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Leadership is defined to be the action of leading a group of people or an organization. In the coaching profession, coaches lead their teams. If you were to ask me what my personal definition and general philosophy of leadership is, I would say, “Leadership is the role model for success. It is a person that is willing to lead from behind.” What I mean is I lead by staying out of the spotlight. I allow my team to get the recognition for their hard work. I believe this is why I consider myself a servant leader. Servant leaders often lead by example. This is their primary mode of motivation, as well as direction. Integrity is high in these types of leaders. They lead with compassion, heart, and generosity. Servant leaders often involve the whole team when it comes to making decisions and they learn to get their “buy in” when it comes to any change, attaining a goal, or upholding team standards.
Since transitioning into the coaching profession, I have realized that I am also a transformational leader. Leadership is being the visionary and being able to implement and execute to attain a common goal. As a coach, I have the ability to take athletes and identify that needed change that has to occur for them to perform at their peak. I create the vision and guide my athletes through the change by means of inspiration. These two types of leadership exhibit communication skills, decision-making skills, foresight (vision), as well as interpersonal skills. Leaders must be able to communicate effectively to get the results desired. They possess the ability to make decisions quickly as well as the right decisions to lead their teams. These leaders also include foresight and vision in order to achieve the desired goal. The vision must align with the common goal.
I consider myself a combination of a servant leaders as well as a transformational leader. I believe that there is a happy balance between the two. In athletics, I am more of a motivator and strive hard to be an inspiration. I strive to create a standard for my teams to ensure that I create well-rounded athletes. I believe in athlete development in the game of volleyball and strive to also teach my athletes how to win a game through strategy. One aspect of volleyball where a team can control tempo and the game, is the start of every play, which is the serve. I teach my athletes different types of serves and help them to determine which technique is best to use during each game.
Volleyball is a team sport where the onset of a rally starts with a team serving. A player serves the ball by tossing or releasing it into the air and then hitting it with their hand from behind the back line of the court, over the net, and into the receiving team’s court. A serve is considered to be both an offensive as well as a defensive tactic to score a point or to make defensive performance easier by limiting the opposing team’s offensive attack. Serve performance is affected by how the serve is executed.
I have been a varsity boys’ head volleyball coach for the past two years and am working on sharpening my technical skills to help me transition into the collegiate level in the future. I have coached both girls’ and boys’ volleyball teams, but my personal preference is coaching the boys’ side. I have chosen to explore the technical skill of serving and possible coaching philosophies on what serve works the best in the game of volleyball.
The jump serve brings a different dynamic to the game of volleyball. It brings power into the game from the serving line and puts the serving team into an attack mode the minute the server gets the ball. Nothing puts fear into a defensive team like a hard topspin serve (jump serve) booming over the net. Yet on the other hand, nothing can deflate an attack quicker than a jump serve collapsing into the net.
The two types of serves that will be examined and discussed are the float serve and the topspin float (jump serve). Float serves are tough to pass because the ball moves in the air unpredictably making it tough to judge where the ball is going. This floating action in the air can also make it challenging for the server to keep the ball in the court. A topspin serve can be tough to pass because the ball will drop much faster than a float serve.
During the last 20 years, the jump serve has become commonplace in the men’s game. The women’s game has not adopted the jump serve yet. On the high school level, jump servers are few, but those who can jump serve can change the direction of a match with one service turn. Some volleyball coaches believe that as the game evolves and the athletes become more skilled, there will be more jump serves. High school competition is at the base level. It is a level of where players are not as refined and disciplined, therefore it becomes a game of many mistakes and creating momentum. The jump serve can lead to either. Some coaches would rather not take the risk of jump serving, preferring a floating serve to a topspin serve. The higher the level of play, the more an aggressive serve is needed. A passive serve will allow a good team to set its big hitters.
The worse thing a team can do is not make a serve, whether by serving it into the net or by serving it outside of the court. This allows for the other team to gain the advantage. The other crucial item discovered about serving is twofold: we need to serve tough and we need to serve in every single time. The United States Men’s National Team Head Coach Doug Beal and his staff concluded that when a ball is served and the opponent can pass it perfectly or even “okay” (a 2-point pass), it is worse than an attacking error. This allows the opposing team to regroup and attack your team offensively. The reason for a tough team is to get the opponent out of system, to make their offense unpredictable, rather than predictable.
Ciuffarella’s et al. (2013) study investigated the serving techniques used in high level male volleyball competitions. Results show that at this level of competition, the most used serve is a jump serve – JS (69.9%) compared to the float jump serve – FJS (26.9%) or the float serve – FS (3.3%). JS is the most powerful strategy to make it difficult for an opposing teams defense. How hard a ball is hit at an athlete determines what type of pass the defender will use. If the serve is too powerful and the defender does not get in front of it or can slow it down, it may result in a shanked pass. This is where a pass goes to the right or left of the defender, rather than forward to the setter.
García-De-Alcaraz’s, et al. (2016) study shows the technical–tactical performance profile of the serve and its various forms of execution among age groups and categories of competition in men’s volleyball. As age increases, an athlete’s power increases as well and skills become more refined and developed. At a young age, athletes are taught at the base level, which are simply the basics. As they grow older, they learn levels to skills. In terms of serving, they are taught first taught how to toss a ball up, then swing at it. Refinement comes in how high a toss is for the serve, as well as how high you swing at the ball. Once a standing serve is proficient, then they are taught a jump serve. The easiest serve to teach is the float serve because it incorporates the steps of an attack so the correlation is simple to understand. As that skill is mastered, then the jump serve will evolve to a full swing that creates power. When an athlete’s level of competition increases, there is an increase in the frequency of use of jump serves and a decrease in the standing serve.
Valhondo’s et al. (2018) study found that the quality of opposition sets affects the serve action of players in elite men’s volleyball. In high quality of opposition sets, elite men’s volleyball players must assume greater risk in the serve. This is where different strategies are used to throw off an opponent and to increase serve efficacy. For example, coaches can tell a player where to serve on the court, which means which zone to serve to. Also tactics like having a serve target the sidelines or the back of the court can be used to confuse the opponent and make them think that the ball is going out of bounds. Another one is serving to a seam, which is the space between players. If communication is poor, the ball will fall in between them and a point is earned. The goal in serving is to decrease the opponent’s ability to receive the ball. The best way to do this is to serve with purpose, power, and speed.
Based on the research conducted, the results will conclude that the best serve to use at a high level of competition is the jump float serve. The ultimate goal of a serve is to score a point; therefore the tactic that will allow a team to score is the most effective. At UC San Diego, a study was conducted where the jump serve, the jump float, and the standing float were used to measure how many times each was done, how many aces there were, how many errors there were, and the point scoring percentage. If 10 balls were served and five points were scored, then the scoring percentage was 50 percent. This study found that the jump float was the best serve, as the standing float came in second, and the jump float was last.
In my experience in both club volleyball and high school volleyball, the jump float has been the most effective and the most trained. It is the simplest to teach and train, but the efficient. I personally train the jump float and it is one of my favorites due to unpredictability of direction of the ball as well as the speed that it travels. When teaching this serve, you must ensure that the athlete understands all mechanics from beginning of the serve until the ball is contacted. I would begin by teaching the proper way to hold the ball and how to position your arms and hands. Next would be the three-step approach to the serve and when to toss the ball out of your hand. Then I would go over how to strike the ball on contact. A combination of all these things makes for a great jump float serve.
Other strategies to think about or train are the speed of the serve, how hard to contact the ball, where to serve the ball, etc. There is no right answer to determine what zone is best to serve to. This all depends on the opponent that you are facing. What we can control is certain areas to target. For example, I train my teams to serve deep, which means getting the serve as close to the back line as possible or we work on serving down the sideline. My personal favorite is training my teams to jump float short, which means that they serve zones two through four and in front of the 10ft. line. All these strategies are excellent ways to score a point.
How you train this serve to be effective is to make the practice environment as game like as you can. If we want to increase service efficacy, we need to challenge our athletes to serve tough. Creating games in practice that encompass the competitiveness in them, helps to remember what works. Being able to repeat the same motions is key to promoting efficiency and skill development. Repetition is essential. Athletes need to develop a mental routine in their head to allow them to have something to fall back on and to rely on. This routine never changes although the game situation may be different. We strive to teach them to not only serve in the court, but hard. There is a motor learning principle called the Law of Specificity, which states that learning is most effective when the practice environment and skill movements most closely resemble those in competition.
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