Would you be surprised if I told you that the current ruling on this was only introduced in 2001?
Can the ball hit the net on a serve in volleyball? As of 2001, if the ball touches the net on a volleyball serve, this is a completely legal serve. Prior to this rule, the ‘let’ serve allowed players to attempt a second service when the ball touched the net and rolled into play.
Net tricklers have been a part of the game as long as I’ve been playing, but before the 21st century, our volleyball ancestors were playing according to different rules.
And while this may seem like a minor point to write a post about, there are a few things that the introduction of this rule has changed about the game.
Nothing more so than how aggressively servers are now encouraged to serve the ball. But first, let’s retrace our steps.
The old net serve ruling
When the ball struck the net from a serve, then continued to land in-bounds, this was deemed a let service:
Just like a let serve in tennis.
This meant that the server would be allowed another attempt to serve the ball in the court, without penalty.
In the modern game, let serves have no special place in the game:
Beyond being especially annoying when they drop three inches from the net on your side of the court.
That’s not fair though. In many circumstances, when the ball strikes the net, it actually slows down a great deal:
Popping up off the net and making it easier on the passer to make a good reception.
But this actually brings me to the main point I want to talk about.
How has the let service rule changed modern volleyball?
In two words?
One of the first things you’ll learn when your serve begins to develop (I mean, when you’re thinking about more than just getting it over the net), is to have it travel low over the net tape.
For float servers, this is particularly important:
If you want to put any kind of power on your float serve, it will need to travel close to the net as it crosses, so that it has time to drop down into the court.
For jump servers, ripping the ball down into the court is also important.
Volleyball is a game of angles.
For jump servers, reaching high and bringing the ball down not only allows you to get more power on the ball–it can create a whole new set of angles to make the passers’ lives hell.
How does the net tape rule help you serve more aggressively?
Think about it.
When the rulebook said that hitting the net tape would automatically null the serve’s result, doesn’t it seem riskier to bring the ball down close to the net?
Okay: you wouldn’t automatically lose the point.
But it wouldn’t bring you any advantage, either. And once you’ve hit the net tape once, the pressure on the server’s second attempt must have been something similar to what’s felt on a tennis second service.
My theory is simple: freeing up the net tape restriction also freed up players’ mindsets when they went back to the service line.
Particularly when it comes to jump serving, you can plant half of the ball in the net tape, and there’s still a good chance that it will roll over into the court.
Half a ball might not sound like much, but when it comes to margin for error: that can be significant.
Extend that out over thousands of repetitions, with athletes training themselves to bring the ball closer and closer to the net, and you can see that changing the scope, so to speak, could result in a significant boost to how aggressive the serves are coming.
How to practice serving low and flat over the net
If you’re a float server (jump or standing) serving the ball with a flat trajectory over the net and into the opponent’s court can be a damaging weapon.
*In fact, it’s for this reason that float serves in the women’s game are enough to make any male receiver shiver. The height of the women’s net allows float servers to hit the ball more aggressively and still let it drop in the court.
If you want to have a weapon of a serve, keeping the ball on a low flight over the tape will be a good first step.
To practice doing this, here are a couple of points to keep in mind:
#1: Practice contacting the ball high.
If you are jump floating, this means giving it a real jump as you approach. Don’t just stroll up and make a bunny hop for the sake of ‘doing a jump float’.
The point is to give you an advantage, right? So that you can contact the ball higher, and hit a flatter trajectory over the net.
So use it. Jump high, and reach up to the ball on your jump float–this will help you keep a flat ball going in with more speed and pressure than if you take it low.
#2: Don’t think in arcs–think in straight lines.
When you’re just beginning to float serve over the net consistently, it’s tempting to think about launching the ball high over the net like a canonball flying through the air.
To keep the ball close to the net, this smooth arc mindset needs to be wiped.
Instead, start thinking of contacting the ball sharply, in a rigid straight race to the net: once it gets there, don’t worry.
If you’ve put the right power into it, it’ll drop in-bounds.
In fact, straight lines are sometimes how it feels to pass some of the best float serves–sometimes it’s like the ball has hit a brick wall and dropped two feet in front of my platform.
#3: Don’t be afraid of hitting the tape.
In fact, with this new rule we’ve been talking about today, why should you?
Hitting the tape can give you a nice trickler bonus, or at the very worst it will just slow things down for the opponent.
When you start learning how to serve more aggressively, you’re bound to drop a few into the net–don’t worry about it. And I’ll let you in on a hint:
Even the top level international players drop their float serves in the net from time to time. And if you think they can’t lollipop it over 100 times without a mistake, you’d be wrong.
The point is that there comes a point where being aggressive with your serve is important enough to take some risks. Serving in the net is one of those risks, but that can’t stop you from aiming low and hard.
The ‘let’ service rule in volleyball has allowed players to go for broke at the service line:
So why not use it?
If you’re looking for a more detailed tutorial on how to jump serve, float serve or both:
Stay posted as we fill this space with in-depth guides, tutorials and tips in the coming weeks and months.
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