Volleyball Serve Receive Series Chapter 2: The Forearm Pass


If you're interested in this blog on beach volleyball serve receive and passing, you may want to take a look at our passing and serve receive course! And, now that the beaches are open again, we'd love to have you drop by one -- or more -- of our beach volleyball classes in Hermosa Beach, Manhattan Beach, Redondo Beach, or anywhere in the South Bay!

Learning the keys to serve receive for beach volleyball or indoor volleyball is a crucial process if you want to get better and win more matches and tournaments. In the previous chapter, you learned everything about positioning. In this chapter, we'll cover the actual volleyball pass. You may have searched something like "how to bump a volleyball" to get here. It's ok to use the word "bump" if you're a beginner, but you'll soon learn that when more experienced volleyball players talk about bumping a volleyball, we will say "pass" or "forearm pass". 

As you might know, there are two types of passes in indoor volleyball: the forearm pass and the overhead pass. For beach volleyball players specifically, the rules prevent us from using our fingers to receive serves. It's not illegal -- it's just incredibly difficult to do without getting called for a double.

Beach volleyball players can always use a tomahawk to play high balls but it's not as efficient as the platform. Since we're talking about serve receive, this guide will focus on the forearm pass.

This guide will help you improve passing in volleyball:

  1. Eyes: where to look at and what to look for
  2. Pre-Serve Receive Routine
  3. The Perfect Platform

This guide is specific for beach volleyball players who want to learn how to serve receive better. In sand volleyball, there are only two players on each side of the court, but if you're an indoor volleyball player, don't leave :)

The same principles can be applied to playing volleyball inside and out.

Eyes: Where we're looking, what we're looking for

Before discussing anything about the actual pass, we should discuss what we need to look for first.

1. Step / Jump Direction

Your eyes are your first weapon in getting to the ball quickly. Most servers face where they are about to serve, so the first thing we need to look at is what direction the server is stepping or jumping into.

That will be the direction of their most powerful and lethal serve. Anything off of that line will be slower, less accurate and less consistent for the server.

2. Toss Position

The next thing we are looking for is the position of their toss in relation to their shoulders. Here are a few examples of how you can track the ball.

  • If a right-handed float server tosses a ball far outside their right shoulder, they will serve to their right most often.
  • However, if a jump server throws a ball too far to their right side, they will almost always try to hook that ball back across their body to their left side.
  • If a server tosses a ball over their left shoulder and behind their body so that they have to lean back, they will try to hit the ball back to their right side.
  • If they throw over their left shoulder and in front of their body, you can be assured that the ball will travel low and fast off of their left side.

3. Impact Direction

After the toss position registers, it’s time to look at the impact window. 

A good receiver should find the window where the hand is going to strike the ball. Watching only the hand or only the ball will not be as effective as seeing the relationship between them inside that impact window. 

In order to receive the serve properly and pass the ball to the setter, you have to train your eyes to find the impact window. Here’s an example:

Wherever the server’s hand contacts the ball (bottom, top, left, right) the flight of the ball will carry opposite to the impact spot. For example, if the server is going to strike the bottom of the ball, the ball will travel up.

This will help you get to the position faster and/or adjust your platform.

4. Spin and Trajectory

Last, you need to pick up the spin and trajectory. Here’s why that’s important:

  • Topspin serves can be hit faster and will drop more steeply at the end of their flight.
  • Float serves with no spin will carry and dance in the air.
  • Corner or side spin balls will curve and bend.
  • If a ball has any backspin it will carry up and hang in the air.

No matter what spin is on the ball, keep your eyes focused directly on the bottom middle through its entire flight.

Pre-Serve Receive Routine

Most of the world’s best players make sure to focus on the ball and cue themselves into the point several seconds before the whistle blows.

This is mainly to get your mind and body prepared to play the point. Starting a beach volleyball point the right way requires an intense focus and a consistent internal (mental, emotional) environment.

We shouldn’t be thinking about the last point or external factors like fans, results and conversation still carrying on between you and your teammate.

Most players have heard that they should have a pre-serve routine. This is a series of actions and words (audible or inaudible) that create a consistent internal environment before the serve.

This also applies to serve receive. 

Find a physical, verbal and mental rhythm that you can establish before the start of every point. This will ultimately lead to more consistency in your actions and to better results.

Below are a few points to help you with your serve receive routine.

  • Find your posture.
  • Find your physical routine.
  • Find your words.
  • Visualize a perfect pass.

Then, you can start the point successfully.

The Perfect Platform

1. Hand Build - Squeeze. Thumbs and Thumb Joints Kiss

Place your left hand out, palm up, with your fingers together.

Now lay the fingers of your right hand (palm up) on top of the left hand fingers. Make sure the fingers of each hand run perpendicular to each other.

Now, squeeze your right fingers between your left thumb and left fingers. Bring your right thumb directly next to it. The sides of your thumbs and the heels of your palms should all be touching and symmetrical.

Why An Early Platform Is Important

There are a few things that stand out when players are learning how to bump a volleyball properly. These are passing mistakes in beach volleyball that most people make. Beginners who are just learning how to bump a volleyball make this mistake blatantly but a lot of veterans, who think they have their serve receive dialed in, still don't get this 100% right.

One of the biggest passing mistakes has to do with what leads into inconsistent forearm passing and forearm setting. The important part that we need to remember when learning how to bump in volleyball is to have a platform that is simple and rigid. Your arms are not two arms with elbows anymore! Everything should come together, acting as one solid platform. When the ball bumps your forearms, it hits one flat, even surface.

A lot of players will approach to bump a volleyball and they'll shoot their elbows out at the very end. This is bad news.

(Editor's Note: You're going to have to start calling it "passing" or "serve receive" if you want to be in the volleyball cool club) 

So now they've only made a passing platform that only gets solid at the end. This leads to overpasses and an inconsistent angle that we can't study. Remember that if you are going to bump a volleyball, your partner needs a steady surface to look at.

So, it is important to build early and hold long. When approaching a ball, we’d like to make sure that our hands are out way before we get to the ball so that we have that nice platform built and set up already. It might feel robotic at first, when you learn how to bump a volleyball like this, but the consistency will outweigh the the discomfort.

Advantage Of Setting Up Early

When your beach volleyball partner (or even your setter for indoor volleyball) is looking at your platform, as well as looking at the volleyball flying towards your platform, they can easily predict where the ball is going to end up. If your partner sees that you’re preparing to bump or pass the volleyball and you are holding your platform still, they will have a clear visual of the ball approaching you. This allows them to get a head start and know where the direction of the ball will go to next after hitting your platform.

However, if we have a moving platform hitting another moving object – which is the volleyball -- it becomes a lot more difficult for our partner to assess the situation. When learning how to pass in volleyball, one of the reasons we build an early and long platform is that it helps our partner out. They will know where the ball is about to fly.

Study Your Platform And Execute It The Right Way

Occasionally, beach volleyball players will set up their elbows bent and get a toss, then they'll shoot their elbows out. Some hide their hands while waiting and then abruptly set up their platform. This late movement creates platforms only for a moment. Some of these still end up as good passes, but again it will not be consistent because we have a moving object going at something that's traveling at varying speeds. Especially when you're just starting to learn how to bump a volleyball, we recommend you build your platform nice and early so that you're locked out and you make a simpler, more fluid motion.

Learning how to pass a volleyball can be a lifelong journey. If you don't have a coach around, or even if you do, you can record yourself at home or at practice to see if your elbows are straight way before the ball gets to you. One of the most important things you can do to get better at passing for indoor volleyball or sand volleyball is to make sure that you build your platform early, hold it long and finish through the ball. This will increase your passing and setting efficiency.

You can record from the exact same angle on our video, or you can have anyone take a mobile phone, record you from the side and in a few seconds, you can study yourself to see if you're doing it exactly right. We encourage you to do this and we wish you good luck on your volleyball journey.

2. Straight Elbows

Once you have your hands built, lock your elbows out so they are straight. Your arms are no longer arms.

They will now operate as one single unit, one single unbending, uncompromising platform.

They are inseparable.

3. Shoulder Shrug

A lot of beginners see other players who can make their elbows touch and get discouraged when they can’t get into that position.

First, not every player can line up their forearms so that there is no space between them and that is OK! We just want to get them as close together as possible.

There is also another trick that can get the arms closer together and comes with a few benefits we can talk about later. Straighten both arms and lift them up and in front of you. Imagine trying to touch your shoulders to your cheekbones. This should create a protracted and shrugged shoulder position. You can drop your hands lower but keep the shoulders shrugged.

This reshaping of the shoulder girdle allows the elbows and forearms to get closer together. It takes some getting used to but for a lot of people, getting their arms close together is impossible when their shoulders stay down and back in every day “good posture”.

Try it for yourself.

Try to build your platform with your shoulders down and back and see how far apart your arms are. Then, shrug and protract (push forward) from your shoulders and see if you close some space.

4. Firm

In order for the ball to bounce consistently and effectively off of our forearms, we need to be firm from our lats all the way through our hand grip.

If your elbows are permitted to bend, your wrists curl or your hands rattle at all, the ball will bounce differently off of your arms every time you touch it.

You don’t want to be flexing so hard that you are immobile but you must be firm through contact.

5. Early & Long

There is a long-standing fallacy that volleyball players cannot move effectively with their hands together or platforms built.

Coaches around the world can be seen putting on a cartoonish demonstration of how ridiculous it would look to be running with your arms locked out and together. This is simply an over-application of a biomechanic truth.

You can run faster when your arms pump. However, beach volleyball players don't really run much. We shuffle or we take maximum two steps and a dive to get to any ball unless it is a complete shank that we have to chase down.

Only the absolute shortest and sharpest short serves would require forcing a running action in serve receive. We'll get to that later. 

For now, we are going to take lessons from accuracy sports like archery and skeet shooting. When tracking a moving object, we should lock on to our target early.

You would not see an archer look at a moving target for a long time and then at the last possible moment, load his arrow, pull back and let it fly.

Accuracy requires early preparation and the final action involves next to no movement. As soon as the receiver knows where the ball is flying, they should build their platform and get the angle as close as possible to the finish position. Whether you are stable or on the move makes no difference.

This will not lead to shanks. This will not cause you to be so slow you can’t get to the ball. The accuracy that you gain from getting your platform and angle built will more than make up for any speed you lose on running, an action, which again, would be required on less than 5% of serves. When players attend my "Beach Volleyball for Beginner's" classes in Hermosa Beach, California, we spend a lot of time learning how to bump a volleyball with proper technique. Beginners often need to keep their hand grip so they don't forget how to shape them. While a lot of coaches frown on this, I love it. After a few volleyball lessons, I'll teach them how to separate their hands when necessary but personally, I'm not a fan of players putting their hands together at the last second. Most of the best passers and liberos in the world have their hands together before the ball even crosses the net.

Along the same vein of building your platform early, we should also be holding on to the build and the angle after the pass. One of the most common errors passers make is unlocking their platform right on contact.

Do not release on contact. Do not pull the arms away as soon as you touch it. Finish through the contact and make sure your platform is still intact after the contact. If you drive this home it will not only calm you down but it will prevent you from having a loosely built platform which leads to getting aced.

6. Bottom Rib Tuck and Airing Out the Armpits

During serve receive and passing in general, it’s important to keep the ball in your visual field for as long as possible and it’s important to have “adjustment space”.

“Bottom Rib Tuck” and “Air Out the Armpits” are two of the most effective visuals that have helped hundreds of players over the years. I personally use the “Bottom Rib Tuck” as a reminder during every tournament I compete in.

When our hands and elbows stay close to our torso, we struggle to move our platform fluidly and freely. Our platform basically gets tethered to our spine which is not very mobile or flexible. When the elbows stay away from our rib cage, it’s easier to prevent ourselves from getting jammed.

Once the ball gets to close to our stomach or chest, there is no more space or time to great a good pass. Demanding that a player keeps their rib cage from flaring up also forces them to move their feet better without saying anything about the feet.

Get your hands out. Keep the ball in front of you with your bottom rib tucked. This will keep your shoulders forward and create plenty of space for last-second adjustments and power absorption.

It’s a posture, not an action. 

Hudson Bates has his armpits "aired out". If you wanted you could tickle the pits of that big AVP pro. If you're learning how to pass a volleyball, don't squeeze that area. Thinking about this should help you keep your hips back and your hands away from your body.

7. Let the Angle do the work

When most players start out, they imagine that a “bump” or a pass is a hit or, in other words, an active action on the ball.

In some cases, this is almost true, but we can get to that next.

For now, we need to understand that a ball coming from the opposite service line already has a lot of kinetic (moving) energy. If we have a well built, firm, platform, we only need to present it at the perfect angle and let the ball bounce off. So in actuality, you're not bumping the volleyball, you're just sitting still and firm while the ball comes and bumps you.

If you set up a few sheets of wood at a 30-degree angle where the serve receivers stand and served at them. The ball would bounce up and back to a good distance from the net without any “action.” Most serves have enough velocity for us to leave our angle in the perfect spot and let the ball bounce off.

A visual I like to use is when the sunlight hits your wristwatch through the window and you can see the bright reflection. If you want to aim the reflection and bother someone by shining it in their eyes, you wouldn’t make a violent move with your wrist and “throw” the sun rays in the direction of their retinas.

Instead, you would hold your wrist at just the right angle and allow the sunlight to bounce off your watch and into the desired location of your annoying big brother’s eyeball.

The exact same thing should happen when you're passing in beach volleyball. Find the right firm angle that calibrates for spin and speed and then let the ball bounce off it.

8. Speed and Power Considerations

There are instances of course when we have a ball that has not been hit very hard at all.

There is not enough kinetic energy for the ball to get to your setter. It is in these cases, where coaches all over the world get caught up in the use of legs or arms to add power to the ball.

The answer, as with most things, is somewhere in the middle.

We don't want to use a full depth squat thrust to get the ball high enough. This alters our brain’s interpretation of our visual field and makes it more difficult to accurately predict the flight of an object traveling at us.

We don't want to create a big swinging motion with our arms because that would go against our understanding of accuracy discussed in the first section. Instead, we want to give the ball just enough extra energy to get into our setters hand.

Too much movement and we lose consistency and accuracy. Too little and the ball falls short. The energy can come from a forward rock. An added nudge from the arms or a very slight extension of the knees.

The important thing to remember is that simpler movements are more repeatable and easier to fix in the long run.

The following is a great video by the Mckibbin Brothers where Chaim Schalk talks more in depth on touch.

Learning how to bump in volleyball (or as you now know, "how to pass") makes the game a lot more fun. Improving your passing and serve receive skills will greatly improve the way you perform on the court. Avoid the common mistakes we talked about here and you’ll soon find yourself winning more points. Head on over to the next chapter to learn more about basic footwork.

If you need help getting better at serve receive, enroll in our course which has 19 lessons with video demonstrations. We take you step by step through the ins and outs of how to pass in beach volleyball. You'll also get access to all of our serve receive and passing drills. Better yet, sign up for the Rising Star Membership or for elite players, the Main Draw Membership and get access to the other skills courses at a huge discount.


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