Passing is a simple action that requires a confident mentality, a keen eye and a stable platform. The most basic action in volleyball is far too often over analyzed. It can be broken down to be more efficient but it’s so simple that not much needs to happen after a platform is established.
The best passer I have ever seen play is UCLA’s Tony Ker. The four time All-American and NCAA National Champion has a solid platform and the ability to read the play faster than any other player I’ve seen. His take on passing is extremely simple and efficient, “the ball only knows one message and that’s the message your arms send it.”
So, let’s break down a serve reception. The server will most probably start 5’ (1.52m) behind the end line and you will be in serve receive at around 15’ (4.57m). Between the time the ball leaves the server’s hand to your awesome platform, the ball will have traveled 50’ (15.2m). That is 50’ (15.2m) of a passer already knowing where the ball will travel.
As a passer, you have already determined where that ball is going to go but you have to take into consideration the different factors of getting that ball there. Have you read the server’s arm correctly? Is your platform solid? Is your shoulder to the target? Have you and your teammate communicated who has which seam? All servers have tendencies and habits which should be noticed within the first couple of serves. A float server will usually step towards their target and reading a jump server is like reading a hitter.
Top spin serves are the easiest to pass because we already know that the ball will travel in a more direct route. They are predictable and dictate where they will land. Think of a top spin serve like a baseball curveball – it is traveling at a higher rate of speed and breaking wind due to the Magnus Effect (See video: http://physicsbuzz.physicscentral.com/2012/06/perfect-free-kick-and-magnus-effect.html). These serves are high-risk, high-reward and have a higher rate of error than the float serve. Passing these perfectly and in control is incumbent upon how well your platform is dictating that ball where to go. Let the ball do the work once your platform is established.
The aforementioned float serve can be just as difficult to pass in reception. A floater is more accurate and can be a server’s best weapon. Again with the baseball analogies, but think of it as a knuckle ball – location vicinity is precise, but it can drop and do funny things without spinning. Passing these can be tricky but just as easy as the top spin with patience and knowledge. Reception of a floater requires more concentration – watch the server’s eyes before they go into their pre-serve routine, focus on where they are looking while serving, see their arm and footwork while in their motion, etc. Once that ball has left the server’s hand, the passer should know exactly where the ball is going due to previous serves.
I love passing and see it as an art form. Each time one of my players passes a 3, I’m ready to see my setter run her offense and the hitters crush the ball. It also takes an extremely confident mindset and drive to pass a perfect ball. Next time you’re in serve receive just know that you’re an awesome passer and the person serving isn’t anything spectacular.