When it comes to receiving the serve, it can seem like having the maximum number of players possible involved in passing is the way to go. Unfortunately in this case more is not merrier. More passers means more seams, more opportunities for miscommunication and more serve receive errors.
Instead of crowding five or even (heaven forbid!) six players into your serve receive formation, stick with three passers whenever possible. If you’re just not comfortable with so few passers, you can bump it up to four, but make three your goal.
First here is a four-person serve receive pattern:
We’ve got at least three seams to contend with, more if you have front row players creeping backwards into the pattern. “Seams” refers to the lines between players where either player could potentially be responsible for playing the ball. When a serve lands in a seam two players have to communicate about which one of them is going to be passing. More seams = more demands on passers’ communication.
There is also a gaping hole in the middle of the court, and a ball served there could potentially be passed by any of the four receivers. It’s a communication issue just waiting to be exploited, and a good server will do just that. With four passers you’re also obligated to have at least one front row player passing, and a strong server can aim for them in the hopes of taking them out of the offense for that play.
Now check out this diagram of a typical three-person serve receive:
You’ll see that there are only two real seams, which should cut down on potential communication problems. However this type of passing demands solid abilities from all three receivers, because they generally take any serve within their 1/3 of the court. So if the ball is served short they must move forward to pass it; if it goes deep they need to be able to either move backwards into position or receive it with an overhand pass.
Some teams have the two outside passers take short serves while the middle passer takes anything deep, but this requires similar movement skills from the passers. Go with whatever your team is comfortable with, and don’t be afraid to experiment.
It can be difficult to transition to having fewer players involved in serve receive, but you’ll reap rewards when it comes to your passing accuracy and communication. And remember, no matter what formation you use you need to call the ball early and often!