Beach Volleyball Serving Techniques
In beach volleyball, there are few greater feelings than batting down your opponent’s spike with a massive block in their face. Or on the other side, slamming that perfect set down hard onto the other court, leaving your opponents digging up sand. These are some of the intense highs of victory that beach volleyball can serve up for those who play.
Of course, before the ball is ever passed, set or spiked, you can take the upper hand in a volley with a well controlled serve. A cherry ace aimed right into the hole of the service reception is a pretty sweet feeling as well. If the players on the other team have difficulty in receiving your serve, they will struggle to pass to the setter. A fumbled pass will allow less control over the set, leading to a more predictable and easily handled spike or drive back onto your side of the court.
In general, there are three types of serves in beach volleyball: the topspin, the floater and the jump serve. Each type has its advantages and disadvantages in play and different techniques in the setup and toss in order to master. Fortunately, service is the one part of volleyball you can practice on your own, so grab a ball and work on your serve!
The Overhand Serve
While you may see an underhand serve on the beach, it is likely that the players are beginners and the game is probably just for fun. Although an underhand serve is not illegal in professional competition, there will be no power behind it and it will provide your opponents with a easily setup volley. In general, most high-level beach volleyball serves are overhand.
Both upper and lower body are important in nailing a perfect overhand serve every time. Feet should be shoulder-width apart, with the foot opposite your serving hand positioned in front of the other, pointing straight towards the court a step behind the service line. You should place your serving hand over the top of the ball, held in the face-up palm of your opposite hand. Elbows slightly bent and chest square to the court and you are all setup for your serve.
Just as important as the setup, a consistent toss is critical for landing the most effective serves. Pull your serving elbow back, forearm parallel to the court, with your fingers spread and waiting beside your ears. With the other hand, drop the ball slightly and toss it up a couple of feet above your head and about a foot in front of you. Make sure the ball goes straight up without rolling off your fingers and setting it to spin.
Finally, making accurate contact with the ball will help you control your placement, speed and power. Quickly, after you have made your toss, turn your hitting hand face up and bring your forearm back, perpendicular to the sand before swinging. Keeping your eye on the ball, strike directly in the center with a firm palm and wrist, no fingers. Take a small step forward with your non-hitting foot as you swing, rotating your hips into the serve for added power.
Practicing each element individually – setup, toss, and contact – until all aspects are consistent will help you establish control over your serves. Once you feel comfortable with the overhand serve, you can begin experimenting with the other serving techniques. Being able to vary your serve in beach volleyball will make them harder to predict, keeping the other team guessing and throwing them off their game.
The topspin serve is more predictable than other techniques, but also very challenging to receive. This serve sets the ball to spin forward, creating a sudden and rapid drop that will force your opponents to dive off their feet to receive it. You can have better control over the direction of this serve, placing it right between the receivers and forcing them to communicate. The more movement and confusion you can create on your opponent’s court, the more room for error in their play.
The setup for a topspin serve is the same as a basic overhand serve. The difference lies in the toss, timing and contact. Give the ball a higher toss and strike it on the top, swinging through downwards and towards the outside of your body. Timing is critical so avoid making your toss too high, allowing too much time for worry and excessive motion that can lead to errors and a lost serve. With practice, the topspin serve can be a highly effective beach volleyball technique.
The float serve, or “floater,” is another serving technique that can land you an ace on the other side of the court. Just like the name sounds, this serve sends a ball floating, catching the air and wobbling in an unpredictable motion. While you should exercise caution with this serve when winds are high, an effective float serve can gum up a receiver’s pass nearly every time.
When setting up for the floater, make sure to hold the ball with the air hole face down. This is the heaviest part of the ball and plays a role in the desired floating motion this serve attempts to achieve. Keep your toss low, quick and in front of you and slap a firm hand against the center back of the ball, withdrawing without a follow-through. A well-hit floater moves unpredictably back and forth or can drop suddenly, making it a very difficult serve to receive.
The Jump Serve
The jump serve is the most popular type of beach volleyball serve among the pros. It, packs in the most power and speed, and can also be combined to include float or topspin depending on your skill level. On the other hand, the increased set-up and additional movement make the jump serve one of the most likely to incur errors. Practice the following jump serve techniques in order to master this aggressive beach volleyball serve.
Setting up for a jump serve is different from a basic overhand serve. Start several feet behind the service line to allow for a short approach, similar to attacking at the net. Toss the ball higher and several feet in front of you, moving forward into the ball and sending greater force into your contact. Swing your arms behind you and up to prepare for contact, while taking a step forward and hopping to meet the ball. Strike at the highest point of your jump with your arm at its full reach.
Your follow-through with a jump serve will depend on the type of ball you want to send. If you are trying to add topspin, contact the ball on the top side and swing away with your arm drawing towards the outside of your body. When adding a float to your jump serve, contact and pull back, clapping hard with a firm palm. The jump serve requires more practice to nail the timing and footwork but will add power and speed to both service types for a highly effective serve.
In beach ball you should also be aware of the natural elements that come into play when serving. A powerful serve with high winds at your back can send the ball too far, so drop it short or add topspin to keep it in bounds. Aim deep when the wind is coming towards you and be sure to compensate for side winds to control placement. Forcing a receiver to move in the sand will delay their ability to set up a play, so service accuracy on the beach will give you the upper hand every time.
Serve to Win
Practicing the perfect serve is a great way to prepare for a beach competition. A beach player that dominates with serves can win the game without ever receiving a volley. Whether using a floater, topspin or jump serve combination, proper setup, toss and contact will be the key to landing an un-receivable serve. Go out there and fine tune all aspects of your serve and shift the odds of winning in your favor. Feel the rush of that game-point ace dropping into the sand! All it takes is practice!