Summer is almost here, and this is ALWAYS the time of year when I am asked what players should do to prepare for school volleyball tryouts.
There are plenty of options out there….
While all of these will likely improve a player’s skill level, physical fitness, coordination, and mental understanding of the game, there’s one big opportunity that many families tend to overlook: beach volleyball.
MY OWN EXPERIENCE
The summer before my senior year of high school, my school team went to a camp in Seaside, Oregon. The camp was fun and we had a great time learning from new coaches, made some great memories, and started the process of working out some kinks before the school season started.
After being in Seaside Monday-Thursday with my teammates, a friend and I stayed with our families for that weekend’s Seaside Beach Volleyball Tournament. We had never played beach volleyball, but we had heard about it from our coach so we signed up thinking it would be fun and that we’d go and dominate.
We. Were. Horrible.
The tournament is double-elimination style for their doubles tournament, and often has long waits in-between games. We had to learn the rules on the fly (worth studying before playing if it’s your first time), and despite being solid indoor players, we were fairly sluggish and out of our element when attempting to play “indoor-style” in the cold, deep sand of the Oregon Coast.
Given the time that has elapsed, I can’t remember if we won a match or not. But I know we were done on the first day of the two-day tournament.
Despite our losing that first year, there were a few lessons we took from the experience.
WHAT INDOOR PLAYERS START TO LEARN ON THE BEACH
1. You learn to read your opponent.
When you’re on the beach, energy is important. It is HARD to move in the sand. So to cut down on needless running, players learn to position themselves in ideal locations based on what the opponent is doing.
Inside, players aren’t pushed to learn this skill because even if you’re in a less-than-ideal position, you can usually still make a play on the ball. If you misread the hitter in the sand, you have no chance. This forces players to focus on what the opponent is doing and you start to pick up o cues right away.
2. Your control improves.
And I mean both offensively and defensively. On offense, most youth players won’t be able to get above the net and lay the hammer down. So instead of relying on sheer power, players must PLACE the ball in a spot which will make the dig difficult on the competition. Varying pace is also useful to keep them guessing.
On defense, you have to deal with wind. You start to pay attention to the spin of the ball, angles which the opposing players is attacking from, and where your partner is so you can pass according to their position.
In indoor, as long as the ball is UP a teammate can usually get to it. Beach is a whole different story, and you start to develop some finesse.
3. You strategize.
Sign an indoor player up for a sand doubles tournament and just sit back and wait. After the first match, even if the players are young, they’ll start strategizing and thinking through their actions.
This doesn’t always happen in indoor, because there’s usually a coach there to tell you what to do, plus 5 other players on your own side of the court to worry about. When it’s just you and one other player, and you’re fighting against strong wind, bright sun, and two scrappy players, there HAS to be a strategy.
The point isn’t whether the strategy is advanced or not… The point is that the players are THINKING. Not just that, but attempting to EXECUTE as well. This alone will, in my opinion, give players more value than many volleyball camps (provided they have a solid skill foundation to build from).
4. You get more touches on the ball.
Inside, you may or may not touch the ball even during a long rally. On the beach, every other touch is yours. More touches = more practice.
Wins and losses feel more personal, because there’s really only one other person to blame (but you picked them as your partner so it falls back on you).
Wins feel sweeter, and losses usually happen for a reason which is apparent (i.e., you need to work on your conditioning, your passing wasn’t as controlled as it needed to be, etc.).
OVERALL, YOU LEARN VERY QUICKLY IN THE SAND. SIMPLY BECAUSE YOU HAVE TO!
A LONG time has gone by since that first beach tournament, and I have since recommended beach to many players looking to improve their skills over the summer. I have seen a tremendous amount of growth in the players who decide to give sand volleyball a try, and I will continue recommending this route for athletes.
Whether it’s just a tournament or two over the summer, or a league with coaching, I don’t think it matters. The experience itself will be worth it.
Plus, it’s nice for parents to get out of the gym! Less whistles, more sunshine, and a fun family bonding experience :)
What do you think? Do you play beach or sand volleyball over the summer? How has it helped you or your players? Let me know in the comments!