Serve a Volleyball Overhand

Volleyball serving is one of the most fundamental skills in volleyball. Anyone can do it—you don’t have to be tall or unusually strong. All you have to do is practice. And you’re in luck, because it is the one skill in volleyball you can practice by yourself. Just find a court, get a bucket of balls and keep serving.

If you can master the art of the volleyball serve and keep your opponents off balance, they won’t be able to make a perfect pass. If they can’t make a perfect pass, they will likely not get a perfect set. If they can’t get a perfect set, they will have trouble putting the ball away and your blockers will be able to set up on their hitter early since it will be obvious where the ball is going. But it all starts with the serve.

The following instructions are for a right-handed server. Lefties should do the opposite.

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The Toss

A woman holds a volleyball in preparation to serve it

Get in position by standing behind the end line with your left foot and hip slightly ahead of your right. Point your front foot forward and position your back foot pointing slightly to the right to keep you balanced.

Arm Position

  • Place the ball in the palm of your left hand. Your left palm should be facing up.
  • Place your right hand on top of the ball. Your right palm should be facing down.
  • Hold your arms out towards the court with a slight bend in your elbows for comfort and your left shoulder slightly in front of your right just like your feet and your hips.
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Starting Position

A woman prepares to toss a volleyball for a serve

Draw your right elbow straight back with your palm still facing down until your thumb is in line with your ear. If you are in the correct position, your thumb should only be a couple inches to the right of your ear and your forearm should be parallel to the floor.

Form and Process

  • Lower your left hand slightly and push the ball up in the air. The ball should come off your palm with no spin. Do not let it roll off of your fingers.
  • Toss the ball about two feet above your head directly in line with your right arm. If you let your toss drop, it should land about a foot in front of you on your right side. You will be taking a step forward with your left foot as you serve, so it is important that your toss be just in front of you, not behind or too far in front so that you have to chase it.
  • Practice your toss repeatedly so that you can do it the same way every time. If you make a bad toss, just let it drop. It is legal in volleyball to do so, and you’ll get a second chance to get it right. But make sure your second toss is good because you will have to serve this one.
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Serving Motion

A woman serves a volleyball

Unlike when you are hitting, you do not need to contact the ball at the top of your reach and swing in a downward motion. You need the ball to travel 30 feet forward just to get to the net. To hit the back line it needs to travel 60 feet. Contact the ball with a slightly bent elbow and put enough power behind it to get it up and over the net but inside the lines.

Serving the Ball

  • As you toss the ball with your left hand, bring your right hand up and back so that your palm is now facing the net and your forearm is perpendicular to the floor.
  • Step straight forward with your left foot and as you swing your arm, bring your hips around until they are square to the net to get a little more power.
  • Keep your eye on the ball and strike it just above and in front of your head with the palm of your hand. When you contact the ball make sure to spread your fingers, keep your hand and wrist stiff and strike the middle of the back of the ball solidly.
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Diagram of the volleyball court

Once you can consistently get the ball over the net and into the court, it is time to work on your placement. A good server can control exactly where the ball lands.

Service Areas

There are six numbered service areas on the court. Your coach or your team may want you to serve to a certain person if they are a weak passer or if you want to slow a player down to make them less available to hit the ball on the third contact. The service areas split the court in to six sections starting with area one in deep left and are numbered counter clockwise. Some coaches may number the areas clockwise, but counter clockwise is the most common.

Deep and Short Serves

Deep serves land in the back half of the court in areas 1, 5, and 6. Short serves, on the other hand, land in the front half of the court in areas 2, 3, and 4.

Short serves are the most difficult to handle if they land in front of the 10-foot or three meter line. In order to do that you will need to take some power off the ball and get more of an arc on your serve than if you are aiming deep. A good deep serve clears the net by a couple of feet or less and lands near the back line.