Why We Jump Serve

Why We Jump Serve

My coach would always say, “We go with Jump”; and by jump, he meant Jump Serve. These words echo in my head to this day. My college coach was relentless with developing a strong jump serve among his players. It did not make much sense to me back then, especially because I utilized a float serve as a serving specialist. 

If you look at New Paltz as a program today, you will notice the entire squad over the last few seasons utilizes aggressive jump serves in competition. This is not strictly a New Paltz trait, as the top-level teams in most volleyball competitions all heavily emphasize Jump Serves.  

The reason is intrinsic to the nature of men’s volleyball; and without a thorough understanding of it can leave you at a disadvantage when going up against the top teams. Much more intelligent men then I have studied the game of volleyball ad nauseam; and the literature has largely broken up the game into two phases; Complex I and Complex II.

Complex I is the side-out phase, where serve reception is emphasized followed by setting into an initial attack. Complex II is the side-out transition phase, where the emphasis is on block preparation, defending the oncoming hit, and developing a counterattack.

As a former player, current coach, and avid fan… I speak with the first-hand experience when I say the men’s game is largely played during Complex I. The serve-serve receive war is a crucial phase in volleyball regardless of gender, but doubly so in the men’s game for a variety of reasons.

The receiving team is facing only one attacking option in serve-receive (the server); this is critical because it allows the defense to orient themselves with the direction the ball is coming from before the ball is even in play. The serve path is more predictable than a normal attack, and it is easier for the receiving team to organize a defense to it. In this regard, the receiving team starts every point with the advantage. 

A successful pass off a serve then allows the receiving team to run their offense. In the setting phase of complex I, the serving team is now at a disadvantage. They must adjust to three (sometimes 4) attacking options while reading a setter and then effectively defending the final attack. Men generate more forceful attacks in volleyball, and it is one of the reasons rallies do not last very long (unlike the women’s game). In general, if the receiving team can stay in system off the initial serve receive, they are most likely winning the point.

In-system offenses can capitalize on this advantage, as the serving team must worry about the first-tempo middle attack. This is the most efficient play in all of volleyball, and Middle Attackers generally have the highest efficiency of all volleyball players. Last year’s D3 1st-team All-American Middles had a combined .431 average hitting percentage (outsides had .327 and opposites had .346). Being able to utilize your Middle off of serve-receive leads to a greater likelihood of winning the point.

So how does a receiving team ever lose the advantage in such circumstances? Against aggressive serving. Stepping away from the D3 Landscape for a minute, some of the best jump servers in the world are routinely launching bombs from the service line topping 70mph/ 115km/hr (the current world record is 82 mph/132km/hr). Gabi Garcia Fernandez (OPP) of BYU is another example, as he routinely overpowers opposing teams from the service line.

Serve aggressiveness is highly correlated with scoring points in volleyball. This type of serving style is meant to overwhelm opposing serve receives. It is a much less controlled form of serving and instead focuses solely on generating as much power in the serve as possible.

In this regard, the Jump Serve is largely both an offensive and defensive tool in higher-level men’s play. By adopting this serving approach, you are intrinsically claiming the first “attack” on the ball in the rally. Further, by focusing more on a powerful serving approach, teams are more likely to cause the receiving team to be out-of-system. Out-of-system teams have fewer offensive options, which makes it easier for the serving team to set up a defense against the oncoming attack.

In summary, we jump serve to score points. We jump serve to win rallies. We jump serve to play defense. It is that simple.  In higher-level men’s play, serve-receivers are too adept at passing standing/jump float serves. The ball simply does not move as fast and stays in the air too long taking away the advantage of the “knuckleball” like flight path.

Granted, like any skill, a jump serve needs to be practiced. The reason I utilized a Jump Float Serve was simply that my Jump Serve was not very good. I got comfortable and was content with my serving skill and the role I had on the team with it. My coach pressed me to practice my Jump Serve every day in practice (which I did), but I still devoted more time to controlling my Float Serve. I did not learn how to aggressively jump serve until I was out of college when I needed to begin teaching the skill to others.

Sports are skill intrinsic, and all skills need to be practiced. John Kessel often talks about how teams want to “perform tactically what they can execute technically”. So, if you want to tactically serve aggressively, you should be practicing your jump serve so you may execute it in-game. You and your team will be better off for it.

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