What Is Volley Serve In Pickleball?

What is Volley Serve in Pickleball?

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One of the most important skills to master in pickleball is serving properly. There are two main types of serves in pickleball – the volley serve and the drop serve. This article will provide a comprehensive overview of what the volley serve is, how to execute it, and why it’s an integral part of pickleball strategy.

What is the Volley Serve?

The volley serve is a type of underhand serve where the player hits the ball before it bounces. Specifically, in a volley serve:

  • The player tosses or drops the ball and strikes it before it hits the court.
  • The ball must be hit below waist level in an upward arc.
  • The player is not allowed to let the ball bounce before hitting the serve.

The volley serve used to be the only legal serve in pickleball. Nowadays, both the volley and drop serves are permitted by the official rules. However, the volley is still widely used because it enables players to generate more power and placement.

Why is it Called a Volley Serve?

The volley serve gets its name from the fact that the ball is volleyed, or struck out of the air. The terms “volley” and “volleying” in racquet sports refer to hitting a ball before it bounces. So in pickleball, a volley serve volleys the ball, striking it on the fly rather than after a bounce.

The Origin and History of the Volley Serve

Pickleball was invented in the 1960s by Joel Pritchard and Bill Bell on Bainbridge Island, Washington. In the original pickleball rules, serving was modeled after badminton. Players used only underhand serves and were required to hit the ball before it bounced.

This type of serve on the fly was officially termed a “volley serve” when the first pickleball rulebook was created in 1984. The volley serve remained the only legal serve until 2008, when the drop serve was introduced and permitted by the USA Pickleball Association.

Despite the newer drop serve option, the volley has continued as a pickleball serving staple. It’s a foundational skill for beginners to learn. And it remains a strategic choice for more advanced players wishing to maximize power and placement.

How to Execute a Proper Volley Serve

Performing a volley serve with proper form and technique is important for achieving consistency and accuracy. Here are step-by-step instructions:

Get in the Ready Position

  • Start behind the baseline in the service area on the right-hand side.
  • Assume an athletic stance with your knees slightly bent and feet shoulder-width apart.

Toss the Ball High

  • Hold the ball in your non-paddle hand and toss it approximately 12 inches straight up.
  • Release the ball without spin, 6-12 inches out in front of your body.
  • The optimal toss height is 1-3 inches above your paddle reach.

Align Your Paddle

  • As the ball is tossing upward, align your paddle perpendicular to the net.
  • Raise your paddle behind and slightly above where you expect the ball to descend.
  • Keep your paddle arm straight and elbow pointed down.

Make Contact

  • When the ball is near the top of its arc, swing your paddle forward and make contact.
  • Aim to strike the ball at the 11 o’clock position on the face of your paddle.
  • Follow through fully after contact, ending with the paddle above your shoulder.

Stay Below the Waist

  • It’s critical that the highest point of contact with the ball is below your waist.
  • Bend your knees to get your strike zone low if needed.
  • If your paddle goes above your waist, it’s a fault and you’ll have to re-serve.

With practice, the volley serve motion will start to feel natural. Stay relaxed, move smoothly through the steps, and keep your eyes on the ball. Consistency comes with repetition.

Volley Serve Rules and Regulations

The volley serve must abide by certain rules and restrictions in pickleball:

  • The serve must be made underhand – no overhand serving allowed.
  • Contact with the ball must occur below the waist. Often the navel is used as a visual reference point.
  • The highest point of the paddle head cannot be above the wrist when striking the ball.
  • The serve must be initiated with the score called out loud before the ball is served.
  • Only one serve attempt is allowed, except in the event of a hinder.
  • The ball must be served within 10 seconds after the score is called.

These regulations apply equally to the volley serve and drop serve. Following the rules ensures fair play and standardization across all levels of pickleball.

The Differences Between a Volley and Drop Serve

While both are underhand serves, there are some key differences between volley and drop serves:

Volley Serve

  • Ball is hit before it bounces
  • More power and speed is possible
  • Easier to place deep or wide
  • Launch angle creates more difficulty returning serve
  • Higher skill cap to perform consistently

Drop Serve

  • Player lets the ball bounce before hitting
  • Slower pace and less power generated
  • Often used for placement over power
  • Can produce tricky spins and curves
  • Typically easier for beginners to execute

The choice between hitting a volley or drop serve depends on the player’s skill level, game strategy, and personal preference. Many picklesball players utilize both in their service arsenal.

The Pros and Cons of the Volley Serve

Mastering the volley pickleball serve has several advantages:


  • Produces faster, more powerful serves.
  • Hitting the ball at the peak of its arc allows for sharper angles.
  • Can increase serving consistency with sufficient practice.
  • Lets the server control the point from the start.
  • Creates easier opportunities to hit aces or unreturnable shots.
  • Forces the receiver to react quickly.
  • Higher velocity gives the returner less time to generate their own power.


  • Requires greater skill and precision to perform consistently.
  • Increases the risk of faults and double faults.
  • Less control over spin variation compared to drop serve.
  • Needs consistent high tosses, which can be hard in windy conditions.
  • Can strain the shoulder if not executed with proper form.

For players able to master it, the volley serve is generally the higher upside, higher reward serve option. But it takes dedication to turn into a reliable weapon.

Volley Serve Drills and Tips

Here are some drills and tips to help improve your volley serve technique:

  • Practice tossing the ball – A consistent, vertical toss is key. Toss and catch one-handed to improve feel.
  • Focus on paddle alignment – Concentrate on keeping the paddle head perpendicular pre-serve. This helps accuracy.
  • Work on low contact – Place an object like a cone at waist height to ensure you’re striking below it.
  • Try shadow swinging – Get the motions down by practicing without a ball first.
  • Serve to targets – Place markers on the court to aim for accuracy.
  • Increase serve speed – Once comfortable, serve harder to improve power and reduce reaction time.
  • Utilize backspin – Backspin can help stabilize the ball on the volley serve.
  • Maintain relaxed form – Avoid tension and grip tightness which reduce fluidity.
  • Watch the ball – Keep your eyes on the ball from toss until contact for optimal tracking.

With regular training and drills, players can transform the volley serve into a go-to weapon in their pickleball artillery.

Why Choose a Volley Over a Drop Serve?

While both volley and drop serves are permitted in pickleball, the volley has some inherent advantages that make it a wise choice in many serving situations:


The ability to hit the ball out of the air supplies greater velocity and pace. The volley serve often travels faster and with more force. This can put immediate pressure on the receiver.


Striking the ball at the peak of its arc allows volley servers to achieve sharper angles. This can pull the returner wider or jam them inside.

Quick Reaction

The speed of a volley serve gives the opponent less time to react. They must respond fast, which can lead to weaker or hurried returns.


Top players can develop extremely consistent volley serves through rigorous training. The serve becomes a repetitively smooth, automatic motion.

Strategic Edge

A crushing volley serve handcuffs many recreational players. The power and location can yield aces, unreturnable shots, and short balls to capitalize on.

There are certainly times when a drop serve may be appropriate based on conditions. But for most players, pursuing mastery of the volley serve is advisable to have in your toolkit.

How to Receive and Return a Volley Serve

Now that you understand how to deliver a quality volley serve, let’s examine receiving and returning these serves:

  • Get ready early – As soon as you see the serve motion begin, get your feet set and paddle up.
  • Pick a return plan – Decide if you want to block, redirect, or drive the ball back.
  • Watch for tells – Look for any consistent giveaways in the server’s toss or swing.
  • Focus on the ball – Track the ball closely out of the air to intercept it.
  • Move quickly – Volley serves necessitate fast footwork and reactions.
  • Aim strategically – Consider hitting crosscourt to take away angles.
  • Counter pace with pace – Blocking the ball often works better than pushing it.
  • Stay low – Getting down allows you to dig out low volleys.
  • Mix up returns – Vary spins, speeds, heights, and locations to keep the server guessing.

Hand-eye coordination, fast reflexes, and paddle control are vital to counter hard volley serves. With practice, you can become proficient at diffusing even blistering service velocity.

Volley Serving Mistakes to Avoid

While the volley serve is a great weapon, it also requires precision and mastery. Here are some common volley serving mistakes to avoid:

  • Tossing inconsistently – Leads to varying serve speeds and accuracy problems.
  • Hitting above the waist – Illegal and results in faults.
  • Not following through – Shortens power and can cause mishits.
  • Gripping too tight – Reduces fluidity and adds tension.
  • Taking eyes off the ball – Causes tracking errors and miscues.
  • Rushing the motion – Disrupts timing and proper mechanics.
  • Poor alignment – Leads to off-center ball contact and control issues.
  • Overserving – Going for too much power introduces errors.
  • Forgetting to call score – Failure to call score delays play and risks penalties.

Staying aware of these potential miscues allows you to recognize and address them proactively. Patience and persistence are vital on the path to excellent volley execution.

How to Improve Your Volley Serve

To elevate your volley serve to the next level, implement these improvement tips:

  • Use a mirror – Check your form and technique compared to proper mechanics.
  • Get feedback – Ask coaches or advanced players for input on your motion.
  • Analyze video – Review footage of yourself serving to diagnose problem areas.
  • Practice tossing – Spend time each day just tossing and catching balls rhythmically.
  • Focus on fundamentals – Refine simpler aspects like paddle grip, footwork, and stance.
  • Do volley serve drills – Incorporate targeted drills into your training routines.
  • Build shoulder strength – Strengthening the rotator cuff aids serving power.
  • Increase flexibility – Limber muscles allow better fluidity and motion.
  • Watch the pros – Study how top players smoothly execute volley serves.
  • Track progress – Note your improvement in consistency, percentage in, etc.

With a Growth Mindset approach focused on incremental progress, any motivated player can boost their volley serve prowess over time.

Common Volley Serve Tactics and Strategies

Let’s examine some effective volley serving strategies to employ:

Aim for Weaknesses

Identify holes in the opponent’s return game such as backhands, forehands, or mobility limitations. Then target serves to those vulnerable areas.

Vary Speed and Spin

Mixing up the velocity, pace, and spin keeps the returner off balance. Change speeds, add slice or topspin, alternate soft and power.

Use the Wide Serve

Hitting wide serves pulls the returner off the court and opens angles for your third shot drop or drive. Just avoid serving long.

Jam the Returner

Serving with precision tight to the body rushes the opponent and reduces their swing options. But it’s risky and needs pinpoint accuracy.

Attack the Middle

Hitting right down the middle limits the receiver’s angles and makes returns harder. Again precision is vital to avoid missing long.

Control the Forehand

Consider serving to the forehand rather than backhand since most players have a stronger forehand drive.

Target Weaker Side

If the returner has one notably weaker side, peppering serves to it can yield mistakes. But don’t become predictable.

The best servers mix up their placement, spin, and speed while targeting weak points in the return game. Creativity and unpredictability are invaluable on serve.

Common Volley Serve Variations

While most volley serves follow the same basic mechanics, there are several variations players employ:

  • Topspin – Adds downward arc providing control and consistent landing area.
  • Backspin – Produces an upward shooting motion and unstable return.
  • Sidespin – Curves the ball sideways, effective for aiming wide or jamming.
  • Pendulum – Long backswing generates power. Extra motion makes consistency tougher.
  • Quick swing – Minimal backswing and compact stroke rely on wrist snap. Easier for control.
  • High toss – Tossing higher allows hitting the ball at the peak of its arc, but demands good timing.
  • Low toss – More compact toss and swing. Restricts power but provides accuracy.
  • Skyball – Extreme high vertical toss requiring jump or lunge to reach. Rewards athleticism.

Trying new serve types keeps opponents guessing and expands your capabilities as a server. But avoid experimenting too much during competitive matches.

Why the Volley Serve is an Essential Pickleball Skill

In conclusion, the volley serve is an essential weapon for aspiring pickleball players to cultivate for these key reasons:

  • Allows you to seize control of the point right off the bat.
  • Enables faster serve speed and sharper angles, increasing your ace potential.
  • Forces the opponent onto the defensive from the start.
  • Provides an offensive weapon less skilled players will struggle returning.
  • High risk, high reward nature plays into aggressive playing styles.
  • Mastery demonstrates strong technical fundamentals and athleticism.
  • Mentally defeats less competent opponents when delivered consistently.
  • Mixtures of volleys and drops keeps the returner constantly adapting.

All competitive and aspiring players should dedicate time and effort into honing a dangerous volley serve. Along with outstanding groundstrokes, dinks, and net play, an effective volley serve completes the full repertoire of pickleball weapons. There are no shortcuts to excellence in any sport. Embrace the volley serve challenge, and your game will reap the rewards!

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