Each year volleyball has proven to be one of our students’ favorite units. Beginning with third grade, we introduce the basic volleyball skills and present them with lead-up games to help familiarize them with passing, serving rotation, etiquette, and rules. Eventually, as sixth graders, students will have a strong foundation of skills and knowledge to participate in regulation games.
With third grade especially, we begin with the underhand serve. After all, it’s the very first hit of each point. Therefore, without a consistent serve traveling over the net, you limit scoring opportunities for your team (with our younger classes we do not play regulation games). We introduce the basic cues of striking an underhand serve. Swing your arm straight back like a pendulum, step with your opposite foot, slightly bend forward holding the ball at waist level, then strike the ball out of your hand. We teach our students to strike the ball with the heel of their hand.
This can be extremely difficult for students of all ages. There are so many components to the underhand serve, where the correct form is challenged. Young servers tend to lift the hand that is holding the ball as their striking hand comes forward. This will significantly decrease the likelihood of striking the ball over the net, and on many occasions striking the ball at all.
Put a swim noodle (cut each noodle in half) in each student’s hand. We accidentally discovered this teaching tool while playing a game called Noodle Rocket Launchers with our first-grade students. Noodle Rocket Launchers is a simple game where students pop the noodle out of their hand using an underhand tossing motion. They experiment with a trajectory based on the angle of the noodle. See a video of an advanced version of Noodle Rocket Launchers at the end of this post.
We couldn’t help but recognize the similarity to an underhand serve in volleyball. We soon began using the noodle to introduce serving to our third-grade students. We found it to be an excellent tool for differentiation and instruction. Through repetition with the noodle, we noticed vast improvements in the fundamentals of serving across the board.
Below are 5 progressions we now use to teach the underhand and overhand volleyball serve.
Each student practices with a noodle in personal space. The focus is on stepping with the opposite foot, swinging the striking arm straight back and forward while stabilizing the arm holding the noodle, then striking the noodle in the air.
With a partner, students stand about ten feet from each other. Along with the skills practiced in progression one, students now bend slightly at the waist lowering their shoulders and experiment with the angle of the noodle. Instead of serving the noodle straight in the air, they are now serving it out to their partner. Encourage students to strike with the heel of their hand.
Students practice serving the noodle to each other over the net. Again, students experiment with trajectory and distance, focusing on proper fundamentals.
For students who have mastered the underhand serve, we introduce the overhand serve. With a partner, each student takes turns striking the noodle with an overhand motion.
Students practice the overhand serve over the net.
Using a noodle has helped our students to increase their success when serving an actual volleyball. It also gives the teacher another way to differentiate instruction. For every child that can consistently strike a serve over the net, there are several others who experience frustration from repeatedly trying to correctly piece together all the serving cues in stereo. The swim noodle can alleviate much of this pain and frustration.
You can play this game across the floor while using the volleyball net as an obstacle.
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