If your team knows how to serve specific zones, you’ll be ready to rule the court.
Karch Kiraly said it best, “The serve is the only technique that is totally under your control.”
It’s really all in your hands. If you can control your serves, then you can control the other side of the court. And in high school volleyball, if you’re a strong serving team, you’re going to be tough to beat.
Here’s how to get there.
The Competitive Advantage
If your players can serve different zones, you have a better chance of finding your opponents’ weaknesses. Once you identify where that is, you’ll be able to go after it aggressively and make your opponent much easier to defend.
It’s extremely important to call specific zones during a serve. Not doing this is like not telling a quarterback what play he needs to run on the football field. And it goes hand in hand with scouting your opponents.
Go through each of their rotations to find their passing tendencies. Use your findings to attack specific passers or zones where your opponents struggle.
We use two types of zone serving, depending on the age of our athletes.
Standard 1-6 Zones
This is a basic zone serving strategy. It’s easily understandable and follows rotations so it’s easy to remember, regardless of age or skill.
Zone 1: right back
Zone 2: right front
Zone 3: middle front
Zone 4: left front
Zone 5: left back
Zone 6: middle back
This type of serving takes a lot of practice to learn, so we reserve it for older, more advanced players. It’s divided between deep and short serves.
Zone 1: Sideline closest to right back
Zone 2: Player that’s serve receiving in right back
Zone 3: Between players in right back and middle back
Zone 4: Player that’s serve receiving in middle back
Zone 5: Between players in middle back and left back
Zone 6: Player that’s serve receiving in left back
Zone 7: Sideline closest to left back
A: Right front
B: Middle front
C: Left front
How to Apply It
Serving zones allows for tons of different strategies. For instance, we keep the ball short when our opponent’s attackers are running across the net in serve receive. In theory, this will clog up the middle of the court and will sometimes prevent a team from running their middle attacker. For opponents who have a great middle attacker, throwing in short serves is important.
Another strategy is to find the outside attacker that’s stepping back into serve receive. Move her around. Serve her short and deep. Start tracking her tendencies to see if she passes better out of one specific rotation than another. If you keep pressure on your opponents’ outside attackers, they’ll often become tired and less effective.
We also look for rotations where there are stacks of players lined up on one side of the court, and try to serve on or over those stacks. This can cause communication errors between the front and back row. It also makes it tough for the passer that’s behind the stack to track the serve.
Practice Makes Perfect
This skill needs to be touched on in every practice. Some days we work on hitting zones, some days we focus on serving under pressure, and some days we concentrate on making our service better (faster, more aggressive, or more controlled).
Serving style is important too—decide what works best for your team. Most of my kids serve float balls because it’s harder to read as a passer, and you can control the serve well. Once in a while, you might get an athlete who can serve a topspin ball well. It’s important to evaluate this serve and decide whether or not you think the player is able to control it and can still put the ball in the zone you’re calling. If it works for your team, and your player is comfortable with it, go for it!
What if your players are missing serves? It might not be as serious as you think. We’re willing to miss serves deep if we’re playing a team with a lot of ball control. If we serve aggressively, we can hope to put them out of system and make them easier to defend.
But you don’t want to let it go too far. We set a goal for how many missed serves are allowed. It varies based on who we’re playing and how aggressive we need to serve, but in general, it’s two missed serves a set.
Even if your players don’t hit the zone 100% of the time, if they can do it the majority of the time, the results will speak for themselves.
Lindsay Peterson has been a varsity head coach for eight years. She played for the University of North Alabama, helping them win the DII National Championship in 2003. Peterson has led her Millard North High School team to the state championship tournament seven times, winning in 2016 and 2018. She was named one of the top 40 coaches in the country by the AVCA, and Coach of the Year by the Omaha World-Herald.
Peterson wrote this article with the help of her assistant coach, Lindsay Grant. Grant has coached at Millard North High school for eight years, and is also a club coach for Nebraska Juniors.