The Underhand Serve in Volleyball

Woman serving underhand
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An underhand serve is a type of serve in which the player holds the ball in one hand, swings the other in an arc motion below the waist and strikes the ball from the bottom with a fist to put it in play. In an underhand serve, the player does not toss the ball up in the air, as in other serve attempts. Instead, the server holds onto the ball and strikes it below their waist with a closed fist.

Underhand serves are often much easier to receive and hit compared to other serve styles, and thus are rarely employed in high level volleyball competition. An underhand serve does not generate the same type of power as an overhand or jump serve, and are often not as accurate. Although the serve is technically legal in high level competition, its’ use is rare.

Underhand serves are often utilized in youth leagues, and as players are initially learning to play the game, as they are relatively easy to complete and return.

Other Serve Styles

Outside of the rather rare underhand serve, there are three other main types of serves utilized in volleyball:

Floater Serve

float serve, also known as a floater, is a serve that does not spin at all. It is called referred to as a floater because it moves in extremely unpredictable ways, which makes it difficult to receive, corral, and pass. A float serve catches the air and can move unexpectedly to the right or the left or it can drop suddenly.

Topspin Serve

topspin serve does exactly what its name implies – spins rapidly forward from the top. The server tosses the ball a little higher than normal, strikes the ball towards the top of the back in a down and outward motion and then follows through with his or her swing.

The topspin serve has a much more predictable movement than the floater serve, but it can still be very difficult to handle because of the quick speed that is generated. 

Jump Serve

The third common type of volleyball serve is the jump serve. The jump serve utilizes an even higher toss than the topspin serve, and that toss should be several feet in front of the server. In a jump serve, the server utilizes more of an attack approach, jumping and striking the ball in the air. The extra motion generated allows the server to put additional power on the ball and this can make the serve very difficult to handle for the receiving team.

The drawback to a jump serve is that all that all of the extra motion utilized in the serve process can lead to a higher incidence of serving errors. Jump serves are at times difficult to control for the server, and can also work to tire the server out.

Typically, jump serves have a degree of topspin on them, but it is also possible to jump serve a floater with no spin at all.