Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Serving Methods in Beach Volleyball According to Time in the Game

In the sport of beach volleyball the choice of which opposing player to serve is a highly strategic consideration for teams at all levels of competition.  In most beach offenses the player receiving serve will also be the team's primary attacker, so the serving team can use its serve to dictate (or at least heavily influence) the opponent's offense.  Serve choice may turn on the receiving player's perceived offensive skills, her partner's setting ability or by other conditions such as wind direction or sun location - and the choice may be revisited several times throughout a game.  As the choice of who to serve is the first opportunity to expose an opponent's weakness, it properly occupies a high strategic priority for competitive beach volleyball teams. 

Serving Methods

A separate but related question involves not who to serve but what type of serve should be utilized.  The predominant serves in beach volleyball right now are the standing float serve, the jump float serve[1] and the jump spin serve.  Game planning a match requires some consideration of which of these serves to use, which in turn requires players and coaches to agree on some principles for making this decision.

Researchers in Spain have recently continued a growing trend toward studying the serve in beach volleyball and in a paper published in the Journal of Human Sport & Exercise,[2] concluded that that fatigue and risk management dictate how beach volleyball athletes choose their methods of serving early and late in competition.  The study was limited to the professional men's game so its application to the women's beach game - where jump spin serving is less prevalent, and to other levels of play, awaits further study and experience.

Participants & Procedures

Participants in the study were ten professional male beach volleyball players comprising five teams competing in the 2005 European Beach Volleyball Championship.  Researchers recorded each serve according to type of serve and time in the match.  Serve types recognized were the standing float serve (SF), the jump float serve (JF) and the jump spin serve (JS).  Games were divided into three periods:  Period 1 (points 1-7); Period 2 (points 8-14) and Period 3 (points 15-21).  A total of 327 serves were recorded and the Chi-square test confirmed the significance of the data within a margin of five percent error.


For all periods, the researchers found that overall the standing float serve was used 11.6%, the jump float serve used 26.0% and the jump serve used 62.4 %.  Examining the results by period in the game, there were significant differences in player's service methods from early to late in the game with lower risk serving generally becoming more predominant as games progressed toward the final period.

As indicated in Tables 1-3, the jump float serve increased from only 4.0% frequency during the early period of games to 49.4% in the latest period.  The higher risk jump spin serve with more velocity and an error rate of 17% was utilized with less and less frequency as the game progressed into later periods.  The jump spin serve decreased from a high of 89.7 % in the first period to 27.3% in the final period.

TABLE 1 (Service Methods by % for Points 1-7)

6.3% - Standing Float
4.0% - Jump Float
89.7% - Jump Spin

TABLE 2 (Service Methods by % for Points 8-14)

9.7% - Standing Float
33.9% - Jump Float
56.5% - Jump Spin

TABLE 3 (Service Methods by % for Points 15-21)

23.4% - Standing Float
49.4% - Jump Float
27.3% - Jump Spin


According to the authors, the data suggest that players' choice of serve was driven by a risk analysis favoring more balls in play late in the game.  Fatigue was also cited as a factor.  As players fatigued and the risk of error associated with the jump spin serve was perceived as more costly late in the game, players became more risk averse and served more conservatively.   

Coaching Implications

So what does this contribute to our knowledge of the game and how we coach our beach athletes?  For this coach, the topic of study alone is a reminder that match preparation should involve principled decisions about our strategic choices and methods we employ in the game.  While players commonly consider the question of who to serve, the related strategy of which type of serve to use is given far less consideration.

So let's begin by at least considering the question and identifying some factors relevant to making a principled decision.  The present study identified cost/benefit and fatigue as two prominent reasons for players' choice of serving methods.  Other reasons for the decision undoubtedly could include (1) skill in one serve but not in another; (2) confidence in one or another serve; (3) opponent's inability to receive one or another serve; (4) strategic fatigue for a primary blocker; and (5) wind direction suggesting one method over another.  This list is far from exhaustive and coaches should continue to work with their athletes to identify other factors that may be relevant for their levels of play.  As we grow our athletes' knowledge of the game they will become better positioned to make their own informed decisions about how best to serve in a game, when and why.


[1]  We do not distinguish here between the jump float serve with an approach and the jump float serve without an approach. 

[2] Jimenez-Olmedo, J.M., Penichet-Tomas, A., Saiz-Colomina, S., Martinez-Carbonell, J.A., Jove-Tossi, M.A. (2012), Serve analysis of professional players in beach volleyball.  Journal of Human Sport & Exercise, 7:3, 706-713.