“Bet you cant eat just one”
For a few years, that was the motto for Lay’s Potato chips, and I know it was true in my life. Growing up, I would eat bags of them, any flavor I could get my hands on. But I had two distinct favorites. Sour Cream and Onion and Salt and Vinegar. When my mother bought the party pack, those were always the first flavors to go, and there would come a day with nothing but barbecue left. It was a sad day.
I was a two chip sort of guy. Maybe its no coincidence that I play two serve spikeball. A side step that moves the receiver to their right (calling it a cut would be generous), and a step back that aims itself at a receivers left hip. Sure I will sprinkle in a few drops here and there, but 2 is plenty for me.
Are my natural preferences holding me back? Is two serves and a drop enough to be competitive at the highest levels? I reached out to some of the sports best to find out. Here are their answers to my questions, condensed and edited for clarity.
“How many serves do you use in a tournament? How many do you practice?”
Kenny Ortega – I have about 12 different serves that I use throughout a tournament day. I don’t think most elites do this, but I use two different serving stances. In any one game I am likely to use 3-5 serves.
Caleb Heck – I use 3-4 serves in tournament play, and about 7-8 in pickup games.
Patrick Drucker – I’d say I have about 4 major serves. Normal/Cut serve, side-step, drop serve, and a jam.
Ryan Fitzgerald – I will use anywhere from 3-10 throughout a tournament. I practice about 12.
“Describe your progression as a server. Did you start with one and branch out, or were you always incorporating variety?”
Kenny – I started with a low jam and drop, eventually adding a fwango and fwango drop. I definitely developed more serves as I got better.
Caleb – My first step was becoming consistent with one serve. As I gained some experience, I saw that some variation was necessary in elite fields, and so I tried to mix it up.
Patrick – I was a baseball pitcher first, so I started with a straight on serve with similar mechanics. After experimenting a bit, the pro set made spin so much easier, and I picked up a cut serve. Recently I have developed and become reliant on a drop.
Ryan – I have always tried to have multiple serves. Different fakes and serve variations will win a few breaks if the receiver isn’t familiar with them. This is gives veteran players a distinct edge over talented but newer guys. New serves are hard to learn on the fly.
“What are you thinking about when you call out the score? How do you decide which serve to hit on any given point?”
Kenny – The first thing is what has been working for me. Confidence in your serve is critical at the line. If a serve has been working, I might keep hitting it. If I have missed on a couple in a row, then I like to switch it up. If I am on fire and everything is working, I might throw in something crazy. Next, I check the returners position. Whether it is cut, fwango, or jam, if they cheat towards one serve I will try to go the other way.
Caleb – First, I focus on the part of the net I want to hit. Just like in any sport, the longer you look at the place where you want the ball to go, the more likely you will put it there. Second defensive alignment, so that if the receiver generates a solid first touch, my teammate and I can have a decent shot of getting a touch on their hit.
Patrick – I think serving should be reactionary. When I have my feet set, I focus on the returners position, and I won’t pick a serve until I have tossed the ball and seen their first step. I work hard to keep my swing consistent across all my serves, so that the returner has less time to decipher where the ball is going.
“What do you think is more important? Consistently applying pressure or generating aces?”
Caleb – That is the question… The top players in the world are the top players because they can generate incredible serves at a ridiculously consistent level. If you want to separate yourself from good players, you need to be able to serve at a high level for the majority of a whole game.
Patrick – Consistent pressure is definitely important. If you have an above average serve and can hit 90% of them, you’ll force bad touches and can make plays to break. If you have a great serve and hit 30% of them, you’ll probably ace a few times, but you’re not giving your team a lot of chances to play defense and you’ll probably become reliant on aces.
Ryan – In the past, consistently applying pressure was more important than generating aces. Players striving for different angles, and the pro ball allowing for a lot more spin has caused aces to overtake consistency in my opinion
“Who do you think is particularly good at mixing it up? Who is strong with just one serve?”
Kenny – Tyler Cisek is good with the cut, but he actually does two serves. His back door serve is sneaky good. PJ is the hardest to know what is coming.
Patrick – Chris Hornacek with the straight on over-the-top serve. If you don’t line up correctly, it hits you in the center of your body, which is probably the most awkward spot to return a ball.
Ryan – Preston Bies and Patrick Drucker do really well with mostly one great serve and a drop from the same stance. Some top ballers who mix it up are Troy Mauk, Harding Brumby, and Artie Singer.
“Do you have a favorite serve?”
Kenny – Honestly it depends on the day, but probably my reverse stance step out cut serve. Haha, that’s what I call it at least.
Caleb – Jam Shot. Essentially, the receiver is looking for the cut, and you jam them right in the “jewels”
Patrick – The drop is my favorite for sure. There’s no better feeling than seeing the returner step back and you hit that perfect drop that barely clears the rim.
Ryan – The “walk up” drop. Slicing the ball perfectly, watching and hearing it hit front pocket, and drop over the back rim is quite the feeling.
“Down 19-20 and serving, are you hitting the same serve every time or mixing it up?”
Kenny – Go with what is hot. A serve that should land but an also be an ace
Caleb – Whatever I am feeling good with at that moment. P
Patrick – Mixing it up for sure. Again, I have no idea what serve I’m going with until the ball is tossed.
Ryan – I would probably hit a drop or high percentage serve because I trust my defense more than my low percentage serves. So I want to stay unpredictable as always, but I hate losing on a missed serve. Got to make the other team earn it.
So those are the pro’s thoughts. It seems like if I got a whole lot better at my two serves and a drop, I might have a chance. But it is definitely a more the merrier sort of thing. How many do you use? Feel free to answer these questions in the comments, and lets chat about it.