“Copy and Paste” Doesn’t Work on the Beach

While working with some of the largest indoor club directors throughout Texas and California during my time at Hudl, our conversations frequently shifted to beach volleyball. The club directors see the growth and hear the demands from their families to have a beach program, but were unsure how to move forward. Some had tried and had less than stellar results; others were afraid to take the first step. 

Because of the long history of indoor club, year to year structural changes are minimal. For most established clubs, a director has their manuals, programming, and calendar in place. They know how and when to host tryouts to create teams, how to schedule their gym to maximize training opportunities and minimize rental costs, how their region functions and which qualifies their teams need to attend, what their overall club methodology is and how they want their coaches coaching.

However, the beach club scene is new and rapidly developing. It seems that every year, new organizations are creating “national championships”, there are numerous points systems to review, different recruiting methods, a small window for scheduling, different tryouts, tournaments, and ever-changing partnerships to navigate.

Having a successful beach club requires a wealth of knowledge about the structure of the sport and continued research into the newest trends and developments every year.

When indoor directors first establish a beach program, they generally try to structure it the same as indoor. Tryouts are hosted, “teams” are formed, and a training block is set. Why doesn’t this work on the beach?

 

1. TRYOUTS

Indoor tryouts consist of a few days of kids in the same age group competing against others in their position. A team is created with usually two setters, three middles, five pin hitters, and two liberos. 

In beach, while we can differentiate positions (blocker, defender, left, right), most high-level players will do everything at some point. Also, there are benefits to grouping athletes on ability rather than age alone. If young athletes are on par with older players, let them compete against each other. This can only benefit the athletes and benefit your club. Because athletes can sign up for tournaments in different age groups (and can compete with different aged athletes) week to week, grouping athletes by age may limit potential. Building training groups based on skill level will create a more competitive atmosphere and allow less skilled athletes a safe space to develop. Because of how beach training groups are set up, there is room to place 100% of athletes into programming and no cuts need to be made! Hooray for giving space for all kids to develop! 

Furthermore, there has to be fluidity across training groups post tryouts. Athletes who are progressing can move into a more competitive group and vice versa. It is incredibly important to maintain constant communication with your beach coaches on the development of the athletes.

 

2. “TEAMS”

In indoor, teams are created at the beginning of the season and athletes remain with their squad for the duration of the season. This is important in indoor because of the cohesion needed on the court and makes sense because the team trains and competes as one unit. 

In beach, athletes can play with a different partner at every tournament. As they progress through their beach careers, learning how to work through adversity with a repeat partner and learning to compete with different personalities is equally important. However, it is recommended that your club put protocol in place as to whether the coaching staff or the athletes themselves will be doing the partnering. The beach partner relationship, just like our real-life relationships, can get messy. However, it is a great opportunity for athletes to develop their communication and decision-making skills, whether that be with a partner, coach, or both.

 

3. TRAINING BLOCKS

Because indoor club runs during the school year, the calendar is relatively easy. Athletes are in town during the week, making evening practices easy to run with near-perfect attendance. Not to mention access to facilities year-round and consistent weather!

For beach players unable to train year-round, “beach season” is limited to the busy summer months (even more limited if their indoor team competes in nationals and their high school starts at the beginning of August!). Families are going on trips or have other activities planned while the kids are off school. However, the benefit of summer is long days and the ability to schedule training sessions anytime during the day. An effective model that is conducive to summer scheduling is to run camps. These camps can be placed prior to a local competition or they can be “focus” camps where athletes are trained in a particular skill or element of the game. Being creative in beach programming allow athletes the greatest opportunity to engage in the sport.

 

4. STRUCTURE OF TRAINING

Indoor is about building a team of six athletes that are united as one on the court. If a match isn’t going as planned, a coach is free to make substitutions, provide feedback, hide athletes, or tell their setters who to set. Training is therefore heavy on team communication, drilling on flawless technique, and executing in all six rotations. Teams will relentlessly work on their weak rotations until there is a consistent pass and solid connection between the setter and hitters. After all, the ability to sideout quickly in the weakest rotation can be the difference between a win or a loss. 

In beach competitions, coaching and substitutions are not allowed. Therefore, the focus of beach training should be on creating mentally tough, independent thinkers. Drills need to be mentally challenging and thought-provoking where players are put in live situations and need to make the best competitive decision. For example, take a simple sideout drill where one athlete gets 10 serves and a cut shot kill is worth two points. How often should she go for the bonus? What adjustments does the defense make to ensure that the bonus points are limited? If a defender is taking away the cut shot, does the offense recognize that and take the easy high line? Beach volleyball is a game of chess: Constantly making adjustments to your side of the court to make the other side uncomfortable.  

Lastly, because beach is more of an individual sport, there is a huge opportunity to expose athletes to many different coaching voices, strategies, and techniques. While indoor coaching needs to be more consistent due to the number of athletes on the court and the cohesiveness needed for success, beach athletes can pick up bits of their game from many different coaches.

A great supplement to a beach club’s programming is to bring in a guest coach to run a camp or clinic. It can be not only a special treat for the kids to work with a professional coach or pro athlete but also a great learning opportunity for the club coaches! 

This is scratching the surface of the dozens of differences between the beach and indoor game that can create a programming headache for directors.


Share with us below some of the challenges you face because of the differences between indoor and beach? Contact us for a free consultation on what it will take for your club to develop a thriving beach program.

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