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Volleyball/One girl can't serve, one girl can't hit! HELP!!!


I have two players with skill difficulties I can't quite figure out how to help them with. You gave me some great general advice at the start of my season, and I 'm sure these are common issues, but it's hard to search for a drill to co bat a specific problem so I hope you would be so kind as to help me once again.

My first girl is 15 and has been plugging away at her overhand serve for years and just isn't getting It.Both my assistant coach and I have tried several things and both think it has something to do with the timing or weakness of her step/ weight shift, but we just aren't making progress.

The second is a girl who could be a dynamic hitter, but is always under rather than on top of the ball. She always contacts it  next to her ear rather than above her head.

Finally, if you know any resources online or otherwise that are easy to consult in situations where you're trying to overcome specific problems like these, it would be very helpful.

Thanks in advance for any wisdom you can pass along.

Hey Melissa!

It's great to hear from you. Thank you for being patient with me.  

In my ebooks, there is a long article where I address the problem of the player who isn't serving overhand.  Here's a short version!  :)
a) Not every athlete can perform every skill.  For example, I've had a number of players who have not been able to pick up setting.  It baffles them how other girls can set, while they struggle.  
b) Now to serving:  Angie graduated in 1994.  She turned 19 while she was playing on our team her senior year.  And she served UNDERHAND her entire career.  And she served every night from against the wall.  She had a brutally low floater.   It still makes me smile.  For some girls, that's the way it is.
c) But, for a 15, we don't want to say she's destined for Angieness quite yet.   :)   So, we focus on the following:
- She probably has a slow arm swing.  To her, it feels like she's swinging very hard.  But compared to others, she's swinging at about 70% speed.  So....she obviously has to swing faster.  Throwing footballs may help.  Maybe 30 a day.  As often as she can (without hurting herself)!  
- Yes, it may  have to do with timing, but the timing issues has been caused by the inability to serve.  In other words, most girls who are 15 and have been trying to overhand serve for years only have timing issue BECAUSE of their frustration.  The sequence of events are:  They aren't serving as well as their friends, so they are constantly adjusting/trying/altering in their hope of finding the "golden technique" that will cure their problem.
- What I would do in this order: (1) I'd add more steps onto her serve.  I call it "The Stroll".  If that doesn't work; (2) I'd have her prepare her serving arm MUCH earlier/better/further back.  No wiggles, no "double-clutching," no hand flick, etc.  If that doesn't work; (3) More abs.  
OK, those are my tricks to help girls serve harder/further.  If these don't help, then we say, "Keep playing, keep trying, keep throwing footballs, keep playing other sports....and keep the heart beating b/c soon you'll be 16 then 17, and 99% of girls are serving by that time.   

Hitting is a MUCH more complex skill than serving.  
a) We start off by requiring girls master the 3-step spike approach. (Yes, some coaches are 4-step proponents, but that just makes the skill even harder to learn. Do we really want to make it harder on her?)   So, first, if your player's spike approach isn't identical to what you saw the women perform at the Olympics, then that needs to be fixed.....or she will never ever never reach her potential. No need in setting her, no need in trying to fix anything else.  Her spike approach is right, or no other drill is performed.  
b) Assuming (a) is accomplished, then I recommend you perform the "short toss" drill so that she gets the feel of where she should be contacting the ball.  You can see me short-tossing here:
c) Assuming the spike approach is being done correctly AND during short-toss, does she perform her spike approach correctly WHEN there's a ball set to her?  If not, then that must occur before we worry about the issues that you mentioned. And if she's not maintaining her spike approach when a ball is set, then it's back to short-toss, back to practicing it at home, at school, etc. until it's mastered.  
d) Want to know how complex hitting is?  OK NOW.....with a spike approach that's mastered, the girl must (1) start her approach at the right time AND (2) her approach must lead her to a spot behind where the ball is going to land.  VERY difficult, but 100% required if she is to reach her potential.  I don't remember working with ANY girl ever who has mastered all of this at 13 years old.  Most girls have mastered most of it by 15, but will still make misjudgements occasionally.   By the time their 17 (and with enough correctly executed reps), they have mastered it!   
A few things!
- If she hits the ball at her ear, then she's late.  If she were earlier, the ball would be higher. :)  So, do not tell girls to "Reach higher!" b/c they can't UNLESS they get to the ball earlier.  Therefore, the correct instructions are "Get to the ball earlier!"  
- The ball getting behind her is harder to fix b/c her brain is judging where her body should travel to hit the ball, and her legs are following the brain's instructions.  I compare this to a girl catching fly balls in the outfield.  The younger girls will watch as a large % of the balls sail over their head; in other words, they are misjudging the flight of the ball.  But, as she gets older, this happens less and less and less, until it's a once-a-month occurrence.  My recommendation:  give her sets or tosses that she must take her spike approach to, but she WILL NOT hit the ball.  I want each set/toss to vary slightly in height and location, which forces her brain to adjust the speed and destination of each approach.  NO, don't let her hit any of these, b/c then she won't be concentrating on what HAS to be fixed.  She must:
*complete her spike approach correctly (or it's back to short toss), then;
*jump up and catch the ball with 2 hands;
*HIGH above her head AND;
*with the ball in front of her.  
Allow her to hit some balls whenever you believe she's ready....however, remind her:  "You hitting the ball 60 mph IS NOT important.  Our job today, this week, this month is to improve your spiking ability. B/c without that, your 60mph hit is useless to us and the team. Deal? The more patient you are with this, the more likely we'll have this in better shape in a few weeks/months.  The more impatient you are, the more likely you will continue to battle these issues for the rest of your vball career....which, as you compete vs. other girls who -- for some reason -- don't have these issues, it will certainly affect your playing time! And how humiliating will it be if those girls who play ahead of you are less athletic, younger, shorter, etc!! (And Coach Houser has seen this hundreds of time!)  So let's stay patient, and work on this together!"  

So, how's it supposed to look?  :)   Check out the Jenny video here!   In the video, Jenny is trying to master the sharp-cross shot, but what you want to show your players is that:
* her 3-step spike approach is a beautiful habit...she's not even thinking about it.  
* Also, she reaches VERY well (she reached very well even as a 9th grader) and;
* the ball is in front of her.  

You probably have some questions now.  If so, please contact me anytime here or at  

OK, for all this typing, would you do a favor for me?  :)  Please visit us at  We already have 8 site camps scheduled for this summer!  And we can direct several more.  Please let me know if my staff and I can help you!   

Coach Houser  


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Tom Houser


I can answer any type of volleyball question: middle school, high school, college, club, coaching, playing, etc. (I am not, however, a athletic trainer! If you have a knee, ankle, back, etc. question, I'm sorry, but please search for another expert.)

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