When Receiving the Volleyball Serve, More Is Not Merrier

Having more hockey players on the ice, more soccer players on the field or more basketball players on the court would give your team a distinct advantage. But in volleyball the court is small enough that more players trying to pass the ball can often be a disadvantage. In this case, more is not merrier. More passers means more seams, more opportunities for miscommunication and more serve receive errors.

Rather than smoosh everyone on your team into a serve receive formation, try to keep the number of passing down to three. If that seems like way too few give four passers a try, but your goal should be using only three passers.

In a four-person serve receive there are at least three seams, and there may be more if any of the front row players start creeping back and trying to pass. “Seams” are the lines between passers where either person could possibly be responsible for playing the ball. When a serve is heading for a seam both players have to communicate about which one of them will pass the ball. More seams create more demands on team communication.

One of the worst parts of this type of serve receive is the huge hole in the very middle of the court. Any of the four players in serve receive could potentially pass a serve heading for that spot. It’s an obvious target for a good server, and many players enjoy serving into that type of communication hot spot. With four passers in play there will also be at least one front row player passing, which creates another good target for your opponent’s serve. A smart server can aim for the front row hitter in the hopes of taking him or her out of the offense with a difficult serve.

In three-person serve receive we have only two major seams, which may cut down on potential communication problems. Keep in mind that this type of passing makes more demands on the abilities of all three receivers, because each person is responsible for any serve within their 1/3 of the court. This means if the ball is served short the passer must move forward to pass it; or if the serve lands near the end line the passer needs to move backwards into position (or receive it with an overhand pass).

If your passers are having trouble handling a full third of the court you can try using the two outside passers to take short serves while the middle passer takes anything deep. This increases the need for communicationg because it can be unclear what constitutes a “short” serve and passers need to call the ball early. Go with whatever your team is comfortable with, and don’t be afraid to experiment.

It can be difficult to transition to having fewer players involved in serve receive, but you’ll reap rewards when it comes to your passing accuracy and communication. And remember, no matter what formation you use you need to call the ball early and often!

Nicole Thomas

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