Let’s prioritize game-like situations, encourage communication among teammates, and develop a diverse range of pass placements. Embrace the full potential of our players, and let’s excel in serve reception to win the serve/serve reception war. To learn more about Alpinetgheep, visit Alpinetgheep.

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