The one constant in the sport of volleyball is the importance of serve receive or passing. With the change to rally scoring, the importance of passing has only been magnified. The skill that enabled a team to earn the right to serve for a point, is now the skill that earns a point. Side Out and Scoring are of equal value, but it is statistically easier to gain a point while in serve receive than serving.
No matter the level of play, passing is still paramount. If you have a chance to watch the NCAA Final Four (in person or on a cable channel that most people don't get), pay attention to passing - all other skills being equal, the team that passes better will win. Even at the Olympic level, passing still is king - one of the criticisms of our Women's Olympic Team in Athens was that our passing broke down and we had no reserve players to remedy the situation.
One of the wisest volleyball observations I have heard recently was that whoever wins the serve pass battle wins the match. This comment by a Junior College coaching friend of mine was completely accurate - no matter how tough or easy the serving, the passing must be superior to win the match.
Now for the Reader's Digest version - Practice Passing if You Want to Win! Even though this is one of those No-Brainer observations, too many folks just don't apply it. I have seen ten times as many matches lost because of bad passing than because of anything else.
As my coaching philosophies have evolved, I moved more into controlled serve receive drills. Early in the season and at many points during the season, I will stress correct technique that is practiced in a very controlled environment. In these situations, me or my assistants will be serving the ball into a narrow area, or to a select group of passers. Even though this is a coach controlled drill, the pace of the balls are rapid to ensure maximum touches. My objective is to provide opportunities to develop short deep footwork, side to side movement, correct presentation of the passing platform and to provide maximum touches within these drills.
As the season progresses and I am comfortable with the physical technique of the passers, we will move into more 'free-style' passing drills where the non-passers will serve the passers within the context of simple serve-pass drills or scrimmage-wash drills. This free-style passing is a bit more game like and allows for some practice managing unpredictable situations.
Too many times, players and coaches want to move away from passing into more exciting drills. Serve receive is boring and it will continue to be boring, but it is a critical boring. No matter how much we practice the fun elements of volleyball, these fun elements are only possible in game situations because we can pass.
It is my belief that passing drills or dominant passing situations should make up over 50% of a practice day. Doing 1.5 hours of passing to start a 3 hour practice is probably not the best way to structure a training session, but by alternating passing drills with fast paced drills or designing drills that include attacking but are engaged by good passes is the answer.
If you are a Prospective Student Athlete (PSA) and want to impress college coaches (unless you are MB or Setter), you need to illustrate your excellent passing skills. College coaches can find tall players that can hit - they are everywhere. What we have trouble finding are players that can pass AND hit, and by pass, I mean take 1/3 of the court with no problem. I have come to the conclusion that it is better to give up 3 inches in height to gain a PSA who can pass very well. At times, my team will lose the height battle, but my players should be competitive in every match because we can run a good offense that is enabled by solid passers.
As a current player, your quickest route onto the court is via passing. There is always a spot open for good passers, whether it be as a back-row sub or all around player. Since it is now the college volleyball off season, make sure you are keeping your passing skill sharp and trying to improve your abilities. With the Holiday break coinciding with the start up of club volleyball, go visit your old club team to get some touches on the ball. They will love to have a college player in the gym and you can get some work on passing.
The spring season or non-traditional volleyball season is the prime time to improve your technique. Spring ball should be technique oriented and focused on individual and small group training. Now is where you can really impress the coaches with your focus and improvement in passing. Many players don't realize that the general starting unit for the fall, is established in the spring. Coaches will carry the impression of your abilities from the spring, into the fall training.
Serve receive like appearance - you can never be too good.