It is interesting how many people just assume that volleyball is volleyball and that beach and indoor aren't that different. Let's just go ahead and make this easy visually. In 2017, The University of Nebraska Women's Volleyball team won the national championship. They were 32-4 on the season and were electric to watch! They were the 5 seed in the tournament and took down the 4, the 1, and the 2 to become national champions. Following their incredible run, they did what most programs were doing at the time. Their entire roster of indoor players became their beach team for their school as well. The team that had just dominated the country a few months earlier was no match for the true beach players that the rest of the schools had recruited and they ended up with a losing record with losses to all of the Arizona schools. Now, I'm not trying to bash Nebraska. They were incredible players, incredible athletes. They just were not beach players.
So just how different is the beach game from the indoor game? Well, to start with, remember that family vacation you took to the beach? Remember when you packed your ice chest and some games, and an umbrella and took it all across the sand from the parking lot over to near the ocean? Remember just how tired you were when you go there? Just the sand in general makes the game much more difficult. The uneven surface and the depth of the sand change your technique for just about every skill you ever learned in volleyball. Imagine that walk across the beach, but now instead of walking, you have to serve, run to the net to block, have the other team set off the net, so you pull, the team on the other side hits short so you dive, you get back up, and somehow after you have just done a line trip mixed with a dive, you have to figure out how to set your feet, and find the power in your legs to be explosive enough to jump and be terminal. Remember that time in indoor where you were just a little bit too early on your approach and had to slow down? Remember that time you ran a slide and jumped off of one foot? Yeah, in the sand, neither of those things can happen for you to be successful.
They call the sand the great equalizer. One of the reasons that beach players find success transitioning to indoor while indoor players don't find that success as quickly transitioning to the beach is technique. In beach, everything about your form, balance, and technique has to be great in order for you to be able to be dynamic. In order to sit in the angle in defense to dig the hard driven ball, but also be able to run down the cut shot, or the high line ball, you have to be balanced and loaded. One lean in the wrong direction and you are never going to be able to go the other direction to get the ball. Slowing your approach down as an attacker to adjust your timing in indoor may work for you because you can rely in your vertical to still explode. If you kill your momentum on your approach in the sand, you are done for.
The sand is just the first of the elements that is different for you. In indoor, you switch sides after every game. On the beach you switch every 7 points. Why is that? Well, because if you have ever been to the beach in the afternoon, the wind picks up every day, and throughout the day, the sun is at different angles. There is a definite good side or bad side on the beach due to the elements. These elements can be a challenge for a lot of players making the transition.
Let's start with the sun. How many indoor players have ever had to play with a hat or visor on? How about sunglasses? Both of those things are worn on the beach quite often depending on what the sun is like that day or at that particular time of day. So much of sports is getting into a rhythm and the sun can absolutely mess with that rhythm. Imagine you are feeling great in your approach, you hammer a few balls and then you switch sides. You go to take your approach at the exact same angle you had success on the other side of the court with, but now when you look up to find the ball, it has disappeared in the sun. For any players who transitioned to beach from indoor, you know that the first time you do this and lose the ball in the sun and barely make contact with it, it kind of rocks your confidence. How do you change your angle of attack to adjust to that?
Ok, how about the wind? I was coaching a beach match just last year in Huntington Beach where, when my athlete tried to serve, the wind was coming at her face so bad that she hit her serve as hard as she could and it barely made it to the net. How does she make that adjustment? How do you adjust your approach when the wind is blowing so hard that your set literally moves six feet before it gets to you? Don't even get me started on rain or even snow (like tryouts for the team I coached in Flagstaff had) and what those conditions are like to deal with. Or how about practice in 100+ degree weather in Phoenix where the sun is literally blistering the bottoms of your feet? Competitive beach volleyball is not for the person who needs the ideal climate that indoor provides in order to be successful.
Ok, you get it. The elements bring a whole different dynamic to the game. Experience is the only way to battle them and get better at facing them. So what else is there? How about the dynamics of being a part of a club? How might those be different?
I think the transition from indoor club to beach club is as hard on the parents as it is on the kids. For players who have played indoor and their parents, you know the dynamics of what an indoor club team are like. It is competitive for playing time. Parents in the stands can be unruly. At the end of the day, though, you have your team of however many players, and for the season, that is the team you are with, for better or for worse. You have a set schedule of tournaments you play and qualifiers you attend. You have a team camp set up at the tournaments where everyone congregates. Clubs usually will have a couple of their coaches coach different age levels of kids, or different teams. 18-1's all the way down to 10-2's have different coaches.
"There is no bench in beach"
Beach club dynamics are much different. Since it is just you and your partner, you lose a few of the things that you may have hated about indoor, but you also lose a few of the things that you may have loved about it. On the beach, there is no competition for playing time. This immediately takes away the dynamic of people being upset with each other because they felt like they should have played over someone else who got the opportunity that day. Other than club vs club events, though, it also takes away that team feel at times. Some days when you are the only team that entered the event from your club, it may just be the two of you out there fending for yourselves with just your parents there to cheer you on.
From a coaching standpoint, beach is much different as well. Many times indoor parents come to beach and expect the coaches to be talking their kid through the entire match like an indoor coach might. Not only do they not, they are not allowed to. In indoor you have a coach there for every game. In beach, you do not. Beach volleyball, therefore, develops critical thinkers. It develops players who must problem solve for themselves on the spot. It develops the intellect of players to understand situations and the adjustments that need to be made. Coaching and developing are done in practice and matches are used for evaluation and planning for the next practice. Honest self evaluation is a huge key to success on the beach. It is absolutely apparent to ALL how the match is won or lost. There is no blaming someone else, and if you do, you will find yourself partner-less really quickly! (That's a whole different blog post).
Training for beach becomes less about someone taking your position on the team, and more about how you can cooperatively work together to make each other better. You may not even be in the same training group with the same players all of the time, so you will have days where you have to be the leader to help the group to get better, and you will have days where you have to accept the role of someone else being the leader on the court. You have to learn how to find yourself out there and be yourself. If every time you go out there, there is someone new in the group and you can't figure out how to just be you around new people, you're going to have a tough time training.
Beach volleyball at the highest levels is pretty cut throat. No one wants someone in their training group that isn't going to give their best effort because that doesn't make everyone around them better. The best of the best athletes on the AVP tour train with and against each other for practice, then they have to go play against each other in tournaments. It's no different in juniors. If you don't challenge the people you are playing against by going all out on a daily basis, you will start to see yourself training with players who give the same effort consistently as you do. The only way to improve is to make sure that your effort is there every day regardless of result.
So in conclusion, yes, there are a lot of different reasons why the transition from indoor to beach can be a challenge. If you are humble enough to accept that you have some learning to do, and can put in your best effort on a consistent basis, you can absolutely play the game of beach volleyball! In fact, if you have never tried it, I would highly suggest giving it a shot! It is incredibly fun!!! The camaraderie you can build with a group of players of all ages by training with different people is incredibly unique. I know that in RPM Sand, it is more like a family feel. Everyone from alumni to our 12 year olds have a special connection.