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Mastering the volleyball pass is crucial if you want to get better at playing beach volleyball. As you know, there are two types of passes in volleyball: the forearm pass (also known as the underhand pass or the bump) and the overhead pass (great for indoor volleyball players but nearly useless for beach volleyball).
Since we’re talking about serve receive for beach volleyball, this guide will focus on the forearm pass. If you play indoor volleyball, the concepts still 100% apply to you, but you have an extra weapon: your hands!
Beach volleyball players should only use their forearm passing platforms for serve receive (if you'd like to try otherwise, allow the ref to inform you why that's not encouraged). We do, however, encourage indoor volleyball players to utilize hand passing in addition to the lessons here.
Here’s everything you’ll learn in this serve receive for beach volleyball positioning guide
This guide is specific for beach volleyball players, where there are only two players on each side of the court, but the same principles can be applied to playing volleyball in general.
In beach volleyball serve reception, both players should stand in the back fourth of the volleyball court -- three or four feet from the end line. After the proper depth, both players position themselves in the middle of their half of the court.
This leaves our players standing about 20 feet from the net and 6 feet from each sideline.
We stand in the deeper part of the court for multiple reasons.
First, our natural height blocks balls from passing our bodies. Even if we were to stand at half court, it would take a high, arching ball to pass our bodies untouched.
Most serves (and attacks) will have a flatter trajectory so when we stand at that three-quarter-court depth, the majority of volleyball serves will cross the area from our shins to our shoulders, which is our passing sweet spot.
We also stand deeper in the court and side by side because we are naturally faster moving forward than we are moving backwards.
On the volleyball court, we can leave more space in front of us because we can get to a short ball faster than we can to a ball that would force us to move sideways or backwards.
There are multiple ways of divvying up responsibilities on the volleyball court.
In general, both players are responsible for their halves. There is no front and back in serve receive for beach volleyball. Both players are responsible for short and deep as they play side by side.
The number one problem partners need to talk about every play is who is responsible for the middle of the court. When the server serves between the two players, problems arise and arguments occur. It is vital to have a discussion about this area before every single serve with a simple, “your middle” or “my middle.” But how do we know who should take the middle of the court when playing beach volleyball?
The first and most common solution is based on where the server is standing. This method assumes that there is no side wind and both players are equally skilled in serve-receive, setting and attacking.
If we are facing the net and the server is closer to our left hand sideline, our right side player should call “My Middle” and is therefore responsible for serves that cross the receivers directly in the middle.
If the server is closer to the sideline on our right hand side, our left side player should call “My Middle” and is therefore responsible for serves that cross the receivers directly in the middle.
This is not a perfect system. Sometimes the ball will cross one player’s face but end up landing on the other player’s half of the court.
In beach volleyball, middle serves (or seam serves for the indoor volleyball players) can cause a lot of problems for the sideout team. It’s best practice to keep the mentality of “We are BOTH going for the middle ball.”
If you are going to choose the lesser of two evils, it’s better to have two players colliding and getting a touch with the chance of keeping the play alive instead of separating and letting a serve hit the sand clean. Once we’ve made the decision to be aggressive in the middle, we can move to the next level.
If the server is standing directly in the middle, the middle call should be based on a judgement of who on our team is the stronger complete sideout player.
Regardless of who calls for the responsibility before the serve, it’s important for both receivers to communicate when the serve is in-flight.
That last second communication can cue someone to act on the ball if they initially thought their partner was going to take it. “YOU!” and “MINE!” are equally important calls. Both players should keep talking throughout the flight of the ball.
The reason it’s easier for the diagonal receiver to take the middle serves is because when they step laterally, they can also slightly drop their inside foot and create more space, which equates to more time and leads to a better pass in the middle of the volleyball court.
If the parallel player takes the middle, they would have to step and contact the ball closer to the net and cut if off earlier. In general, when you have more space and more time, it leads to a better touch on the first ball.
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The second method requires both an ego check, and if you dig really deep, a statistical analysis.
First, we need to make clear that if one player is taller, stronger or even a better hitter, that does not equate to a better side out (scoring) percentage in serve-receive for the team.
Player 1 can be a statistically better passer and a statistically better attacker, but every team is different, and over time, statistics can tell us if we are better when one person receives and attacks. Maybe Player 2 isn’t a great setter. Maybe they are a good setter but the connection between the players just isn’t there. So many details go into figuring out the best solution for your team and it’s best to keep your ego out of it.
If you pay attention to passing and spiking statistics for your beach volleyball team, then you have the option of considering a different method for assigning middle responsibility.
We obviously want to know in which situations our team succeeds most and if that means we sideout better when one player takes the first ball, teams should consider giving more court responsibility to that player.
Play to your point winning statistics, and not just the individual skills. Sometimes, they match up in an obvious way but not always.
The final consideration for who should take the middle ball has to do with wind direction. The wind causes an environment of directional advantages.
When we hit into the wind, if we use topspin, we can hit harder and the ball drops to the ground faster. When a volleyball is pushed into the wind, it moves more. If there is no spin, as in the case with setting, the ball can move in an unpredictable pattern.
It is easier for hitters if sets travel with the wind because wind currents don’t play with its path.
Long story short, it is easier to be accurate when setting with the wind, it is easier to hit a ball that has been set with the wind and hitters can be more lethal when hitting into the wind. With all these things in mind, if we are facing the net in serve receive and the wind is coming from our left hand side, our team will be more effective when our sets travel right and our hitters can attack left.
Another way of saying this is that when the wind is on our left side, the “good side” is the right side.
We want to pass and attack from the right. If we apply this to serve receive responsibilities, with all other things being equal, when the wind is coming from our left, we have an advantage if our right side player receives the serve. It would be advantageous for that person to pass those middle balls. The reverse applies when the wind is coming from the other direction.
When there is heavy side wind, most knowledgeable players will set themselves up to serve into the wind. In heavy wind situations, receivers are quite vulnerable on the side the wind is coming from. If the wind is coming from the right, we don’t like to serve receive or play defense on the right side.
Again, the ball drops faster (if there is topspin) and moves more if there is a float (no spin) on the ball. It’s very difficult to chase a ball that is accelerating past you, so if the wind is on our left and the server is on our right, our team should shift left and angle our bodies towards the server.
Since players have to hit the volleyball softer when aiming with the wind, we will have more time to move to the ball if they serve our right sideline. It is best practice to shift one step to the left and defend the half of the court where the wind is coming from. In summary, it is best practice to place both receivers closer to where the wind is coming from.
When there is wind blowing towards our faces or coming from the opposite side of the net, the ball will carry a bit longer off of our opponents’ contact.
We are in our best attack position when the setter is in the front third of the court.
We should reposition ourselves to stand in farther from the net so that we can stay behind the ball and PUSH it forward. Even the short serves will carry deeper than normal and hang in the air so don’t worry about being vulnerable there.
It’s better to stay far behind the ball so the receivers have the ability to really press the ball back into the wind. In summary, when the wind is blowing from the opposite side of the court, position your serve receive further away from the net.
In general, when the wind is at our back, we are considered to be on the “Bad Side” of the court. Float serves from the other team will move like crazy and topspin balls will dive down at the last second. I’ve always found it easier to step up closer to the net, sit extra low and keep my arms far in front of me.
This is a great way to get a good touch on a topspin serve. Since the ball is going to drop more vertically at the end of its flight, we can wait under it with a platform angle that is facing upward.
The wind from our back will carry the ball to the front of the court for us. If our angle is facing in the normal angle forward, the wind will add to the speed of the ball going forward and carry it tight to the net or worse onto the other side of the court.
In high winds, it takes an immense amount of strength to hit a topspin ball into the wind and to the back third of the court. In general we don’t have to worry about that shot.
In summary, when the wind is at your back, move closer to the net.
The importance of the “Athletic Position” in beach volleyball is wholly and completely understated.
Your foot position, knee bend, glute and core activation combined with your hand and arm position all play massive roles in your ability to initiate movement and get to the ball efficiently so that you can make a clean, smooth contact.
In other words, you need to be in the athletic position in order to make the perfect pass. You can take all the lessons and to all of the drills in the world that teach you how to pass a volleyball but if your posture fails you, you’ll never reach your max potential.
To assume the athletic position for volleyball, place your feet JUST outside shoulder width. Too wide or too narrow and your balance and quickness will be dramatically decreased. Once you have your width set, bend your knees and push your butt back. You should be able to lean on your knees. This should put you in a quarter squat. Starting in another position will cause a slow initiation of movement.
Your core should also be engaged. This is a difficult concept to comprehend and master without elite coaching but if your spine isn’t rigid, your torso will wave when you move. This means that your lower body will move and it will take some time for your upper body to catch up and stabilize.
If your core is not activated and rigid, you will be slow. A slow volleyball player is an unsuccessful one.
Finally, lock your elbows straight and keep your hands down. This should lead to one, efficient movement to the appropriate angle when passing. If your hands start out wide, or too far up, you will have to bring them together and down and then into the angle you need.
Start with your hands close together and down, with your elbows locked. It will feel robotic at first but it will lead to efficiency of movement.
Now that you’ve mastered the basic serve receive positions in beach volleyball, it’s now time to learn about making the perfect pass—how you can pass the ball to your setter so you can launch your attack.
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