While an underhand serve is the easiest and most consistent way to put the ball in play, the overhand serve is the next step in becoming an elite volleyball player.
It allows you to be more accurate and more powerful with your serve, which is beneficial for one simple reason: you and your team will score more points!
When you go back to the service line for your serve, you may think that your only responsibility is to put the ball in play to start the point. This is correct, but it isn’t the whole truth. In fact, a serve is the first opportunity your team has to play offense!
If you are able to serve the ball well enough, you will make it harder for the receiving team to make a good pass, which in turn will make it harder for them to run a strong offense at you. You may get a free ball out of it, and maybe even score an ace! The bottom line is that your serve is not just the beginning of the rally.
If your goal is to put the ball in the court, then an underhand serve is all you need to do. But if you want to develop into a better player and ensure your team scores more points, then an overhand serve is a crucial part of your skill-set.
Making perfect contact when hitting the ball
Before getting into how to serve overhand, a crucial factor in doing this serve successfully is where you make contact with the ball in relation to the rest of your body.
For those who are keen on perfecting their hitting techniques, our article on Volleyball Outside Hitter Tips can be a great resource.
Hit the ball too far in front of your head, and it will be pretty tough to get the ball over the net (since you’ll effectively be hitting the ball downward). Hit the ball too far behind your head, and you’ll send the ball so high that all the benefits of an overhand serve are lost.
And, if you don’t hit the ball with a straight arm, you won’t generate nearly as much force as you can!
To find your perfect contact point, follow these steps:
- Straighten your non-dominant arm, and extend your arm above your head so that your bicep touches your ear.
- Place your dominant hand on the back of your non-dominant hand.
- Take away your non-dominant hand.
Your hitting hand should be extended above your head, slightly to the side of your midline. This is where you want to hit the ball every single time!
Consistency is key, and practicing with the right Volleyball Training Equipment can make a significant difference.
How to overhand serve
The following instructions are for a right-handed hitter. If you are left-handed, simply reverse the instructions.
Begin with your right foot pointed outward (how far outward is based on what feels comfortable for you) and your left foot in front and pointed forward. Your weight should be on your right foot, and your hips will be turned to the right.
Hold the ball in your left hand, with your left arm straight out in front of the midline of your body (think about holding the ball in line with your chin). Hold your right arm up above your shoulder, with your elbow bent and the back of your hand near your cheek/ear.
You want to look like an archer holding their bow and arrow! Once you’re in position, you’re ready to begin your overhand serve.
As you toss, shift your weight from your right foot to your left foot. Your right heel should come off the ground, but any more than that and you will be off-balance.
Toss the ball up so that it hits its peak just above your perfect contact point. This way, it will fall for only an instant, which is all the time you need to do your swing!
Swing your right arm forward to contact the ball with your palm.
Remember to turn from the hips and rotate your torso to bring your right shoulder around to generate more force.
Again, you’re aiming to make contact with the ball above your head and slightly to the right.
You want to hit the ball above the height of the net (obviously) and below the height of the antennae.
Why? Simply put, the higher the ball is hit, the more time it spends in the air, which gives the receiving team more time to get into position and make a good pass. Additionally, if you serve the ball hard enough, hitting it above the height of the antennae will likely send the ball out, costing your team a point!
By serving the ball below the height of the antennae, the ball will be coming hard and flat at the receiving team, which will make it much more difficult to pass.
VIDEO : How to Overhand Serve
Why bother serving overhand?
The choice between an easy serve and a difficult serve is a classic tradeoff between risk and reward.
The risk of an overhand serve is that with a harder serve, you’re going to miss more often. There are more variables to account for and do perfectly every single time.
Think about how few variables there are for an underhand serve. The ball sits in your left hand, meaning you control exactly where your contact point is every time.
You contact the ball with a rigid arm (maybe a slight bend in the elbow depending on your preference). Think of it this way: would it be easier to hit a nail with a hammer made of wood and steel, or one made of rubber that flops around in your hand?
Compared to an underhand serve, there are so many more factors to account for when serving overhand. For example, it’s unreasonable to assume your toss will be perfect every single time. You may toss it too high, too low, too far in front/behind you.
You also might be a fraction of a second too fast or slow in your arm swing. And what if you hit it too hard and it lands out? Errors that happen as a result of these factors can be mitigated with practice and repetition, but no one is perfect!
The reward of an overhand serve is the additional number of points you are going to directly and indirectly score for your team. By making it harder for the receiving team to pass the ball, you’ll make it easier for your team to defend their attack, and might even score an ace!
Imagine for a second that your team is receiving an opponent’s serve. When a team receives the ball, there are a number of decisions that need to be made, and they all happen one after the other.
The first is simply determining where the ball is going to land. The court is nine meters by nine meters, which means plenty of space needs to be covered between the six players on court (five once you’re playing with a designated setter!).
Once that has been identified, the next decision is determining which player will be the one to pass the ball. We’re all taught to call “Mine!” when the ball is coming towards us, but what if the ball looks like it’s going to land in between two players? The passers need to work out amongst themselves who is going to take it.
Finally, the passer has one final decision: is the ball actually going to land in the court? This seems somewhat obvious, but it’s crucial to consider. Deciding to pass a ball that is going out costs your team an easy point.
Conversely, thinking a ball is going out only for it to land in gives the serving team an easy point! Everyone knows the feeling of calling the ball “Out!” as it falls, only for your heart to drop when you see the ball just catches the line as it hits the floor.
As you can see, receiving a serve is a fairly complicated process. Now consider this: how much time does a team need to effectively make each of these decisions correctly? Obviously, the less time the receiving team has to do all these steps, the less effective they’ll be at passing your serve!
With an underhand serve, the ball travels upward and hangs in the air before slowly coming back down. This means that the receiving team has plenty of time to get into position, identify who will be passing the ball, determine whether the ball is going to land in or out, and then move to the ball and pass it as well as they can to the setter.
On the other serving extreme, think of a jump spin serve. The fastest serve ever recorded was by Wilfredo Leon of Poland in 2021. His serve clocked in at 135.6 km/h, equivalent to roughly 84 mph. This means that from the time Leon contacted the ball to the time the ball crossed the plane of the net, the receiving team had less than half a second to make these decisions!
Now, unless you’re a freak of nature (did Air Bud ever make a volleyball movie?), you won’t serve an overhand serve at 135.6 km/h. But you will give the receiving team less time to make their passing decisions.
The more difficulty you can cause for the receiving team in executing these steps, the worse their passing will be. This translates into a less effective offense, and the easier it will be for your team to defend their attack!
Additionally, unless the receiving team has a complete breakdown in communication, or you are incredibly accurate with an underhand serve, it is highly unlikely that you will ever score an ace with an underhand serve. The increased power and accuracy of an overhand serve increases the odds of this happening.