April 29, 2009

What to Serve? Volleyball, not dinner!

A Serving question from a reader:

Have to ask - what's your take on the jump float serve? Mine - if you're realizing a significant gain (versus the risk involved in executing), then I can see it. But if your jump serve (topspin) or jump float serve is no better than standing there on two feet, then why do it?
I was at a qualifier recently and saw all sorts of girls doing (or trying to do) a jump floater. You have to start learning somewhere, I agree. However - the serves were no better - and often even easier - than a standard, feet-on-the-floor serve. In fact, I saw several kids doing all sorts of weird stuff - like running sideways along the baseline (like a slide hitter on a backset) and trying to jump float a serve.. I told my daughter - it may look good and be fun, but if the risk is high and the gain is low, you don't even need to bother. Having said that, I did go to a couple of NCAA playoff games last year where the girl actually was hitting DOWN over the net; a fast, nasty floater. Now THAT I understand...Bruce

One of the things I found interesting after the switch to rally score (boo, hiss) was serving - It seemed to me that players (on all levels - high school, club and college) were missing just as many, if not more, serves than ever. Even with my team, I just close my eyes and try to understand how come we miss so many serves and at the most inopportune times.

With rally score, each miss is a double negative - You lose a point, and you give the ball right back to the opponents and they have the opportunity to serve. Some Volleyfolks will say that so many missed serves just balances everything out and your opponent can easily miss their serve. But, the key to success in rally score is point runs.

A 25 point rally score game, which is done faster than the first commercial break on Law and Order, is usually won by one team putting together an approximate 6 point, or more, scoring run; especially after the team scores reach double digits.

You do not 'run' points by sideing out, you run points by serving and scoring. In this sense, scoring is as important as ever, but since the game is so compressed (25 points or approximately 1.5 to 2 complete rotations) the opportunity to run points is precious. Each time you miss a serve, you have not only lost a point, but you have lost the chance to go on a point run and now must fight off the opposing team's chance to run points.

Volleyfolks can well argue that missed serves are a by product of serving tough, which is true. Yet, too many players serve stupid - By that, they increase the intensity of their serves until they miss. Rally score serving should be the other way around - Players should start by serving at @ 90% of their toughest possible serve, then back off a bit for every serve until the opposition sides out. The last thing a coach wants to see, is a player put together two solid serves and their team score two points, only to have the next serve fly 10 feet out of bounds or slam into the middle of the net. If a team can string together a 8 or 9 serve point run, the serving player should literally be sending the ball over with a junior high under hand serve!

We have all been unfortunate enough to get stuck in a sideout rotation, where nothing is working and we are just dropping points. The thing that everyone is thinking is, "please miss this serve!".
I call it being in 'jail' - when the other team is bleeding points, they are in jail. The last thing we want to do is let them out, free them from their terrible rotation. I just shake my head when I see my team or any other team, miss serve #4 because they have just let a team out of jail.

Back to Bruce's Question - The Jump float. It is my understanding that the Jump Float, like Fire Ants and Killer Bees, came from South America. The Latin players have been using the jump float for many, many years and can just light it up - They have the deep jump float (from 20' beyond the end line, the short-short jump float (where they take a huge broad jump over the end line, but still serve it inside the opponents 3 meter line), the medium jump float that just rifles at the passers, etc.

What I like about the jump float (on average) is that it can be more difficult to handle than a standing float, but not as high risk as a jump serve (spinning). When a ball floats, much like a baseball knuckle ball pitch, it acts unpredictably - much like when the baseball catcher is flopping around the dirt like a tuna trying to catch the pitch, you see passers making last second lunges trying to get their platforms behind a bouncing float serve. The actual floating or knuckling motion is caused when the ball hits a certain miles per hour and turbulence forms forms.

It may sound like I am making this up, but I am not - I read a university paper on what makes round objects knuckle-float unpredictably. There is a certain speed range in which balls will float-knuckle; baseball, volleyball, etc. If a volleyball is below this speed when over the opponents court, it has a lazy, predictable arc to its path. If a volleyball is over this speed range when over the opponents court, it tends to look like a straight line that flies long before dropping down.

After reading this article, it makes sense as towhy serves look a certain way. Ever wonder why Mary does not have a tough serve or her floater is easy to pass - It is because she never gets the ball up to the turbulence speed. Same with Sue's serve, which more often than not is just a bullet going out the gym door - She generated way too much speed.

Back to the jump serve - For some reason, and this I have not read a paper about, the jump serve is a bit more consistent in generating that turbulent speed zone and the Latin players are very adept at managing their approach and arm speed to create the optimum ball speed for a nasty floater. I feel it has something to do with the speed generated in the approach being applied to the armswing, during the serve. These two combine to achieve that turbulent speed on a more consistent level.

American Volleyball is usually very good at copying what works in the rest of the world (fore arm passing, a quick offense, diving and rolling, etc.) and we still do it today in our ready acceptance of the Asian style of volleyball implemented by our last two Women's National Team coaches. Our younger players have started to copy this jump float serve after older players picked it up from international players. By the way, we copied the jump serve from the Argentinian Men's Team (per my understanding).

The problem with the jump float at the club level, is that it can be a difficult serve to execute for the younger players who may not have the coordination or physical power. In this case, the standing serve with a one or two step sequence might allow for strong power base to be used. Another issue for jump floaters, in a club tournament setting, is the size of the playing surface.

When tournament directors squeeze in every possible court, they don't leave much room for a good jump float approach. This is why you can see the sideways or slide approach being used with a jump float - a simpleway to create more room to generate more power on the serve.

Another thing which concerns me about the jump float, or a jump serve, in a tournament situation is the extra jumps needed. On the first day of a tournament, there are plenty of jumps in the tank. But, by day three, legs start to weaken, arms swings get sloppy and jump floats can really just be a waste of a jump. Remember, serve it in and run points.

All in all, I support the jump serve and encourage it as a serving weapon. A complete player should be able to serve the four dominant styles - Standing float serve near the end line, standing serve from very deep, jump float and jump serve. The rational is that you need to be able to adjust to the set up of the court, along with being able to switch to another serve if one is not doing well.

The first thing I encourage younger players do to is become very adept at a standing float serve - Getting the ball over is not adept, that is basic; serving to a specific zone is not adept, that is just beyond basic. Adept is being able to make the ball float/dance/knuckle to any zone on command, along with serving short with confidence. After you can manage that from standing within a few feet of the end line, then move on to the jump float, then jump serve, along with being able to go deep in larger gyms and drop bombs.

As Bruce referenced, some of the taller college players with skill and experience can generate a nasty, flat jump float that comes on the passers awfully quick and on an almost downward angle.

Practice is where the different types of serves should be made comfortable, and then knowing when to use them in a match is important. If you are playing Club Frick and Frack, then break out the different serves (while still running points). If you are playing Club Super Duper, then you need to serve your best, most consistently tough serve; the one you have the most confidence in.

Thanks for the question!