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Change and Progress in Roundnet: Players Have a Choice - PART II

Change and Progress in Roundnet: Players Have a Choice - PART II

Written By: Tom Witt - ‘TomTooWitty Roundnet Round-Up

Spikeball Roundnet blog article


Change - It Is Up to US

Roundnet has gone through much change since it’s early start as a backyard game. 

The rules, equipment, attitudes, strategies, and much more have been altered over the years. 

Those changes have not always been influenced by ‘the powers that be’ but by the PLAYERS. 

It is up to US as roundnet participants and enthusiasts to be the leaders in that purposeful change in our sport. 

With this power in our hands, we literally have the opportunity to mold the trajectory of the sport of roundnet, and how future generations play the game. That is an opportunity that most sport participants do not ever have! 

WE must take advantage of this once in a lifetime opportunity!

Top Players Embracing Change… With Success

In PART 1 of “Change and Progress in Roundnet: Players Have a CHOICE” we covered the history of change in roundnet, examples of top players creating a conversation around change, embracing change in their game, and even some examples in other, much more popular sports, where change has been a constant!

Check out PART I - Click HERE


Part II

No Coaches…. No Problem?

For nearly 99.9% of roundnetters, there are no coaches in this sport guiding the game and how it is practiced and played. 

Top players in the roundnet community do a great job of sharing their insights and opinions. Whether that is by creating videos, holding clinics or just talking to players and sharing what has made them successful.

It is up to us to make decisions of how this sport will progress into the future. 

Just like when a group of veteran roundnetters playing in a park and sees a big group of people watching them very interested walking by, they should probably MAKE A DECISION to play at like 85%, have a sweet rally and put on a show to make our sport look cool. And then go back to your normal cut serve practice.

Decisions, choices, insert any synonym you choose. 

Small steps to create a big change. 

Change At Lower Levels

Serveball has creeped into the lower levels of the game… for the worst, in my opinion.

I’ve played from high level premier to high level advanced division over the last 4, well actually 8 seasons but who's counting... Many advanced teams I’ve played this year don’t take much or anything off their second serve, which leads to double faulting a lot, and thinking only way to succeed is to ace people. 

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! 

Practice Makes PERMANENT

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 also 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 it is consistent and something you can rely on late in tournaments.

What’s an ‘impossible serve’ for national champion Preston Bies is different than an intermediate or advanced player, with different athletic traits and less practice time put in. 

And as time goes on, and practice gets put in, your serves will become more reliable, and more deadly!

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 and how to practice, 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 think the importance of having a solid second serve is not emphasized enough in roundnet skill development conversations. 

In my opinion, it is crucial to roundnet skill development, and the development of the sport as a whole, to practice a solid second serve.

Developing a second serve that gets on the net, while not being so easy as 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.  

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. 

Then if needed, 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!

Serve Return… The Golden Ticket!

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.  

Diving For Serves

I think that players also need to embrace diving on serve returns more! It is inevitable that serves will just keep getting better, and so will fakes. So, be ready to dive for that nasty angled serve, or after getting faked out and being a step behind. 

Could a rule change help roundnet? 

Chris Wilkins, pro level player of Culb Spike Worldwide, has suggested allowing the serving teams non-serving partner to roam wherever they like pre-serve to set up for defense? Or potentially implement that same rule with the serve-receive team’s non-returning partner… to help set up for that second pass, which sometimes is good but sometimes really depends on which side the serve returner’s partner is to them, left or right,? Two-person serve return?

Leaning Towards a Deeper Service Line

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, just having taken biomechanics courses, I think that a 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. 

Embracing Self-Officiation

There are only so many available observers at tournaments, especially in the earlier rounds and the advanced division and below or in non-SRA events, and even 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, the integrity and spirit of the game is still very high in roundnet at all levels. 

Players are trying to make the most fair decisions in terms of service infractions. 

But when skills progress, and the body movements athletes make are too difficult and quick to make a call on, that is when changes need to purposely be made and not be reliant on an ‘amateur’ to make all the calls.

And that does not necessarily mean we need to rely on observers, but instead make a decision to take a step back and not put that gray area into play, until a service line rule change is perhaps made.

Testing is CRUCIAL

Testing is a must! 

It either validates what we have been doing as best practice, or shows there is a need for a change! Win-Win! 

Change in Sport is Inevitable... and Necessary

Change in Other Sports

Change happens in all sports, but isn’t always at the forefront of the conversation.

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 to basketball 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).” That’s quite a change from 2020 NBA basketball.

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 seems 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.


Other Athletes Using Their ‘Choice’ to Impact Sport

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, and in the NBA, 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, or even very long 3’s, 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. 


Different Rules, Same Sport - Different Outcomes!

Rule change is also something that should be explored to improve the sport of roundnet.

Another example is 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 ABA is the league that Julius Erving, better known as Dr.J, played in. Using an iconic red, white and blue basketball. 

The NBA rules require the offense to advance the ball across the half court line within 8 seconds of gaining possession. Or else a violation is enforced and the other team receives the ball. For years it was 10 seconds.

Similarly, The ABA has a 7 second version of that half-court rule. This rule is intended to speed up the pace of play. That 1 second makes it so the offense cannot 'walk' the ball up the court, or else they will incur a turnover. 

Coaches coach differently, players play differently, the game is different because of one slight rule change.

Another Example

The ABA uses other rules to speed up the game, and create more excitement. One of those rules is if the defense gets a steal in the opponent's scoring half of the court, then go down and score a two point basket off of that turnover, the offense receives three points

These two rules are intended to speed up the game and create more excitement.

These simple rule changes change how the same game of basketball is played between two different leagues. 

Athleticism or Skill?

I like cool serves, performed athletically.

Though, in my personal preference, I would rather see sweet dives, awesome defense and athleticism.

And honestly would trade watching cool aces for more pop up hits, scrambling around and athleticism, over a practiced skill like a cut serve. 

An example would be that roundnet play that went viral on ESPN with a long rally, foot save and insane hit on from DEEP. That essentially was a long rally, with some awesome, crazy plays in there.

I would say it’s more fun to watch a rally like that, than a kick on off a really powerful cut serve, or a body block even.

I would argue that rallies, and not technically advanced aces, are more ‘non-roundnet obsessed person friendly’ to watch, and it makes sense. 


Players Hold the Power of Change

I think it is up to us as players to make a change. 

Especially with 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 make the decision to strike your serve at 6’1” FOR THE GOOD OF THE SPORT.

For a few people LEGITIMATELY trying to make the pro division, this may be a tough sell and not applicable for success IN THE SHORT TERM.

Though, for the majority of the roundnet community, I think there are very applicable, small changes that will improve the sport.

A small sacrifice to make for the growth of our sport.

When the day comes that officials, replay, even things like pocket, rim and roll-up detection technology, more money, etc. are maybe introduced to the sport, then go for that 6’0”.000001 serve…

But until then for the good of the sport, my suggestion is to CHOOSE to make a change.

In Conclusion...

-We as players determine the future of this sport. Act on and talk about change you think should be made.

-Think twice about CHOOSING to hit an insanely low percentage serve… 

-Instead, practice a solid, repeatable serve while continuing to improve. Hold onto that crazy low percentage, but possible ace, serve for the right situations, not every time you serve….

-Develop another couple serves to counter that serve, work on a go-to second serve. 

-Practice serve return… and then do it some more. Do things outside of actual serve return to practice serve return. Hand eye coordination and reaction time!

-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!

Make sure and check out "PART 1 of Change and Progress in Roundnet: Players Have a CHOICE” 

Thank you for reading! 

Spike On!

Written by Tom Witt - ‘TomTooWitty Roundnet Round-Up


  • Tom Witt

    I always appreciate your comments Eamon. I think with testing we can find good middle ground, maybe it’s 6 foot 4 inches, not always an exact to the foot or half foot measurement, like most people propose. I played yesterday for the first time in months, didn’t get many aces, just caused bad touches and used one serve to set up another, fakes, etc. It produced some bad touches and more rallies, fun defense, and lost 1 game against high level advanced players all day.

    Keep practicing hard, Eamon!

  • Eamon

    Even though I don’t serve back from the line or think a further service is needed I’m doing other things to improve mine and the general gameplay in games I’m in. There just needs to be a shift in focus for players at all levels but especially in the lower levels (advanced, intermediate). You cannot be a complete player when all you can do is serve which a lot of players focus solely on. I practice my serve a lot, trying to find a balance between returnability and consistency, but I’m also learning to read sets on defence better, and learning to get digs from way off the net, and getting better at setting for hitters and hitting. We should all strive to be complete players not deadly servers. And there is no doubt in my mind that I prefer a nice athletic dig over a sweet serve or hit even though I know how difficult some of those technical moves are.

  • Eamon

    I always say this but moving the service line back is not fair to short players. At 5’4” my angle to the net standing right on the service line is bad if you move that back to say 7 feet I would no longer be able to hit modern cut serves, jams, etc and would be forced to play like a 2015 player. It would probably help anyone over 6 foot by making their angle better but it would hurt everyone else.

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