One element of game time that we often struggle to replicate in practice is PRESSURE. The pressure to get the first serve of the game in, the pressure to make the serve after a teammate has missed, and especially the pressure of serving accurately and aggressively on game point! Few "punishments" can mimic the feeling of having all eyes on you and the pressure you feel to get the ball in. Likewise, few punishments actually feel as bad as missing during a critical time in the match.
This is where we harness the power of peer pressure.
Sure, we're all taught that peer pressure is bad, and it seems wrong to "manipulate" our team so that they are pressuring one another to make their serves in. But let me tell you, there are only a few ways to recreate how it feels to serve in a game, and this is one of them!
Description: Team Serving Challenge
The Team Serving Challenge is a timed drill which requires the entire team to serve accurately to different zones on the court. The zones increase in level of difficulty, resulting in a tougher challenge as the drill progresses. Additionally, while the difficulty is increasing, the time is also running out. Ultimately, players will work through different serving challenges, as well as strategize together and support one another until the time expires.
All players should grab one ball and stand single-file behind the service line. The players MUST remain in this order for the entire drill. The coach should set a timer for a predetermined time (I usually use 8 minutes for my 14u club teams during the middle of the season). If coaches will be using cones to clearly mark service zones/goals, those should be laid out at this time on BOTH sides of the court. If a coach has a whiteboard, they should also write down the order of service challenges and the total time. As the team moves through these challenges, coaches can place check marks as a visual reward and signifier of progress in the drill.
Possible Service Challenges
You want to go from easiest to most challenging. With 14u I typically use these four challenges in this order:
READ MORE: Fix a Volleyball Serve in 4 Steps
To show this, I will lay out cones running through the middle of the court, and put out cones showing the back 10' of the court. For older teams or more advanced teams, you can mark zones 1 and 2 only as cross-court, and 5 and 4 only as line, but my teams are usually at a level where that would be impossible for the entire team to achieve. I make adjustments so I know everyone can be successful while still facing challenges.
Additional challenges you could add:
Serve short (inside 10' line)
Serve to specific zones (6 might be easiest to start with, 1 and 5 would be next, and then all front row zones would be the most challenging)
Float serve in
Inside the 3-point line (if you are on a volleyball/basketball court combo)
Remember, if you're using cones to mark these off, you need to set up cones on BOTH sides of the net. I have found that 12 cones can outline zones on each side, but if you have less you can place them in the center of each zone or move cones after the challenge changes. Or use your imagination :)
Run the Drill
Once a player makes the correct serve in, they will run to the other side of the net and wait in line for their turn to serve again (remember, they serve in the same order). In order to pass a round of challenges, all players must make that specific serve in. So what happens if a player misses their serve? Everyone who is left behind them must run to the opposite side of the net and pick up where they left off.
Kara, Mary, Lisa, and Jessica are the servers. Kara and Mary both make their serves over and in (the first challenge). Lisa, however, serves into the net. Jessica must now run to the opposite side of the net before she serves. Jessica serves successfully over and in (and shags her ball and runs to the opposite side to wait for her team), and Kara and Mary both successfully serve over and in again. Jessica, Kara, and Mary are now all waiting for Lisa to get her serve over and in before they can move on to the next challenge. Lisa takes her time and makes her serve over. Now, the team can move on to the next challenge, with Jessica starting them off (they stay in order so everyone serves the same number of serves).
This can be a tough drill to run because players who miss will feel bad that they let their team down. I've had teams where two or three servers in a row will miss their serve, and the entire team is running back and forth getting frustrated with each other. This means you're doing it right!
Obviously, yes, this is a serving drill and we're working on our serving accuracy, but this drill works on teambuilding, problem-solving, allows players to step up and support each other, and lets leaders shine.
READ MORE: Serving Around the World Drill Diagram
Players will be tired from running so often, and will feel pressure from their teammates to make tougher and tougher serves under a time crunch.
Am I cruel? Maybe...
Your players may start to get visibly (and audibly) frustrated with each other. Let this go for about a minute or two, and most likely a teammate will step up and start sharing wisdom like, "just take your time guys, we've got this," and "it's ok, we'll make this one." Once one player steps up, the rest of the players will start to say the same things. It's a beautiful thing when you see this happen in practice.
So what happens if your team is different and they start yelling at each other? Often times, this means your players haven't been on a team where supporting each other was taught. This is a SKILL and does not come naturally to everyone. If your players are not able to self-correct, call a timeout and bring them in. You'll want to coach them through proper behavior to get through the drill.
Tips you can give them are:
Take your time to serve. Even under high-pressure situations, you need to get yourself set and think clearly about what your objective is.
Drown out the distractions around you. Focus on your one goal and nothing else.
If you miss and get down on yourself, the chances of you making the next serve are only going to go down. Focus on the next ball and forget the mistake.
If you are making all of your serves, comments like, "come on, just get it in!" are not helpful to your teammates. Everyone needs to feel supported and valued to perform at their best.
To encourage each other, say things like, "Come on Jess, you can do it!" and "it's ok, we'll get the next one!"
If something goes wrong, don't show it with body language. Just grab your ball, run to the other side, and prepare for your serve.
You can only control yourself, but your actions influence others.
If you're running this drill for the first time, you may want to consider giving your team 3-4 challenges and timing them, instead of giving them a set time. This will help you establish a baseline and help you set a goal time the next time you run the drill. Again, you do not want to make the task so challenging that the team cannot achieve it, so doing a test run first might be the best option. The second time you run this drill (at another practice) you can either give a time or just challenge your team to beat their previous record.
You could also give your team a list of 6-8 challenge levels to beat, and see how many they can get through in a set time. Maybe you give them 10 minutes and the first time they run it they get to level 5. Then at your next practice the get to level 6... Do this if you plan to run the drill at 4-5 practices so you can track growth.
Tips and Suggestions
Because this drill can challenge a team mentally, I would suggest waiting until your team has had a month or two to bond (if club season) or a few weeks into a school season. This means your team will come into the drill with roles established and bonds formed already. If you jump into this too early in the season, you might create a divide between players rather than bring them together.
Yes, the drill is based on serving accuracy. But the biggest gain comes in the form of team bonding. Good luck!