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Should I Jump Serve in Volleyball?

One of my junior coaches used to say:

‘If you can jump serve 13-14 down in the fifth, then you’re a jump server.’

Jump serving is one of the most exciting (and intimidating) skills in volleyball, but if we’re being honest: it isn’t for everyone.

Should I jump serve in volleyball? A good topspin jump serve can be the fastest way to win or lose a point for your team. Like many decisions in volleyball, your serving strategy should ultimately consider if jump serving will benefit or hurt your team (both in the short-term and long-term).

While I agree with my coach’s statement above on a big picture level, there’s a little more to it than that.
My own philosophy on serving is pretty aggressive, but don’t worry: I’ll cover all bases in this post.

We’ll look at:

  • Why volleyball players jump serve;
  • Some average speeds for a good volleyball jump serve;
  • Whether it’s easier or more difficult to receive top spin serves or float;
  • If men or women have better reasons to jump serve; and
  • How to know if you should jump serve as a junior or developing player.

Just to humble ourselves before diving in, let’s take a look at what can go wrong with the volleyball jump serve…

This is probably a good representation of the risk that’s associated with jump serving. No, not to the idle spectators, but to your team’s chances of scoring the point.

Why do volleyball players jump serve?

The topspin jump serve is about as close as you’ll get to spiking the serve. And the principle is actually about the same.

The goal is to give the receiving team a hard team returning the ball.

Jump servers do this by contacting the ball at the highest possible point, then bringing it down into the court with topspin.

For an in-depth tutorial on how to jump serve, check out my article here (coming soon!).

When players do this, they are able to generate significantly more power than by float serving or standing topspin serves. The biomechanics involved in a volleyball jump serve are also far more dynamic, increasing the overall speed of your arm swing and the ball itself.

There are three reasons for this:

  1. When you contact the ball at a higher point (and inside the baseline) you create a better angle between the ball and the net. This gives players a greater margin for error, and it means that 60mp/h + serves actually have a chance of going in the court.
  2. Jump servers also create topspin on the ball. This starts with the toss, and is emphasized at contact. Topspin will help the ball to dip down over the net and into the court–without sailing out the back like our friend Kurek’s serve.
  3. Lastly, jump serving can generate more power by the momentum of a server’s body. Good practice will mean that you are jumping forward into the ball when you jump serve. This factor alone can be a great way to increase how much power and speed is generated on the ball.

Why does it matter how much power you can generate?

This may sound like an obvious question, but it’s actually fair.

In many cases, just because a serve is traveling faster doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s more difficult to pass.

We’ll talk about that in a little bit.

For now it’s worth knowing that, in theory, power and speed are the two main reasons that a player will jump serve.

Here at VolleyPedia, however, I’d like to go a little deeper than just talking about the theory. Because there’s one more real factor that makes players want to jump serve: It’s fun and impressive. While that may not sound like a good reason when playing a team sport, I think it’s worth entertaining. If jump serving is a skill that every junior is eager to learn and try, I’m a big believer in letting them explore it. Some players will be better off float serving, sure, but giving players the freedom to choose (and learn from their mistakes) independently can be one of the best ways to keep team spirit high and motivate personal development.

Lastly, I’ll add one more point for those interested in knowing why most top level male volleyball players jump serve.

Generally speaking, it’s to create more service pressure.

As we’ll see later in the post, I break down some serve and reception percentages by float serve versus power jump serve.

When international or high quality professional teams are able to receive the ball perfectly, they are supposed to score.

For this reason, teams will encourage any strategy that gives them a chance to steal a point on their serve.

Powerful jump serves, though less consistent than float serves, tend to create more opportunities for the serving team to score than float serves.

So next time you’re frustrated that your favorite professional team is missing jump serve after jump serve, just know that (hopefully) it’s just part of their aggressive serving strategy.

Some average speeds for jump serving at FIVB level

Thanks to some fantastic research performed by Palao and Valadés in 2014, we actually have some pretty good data on this.

I’ll be taking this data as my starting point, but hopefully as we get more access to information here at VolleyPedia I can update these numbers to meet 2018 trends.

Before I nerd out on the numbers, let’s be clear what we’re talking about here:

The following numbers are taken from the 2006 Mens’ World League Volleyball tournament. A total of 2767 serves were measured, and from these only the serves that actually landed in the court were counted (2097).

Standing serve: 30.83 (49.62kmh) (avg.) 38.52 (62kmh) (Max.)

Jump Float: 34.44 (55.43kmh) (avg.) 54.05 (87kmh) (Max.)

Jump Serve: 54.63 (88kmh) (avg.) 76 (123kmh) (Max.)

Needless to say, it’s worth noting that these are some of the best players in the world.

As you can see, the difference between serving styles is significant.

On average, jump serves were 58% faster than jump float serves, with the fastest serve of the tournament reaching an impressive 76mph.

From these numbers, we also learn a little bit about how much time receivers have to read the ball and get into position.

Taking the averages, on jump float serves this translates to anywhere between 0.72s-1.35s and for jump serves 0.52s-0.74s.

As you can see, at the higher end of the jump serve numbers, serve receive players are only given roughly half a second to react!

Okay, and what about anything that’s NOT international level volleyball…

I wish I could give a simple answer.

The truth is, it will depend greatly on the league–but I’ll do my best from what I’ve seen, read and heard.

Collegiate Level

A 2006 study out of the University of Manitoba took a look at precisely this.

What did they find?

29.5 miles per hour average for women. AND44.07 for male athletes.

Add to that a recent study (2018) coming out of India showing slightly faster results, with male volleyball jump serves averaging 50.7 miles per hour, and you can see that college players can be right up there with the big leagues (when it comes to speed).

Junior Leagues

Naturally, data for this is a little more difficult to find:

*If you or your club would be interested in performing this research and submitting it to VolleyPedia, we’ll publish it, write it up and feature the results!

So, even without the numbers, we actually know quite a lot.

In middle school and high school volleyball, for example, jump serves are still a relatively rare skill to see.

Particularly in middle school, the player that can jump serve consistently in the court is likely to score quite a few points.

What is more common in junior and casual leagues is to see jump serve players go on runs of points.

Whether this is psychological or due to some difference in skill level, I won’t speculate here.

But it is much more common for jump servers to score long runs of points in junior leagues than in adult or professional competitions.

So which is easier to pass: Jump serves or float serves?

Again, I’ll have to follow the data on this one.

On this occasion, it leads me to a study taken from serves during the 2015 European Men’s Volleyball

The whole document has a lot of fascinating insights: even going into details on which angle is best to serve from for float servers (Position 5) and jump servers (Position 1).

But for our purposes, what did they learn about receiving jump serves versus float serves?

Bottom Line:
Jump serves received a ‘positive’ (3 pass, if you’re more familiar with that system) pass 29% of the time.Float serves were received positively 54% of the time.

Here’s a closer breakdown, for those who are interested.

Average Speed (mph) Maximum Speed (mph)
Standing Serve 30.83 (49.62kmh) 38.52 (62kmh)
Jump Float 34.44 (55.43kmh) 54.05 (87kmh)
Power Jump Serve 54.63 (88kmh) 76 (123kmh)

If you take a look at the numbers above, another thing stands out.

Jump serves had a significantly higher error rate than float servers (big surprise).

There is plenty more to be said about this (and more calculations to be made depending on sideout percentages), but for the moment it should be clear that for this study, teams generally had a harder team receiving jump serves than float serves.

Of course, whether or not you receive jump serves or float serves better can be an individual matter.

I personally always felt more comfortable receiving topspin, but I also know that when someone is bombing the ball from the service line, the control can feel somewhat out of my hands.

If they hit the perfect ace, there isn’t much that can be done to stop it.

Again, this study looked at high level international volleyball, which is played slightly differently to junior and social leagues.

In juniors, many players feel more comfortable receiving topspin serves because it is more predictable.

While float serves can trace dangerous, winding paths, topspin serves tend to follow a straight path.

This makes it easier for passers to track the ball, which can mean that they feel more comfortable receiving this type of serve.

*I’m actually collecting a small survey of my own, so passers listen up: If you have a second, help us find out the answer to this question once and for all–it’s just three questions: which league do you play in, what type of server are you, and which serve do you prefer to pass. We’ll publish the results once we reach our target number of participants.

Bonus Stat: Did you know that finger reception proved more effective than platform passing? In the 2015 study, 51% of platform passes were positive, while 65% of finger receptions allowed the setter to use every option.

Is there a difference between men and women when it comes to jump serving?

The short answer is: Yes.

On average, women power jump serve far less often.

In fact, according to a 2015 study examining the previous 4 consecutive Olympic Games data:

  • The most used served for men was the power jump serve; and
  • The most used serve for women was the standing serve.

And there are actually good reasons for this.

One major reason is that the women’s net is lower than the men’s net. While this is also good for jump serving, it’s also incredibly useful for float servers.

Some of the toughest float serves in the world are found in women’s volleyball.

While some top level female athletes do rely on a jump serve, it’s far more common to see flat hard jump floats in the women’s game.

So, should I jump serve or float serve?

That’s the million dollar question, and if you’re a developing player it’s a fair to ask.

In my experience, anyone that really wants to learn how to jump serve should at least give it some time in practice.

Developing a consistent jump serve will take hundreds (thousands, really!) of repetitions, so you can’t expect your first attempt to go flying in the corner like Wilfredo Leon:

Ask your coach to work on your jump serve in a practice environment that won’t break down the play for your teammates.

Ask to come in 10 minutes early, or stay an extra 10 minutes to do your stretching after practice is over.

If you want to learn how to jump serve, the main obstacle will be proving to yourself, your coach and your teammate that you can do some damage when the team needs it.

A simple test you can run on yourself:

  1. Practice serving a few jump serves until you’re comfortable with the action.
  2. Now, find a range or speed that you think is your average, comfortable speed.
  3. Next, push this to the limit. Go until you can serve you 100% speed serve in the court.
  4. Then, return to your comfortable serve and try making 6 in out of 7.
  5. If you can make 6 out of 7 in a controlled practice environment, on a consistent basis, you can probably convince your coach to give you a chance in the match.

Summing Up

The jump serve is one of those skills which makes this game fun to watch. If you’re wondering whether or not to jump serve for your team, try it out in practice. If you’re enthusiastic about it, put in the extra effort to make it work, and are patient with the result, there’s no reason you can’t develop a jump serve to benefit your team.

I hope you found this article useful, and that the data helps give you some solid footing in this wild internet of information.

If you did find it useful or interesting, feel free to share it with your friends by clicking the familiar ‘f’ below.

Happy jump serving!

Resources: – https://thesportjournal.org/article/normative-profiles-for-serve-speed-for-the-training-of-the-serve-and-reception-in-volleyball/ – http://www.umanitoba.ca/faculties/kinrec/hlhpri/media/vb_jump_serve.pdf- https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/80829325.pdf- https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.2466/30.50.CP.4.9

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