• Dave Neeley

How Many Serves Should A Volleyball Team Miss?

Like many other volleyball fans, players, and coaches, I spent a majority of this past weekend watching the NCAA women's volleyball tournament. Several times per match, the broadcast would show stats comparing Team A to Team B and the commentators would discuss those particular stats.

One of the most commonly displayed stats was "MISSED SERVES." Most notably, missed serves were highlighted immediately after a team would miss a serve. The feeling I got from the broadcasts and commentators was that any amount of missed serves are too many.

However, as we know, every team misses serves. Even teams that win national championships and gold medals miss serves. The right question to ask isn't "should my team miss serves?" Rather, we should be asking, "how many serves should my team miss?"

I like to look at "missed serve percentage" as a metric to answer the previous question. And we can further answer the question by looking at what the best teams in the country do. Here is a chart showing the serving stats for the college volleyball teams that advanced to the 2020 NCAA Sweet-16.

The majority of the best sixteen college volleyball teams in the country missed between eight and eleven percent of their total serves throughout the season.

Keep these numbers in mind in your own coaching. If you want your teams to play like the best teams, you should set a goal with your players to miss ten percent of their serves.

How can we implement this goal into our practices and into our conversations with our athletes? Since ten percent is a nice round number, it's easy for you and your players to keep track of. During practices, you can have your players serve ten balls with the goal of making nine. During matches, you can communicate with your teams that they should miss about two serves per set. Sometimes you might miss three serves in a set, but four missed serves or more would be clearly too many.

It's also important to remember that these are team statistics. Every team, including the teams listed above, has players that miss more than ten percent and players that miss less than ten percent.

Here are the individual player stats from the 2020 University of Washington team, coached by Keegan Cook, a member of the Gold Medal Squared Advisory Staff.

Here are the individual player stats from the 2020 BYU team, coached by Heather Olmstead, also a member of the Gold Medal Squared Advisory Staff.

Generally, your tougher servers will miss a higher percentage of serves than your more conservative servers. This a good balance to have. The more important thing is that your team, collectively, is missing around ten percent of its total serves.

That being said, you still want your individual players missing approximately ten percent of their serves. If, after several practices and/or matches of serving data is compiled and you notice that a player on your team is missing a significant amount of serves higher than ten percent, it would be a good idea to have a conversation with that player about "taking a little bit off" her serve in order to make a higher percentage.

Conversely, if you notice a player that might be missing a much lower percentage than ten percent, but also isn't scoring enough points and/or aces as a server, you might want to talk with that player about being a little bit more aggressive from the service line.