There has always been a debate about whether to just get the ball in, or serve it hard and take the errors that come with it. Back in middle school, everyone would make fun of the guy who would try to do jump serves every time while never actually getting anything in. Somewhere along the way to the collegiate and professional levels, the mentality on serving changes to be quite the opposite. But maybe it shouldn’t. Maybe underhand serving is getting a bad rap.
According to our heat maps, it looks like underhand serving actually causes the opposing teams to have a far lower kill percentage off of the serves. In fact, 80% of underhand serves force worse passing than overhand serves to the same location. The only location on the underhand serve map that indicates a poor serve location is near the end line (red on the heat map indicates a poor serving location). When we looked at the data further we found some very interesting statistics. In the table below, you can see how underhand serving is a much more effective way to serve. Underhand serving is able to be served in play more than 99% of the time while still forcing much poorer passes than overhand serves do. The first three columns grade the passing off of the specific serve. A high score indicates a better pass and worse serve. The next three columns list the probability of serving the specific serve in play. It seems to be very clear that almost every team would benefit by adopting an underhand serving strategy.
This still seemed strange to us, as it was completely counter-intuitive. We took a poll of 300 collegiate volleyball players and asked them how they felt about facing a team that implements underhand serves on a regular basis. The results were quite telling. We received no intermediate votes. None! In fact, all of the votes seemed to be fairly balanced between severe optimism and downright fear. Maybe this plays into how people pass on underhand serves. If players are either too confident or too timid, their technique may falter when facing the underhand serve. Now, someone may argue that once everyone starts using underhanded techniques, people will become accustomed to passing underhanded serves. This may be the case, but for now, we can heartily recommend that teams begin to adapt to the changing landscape of volleyball before everyone else does, in order to take advantage of these findings.
If you don’t think it is a good idea to use underhand serves, you’re right, because almost all of this post is for April Fools Day. But here is a video to show that underhand serving can be an effective tool, even at the Olympic level. Even Kerri Walsh, The Queen of Beach, implements the underhand serve effectively.