One topic that has been on the forefront of the roundnet nation over the last few years has been how can we increase rallies? The term ‘serveball’ has been thrown around and has caught on in the community when describing what some think the sport has turned into. To increase rallies some people suggest rules need to change, some suggest equipment modifications need to be made, some have other opinions. Personally, I think those are all solid options that should, and have been explored. Though, in the end I think that it comes down to us, the players, making choices to shape the future of the sport.
To clarify, I do not think aces are bad for the game. I think aces make things exciting for spectators and give the lower level players an aspect of the sport they can practice on their own, with no one else, to improve and get to the top level. I think the problem with the emphasis on serving aces is multifaceted, the slow down of pace of play for second serves slows down the game and makes it less interesting to watch at times is a minor problem that some in the community have voiced, but to me the main problem is when players think that getting an ace is the only way to win, and move up in the rankings, so they hit lots of double faults. Instead, they should be taking some off their second serve, getting the ball on the net and playing defense to try and extend the point. Aces = excitement, double faults = boring. And in my opinion, this change will be a CHOICE made by us as roundnet players.
Change in sport is inevitable and necessary.
An excerpt from “History of NCAA Basketball Rule Changes” stated that up until the mid 1920’s the game of basketball had a rule that after every basket there was a tip off, games regularly ended in scores of 15-13. There was no 3 point shot until 1986-87, and up until 1976-77 the slam dunk was ILLEGAL, and if attempted would probably end up in a good walloping from an opponent or opponents who deemed the slam dunk as disrespectful. Something that stuck out to me was a rule change made in 1920-21 which was, “The basket is moved to two feet from the baseline. Previously the players could climb the padded wall to get closer to the basket (with the new rule the wall is out of bounds).” The rules, as well as attitudes changed over time have made the sport of basketball more fun to play and to watch for spectators. The NBA embraces change and seem to have the fan in mind in all of their decisions, which has led to success and continued growth in players and spectators over the years. I am not trying to state that the Spikeball Roundnet Association does not try to improve the sport, they do! But they can only do so much in terms of rule changes, equipment modifications, etc. so it is up to us as players to make a choice to make a change.
I think that one of the pieces to the solution of creating more rallies is players making a CHOICE. Making a choice to not try and hit an impossible serve that might be an ace, but has a very low percentage of being good. That’s not worth it, and it doesn’t help our sport grow. Instead, practice a solid, repeatable serve, develop another couple serves to counter that serve, drill your second serve so that is consistent and something you can rely on late in tournaments, work on serve return and hold onto that crazy low percentage but possible ace serve for the right situations, not every time you serve. When there are no coaches telling players what to do, it is up to us as the players to choose how this sport will be played, and how it will progress in the future.
I’ll make another NBA reference: Just like NBA star Steph Curry can hit open half court shots at a higher percentage than most people who have walked this earth, he still chooses to not shoot that shot even when he is open, he has a choice! He knows he has the capability of hitting those half court shots, and he is open most of the time for it, but he makes the decision to not do that. That decision is being influenced by coaches, pressure from fans who would voice their opinion after too many missed half court heaves, media who would blast him for the terrible decisions, the list goes on. We as roundnet players determine the future of this sport, we have no coaches, general managers, talking heads shaping the game and how it is played. Stop CHOOSING to hit an insane serve and instead choose to change the game for the better and be an example that people can look at, practice and try to emulate.
Another example of how different rules, in the same sport, but different organizations, can change how the sport is played. There are a few rule differences between the NBA and the American Basketball Association (ABA), the league that Julius Erving better known as Dr.J, played in with the red, white and blue basketball. The NBA rules require the offense to get the ball past the half court line within 8 seconds of getting possession, or else a violation is enforced and the other team receives the ball. The ABA has a 7 second version of that rule, and that 1 second makes it so the offense literally cannot walk the ball up the court or else they will get a turnover. Another rule the ABA uses to speed up the game is if the defense gets a steal in the backcourt and then they go down and score a 2 point basket off of that turnover, the offense receives 3 points. These two rules are intended to speed up the game. These simple rule changes change how the same game of basketball is played between two different leagues.
Change has been a constant part of the roundnet scene since the early days.
In the early days of roundnet, players would play different rules across the country; two returners on the serve, the ability to set picks, playing off the rim if your team still has a touch left, gentlemans serves, etc. Now, I am not advocating for the game to go back to gentleman serves but some changes need to be made and they aren’t going to be the ones written in the rule book, they will be made by the players on the field making decisions of how this sport should be played.
After doing some digging on the Spikeball Roundnet Association Facebook page, I found this excerpt from 2012 by SRA board member and 2 time national champion, Skyler Boles, he stated, “When we have easy gentlemen's serves the points are over in 5 seconds. there is no flow to the game because it is always start and stop. I find myself purposefully not ending points when i return the easy serve because it is boring and the point never starts. This happens even in tournament situations. I do not want to win like that if that is how i have to win. This is also not a fun way to watch Spikeball. We must think of our fans.” Boles went on to say, “I am baffled by how hard it has been to try and change how people serve in competitive tournaments. Hopefully we can keep trying to change peoples mind little by little. Just take a few steps back. it is OK if it goes over your head. (i think it is easier to pass or set from this position personally) and if it is too hard, still try to get it but if you cant you just re-do it. SIMPLE, FUN, COMPETITIVE, ENTERTAINING, SEXY!”. Change can happen in roundnet, and it does not need to be mandated in the rules, just in how we as the players decide to progress and represent the sport. The increased emphasis on having a serve that can ace people or create an unfavorable first touch has been a major change in the sport over the years. As well as the addition of the 2 serve rule, which has also been a catalyst for conversation. Change will continue to happen, how will we as players help shape that change?
I think that the two serve rule is a perfect example of the CHOICE we have as coach-less roundnet players.
I think it is a great rule if utilized correctly. The rule works well if we as players choose to hit a sweet looking ace-heavy, but makeable serve on the first serve for the higher chance of winning the point and making cool stuff for people to watch but then use your second serve wisely to make the other team make a bad touch and trust your defense! It doesn't work if players CHOOSE to hit an impossibly hard serve on the first serve, and then do the same on the second serve thinking that's the only way to win. It's our CHOICE as coach-less players!
An example of top players in the world making choices happened at 2019 SRA Nationals in the championship final. 3 time national champion PJ Showalter was hitting a few NASTY fwango style serves that would usually either be an insane ace, or a fault. There was a fine line, and though PJ was able to get some aces with that fwango, he also had some pockets and faults. PJ didn’t go for his crazy fwango every time, for strategic reasons, it usually ended in either an ace or a fault. Strategy decided- hey I’m not going to hit my crazy ace serve every time because it also pockets or rims a lot and instead I’ll hit my next best serve and let our defense and a bad first touch help my team win points. PJ’s fingerprints are on many SRA tournament victory pitchers and national championship trophies for a reason. He has a choice, so do you.
I think the importance of having a solid second serve is not emphasized enough in roundnet skill development conversations.
Developing a second serve that gets on the net, while being so easy to put your team at a terrible disadvantage, and gives you a chance to play some defense and get a chance to put the ball back on the net is crucial to the growth of the sport, and increasing rallies. Go for the lower percentage, but nastier serve on the first serve in the right situation and develop a repeatable, go-to second serve, and get ready to play some defense! With no coaches telling us what to do, it is up to us to not only make these strategy decisions but to talk about them with others.
Creating a conversation has been and will be crucial to the growth of roundnet.
I was watching former national champion Preston Bies live streaming on his YouTube page, How To Roundnet, and he was asked who he thinks has the hardest serve in the world. Preston stated that he thinks him or Simon Briebois of Canada have the hardest serve in the world, but that he (Preston) rarely hits that serve in a game because it hurts his elbow and shoulder and isn’t high enough of a percentage to add into his tournament serve repertoire to help him be successful and win. Again, it comes down to choice.
I am not saying that we should go back to gentlemans serves, or even that aces are bad for the sport. I think that double faults and the notion that you can only get to the top level if you have a cut serve, are not true. A great example is Hornaboles, a pro level team made up of veterans Skyler Boles and Chris Hornacek. Skyler has been a top player since the inception of the sport, when many have dropped off, and he has done this with a less than powerful serve and rarely relying on aces to be successful. Change will happen at all levels of roundnet play If top players emphasize via social media, game play videos, conversation, etc. that they are choosing to hit a higher percentage serve, instead of the one that may be a sick ace, but most likely end up in a fault, for success. Influence from top players can go a long way to change our sport.
Many advanced teams I’ve played this year don’t take much or anything off their second serve and double fault a lot and think they need to ace people in order to succeed. I think if more top level players just came out and said that people shouldn’t focus on only aces for success, the masses would listen! There are no coaches in this sport guiding the game and how it is played. Change would happen if top players were more often making suggestions and creating conversation around other players taking something off their second serve and putting the emphasis on their defense to win the point. It is up to us to make decisions of how this sport will progress into the future. Just like when a group of veteran spikeballers playing in a park sees a big group of people watching them very interested walking by, they should probably MAKE A DECISION to play like 85%, have a sweet rally and put on a show to make our sport look cool. Decisions, choices, insert any synonym you choose. Small steps to create a big change.
Another skill to emphasize practicing in the eternal quest for rallies is serve return! Top roundnet players like Skyler Boles, Tyler Cisek, and others have talked for years about the importance of serve return for years. Tyler had a simple post on the SRA Facebook page earlier this 2019 season that simply stated, “SERVE RETURN!!”. Players focusing on developing their serve return will help create more rallies, and the added hand eye coordination practice will help players improve in other aspects of their game.
Another opinion I have for purposeful change in the actions of players during game play and serving in particular deals with service line infractions where the ball is contacted within 6 feet. One thing I noticed after playing with lines all day at 2019 nationals is that a lot more people serve over the 6 foot line than they think. Myself included. With no scientific data to back my claim, I think that small fraction of striking the ball at 5’11 and 3/4” has a big advantage to a ball struck at 6’0 and ¾” away. In my opinion, being on top of that will help bring down aces, help clarify gray areas in the rules and increase rallies. There are only so many observers available at tournaments, especially in the earlier rounds and the advanced division and below or in pick up play. Also, it is very difficult for the non-returner to keep their eyes on the foot fault, where the ball is struck and then also focus on playing the point. From what I have noticed, integrity and spirit of the spirit of the game is still very high in roundnet, people are trying to make the most fair decisions in terms of service infractions but when skills progress, and the actions are too difficult and quick to make a call on, that is when changes need to purposely be made and not rely on an amateur to make all the calls, instead make a decision to take a step back and not put that gray area into play. A bold decision. Again, I think it is up to us as players to make a change. Especially in this being the earlier portion of the growth of roundnet, this is where you can choose to back up a half step on your serve and not be ‘toeing the line’ of striking the ball at 5’11”and ¾ and breaking the rules on accident, most likely, and instead making the decision to strike your serve at 6’1” FOR THE GOOD OF THE SPORT. For a few people trying to make the pro division this may be a tough sell and not applicable for success, and that’s where observers come in. Though, for the majority of the roundnet community, I think this is a very applicable change. A small sacrifice to make for the growth of our sport. When the day comes that officials, replay, line technology, etc are maybe introduced then go for that 6’0”.000001 serve, but until then for the good of the sport, my suggestion is to make a change.
We as players determine the future of this sport. So, think twice about CHOOSING to hit an insane serve, practice a solid, repeatable serve while continuing to improve it, develop another couple serves to counter that serve, work on a go-to second serve, practice serve return and hold onto that crazy low percentage but possible ace serve for the right situations, not every time you serve. Oh and HAVE FUN! As the Spikeball company states, they are building the next great not just American but World sport, and that takes embracing change. The future is bright, let’s not CUT off the lights too early!
Written by Tom Witt, Chico Roundnet Spikeball Club