Beach volleyball is rapidly growing across the country and the demand for beach offerings has never been greater. With this momentum comes challenges in finding the right structure for sustainable success at your club, as well as creating a model that keeps your athletes and families happy.
The differences between beach and indoor run deeper than the surface of the court and the number of athletes competing on one side. Here are some considerations for club directors in building a sustainable beach offering in the coming year.
EMBRACE THE HYBRID MINDSET
The rapid growth of beach volleyball at the junior level, specifically with girls, is a credit to it recently becoming an NCAA collegiate sport. This traction highlights that there are two primary disciplines (indoor and beach) in volleyball and requires a new mindset in managing athlete development.
While the initial tendency was to squeeze beach activities into what remained of the indoor off-season, the trend is changing to clubs developing discipline-specific and overlapping program options.
Now, indoor clubs are growing beach programming and beach clubs are accommodating indoor schedules to make training in the sand a year-round option. Over 10% of indoor clubs have begun to explore beach offerings and this number will only continue to grow. Most have identified targeted training periods and are now attracting more participation in overall club activities throughout the year. In addition, there are about 500 beach clubs and the most successful ones are creative in balancing hybrid athletes by tailoring year-round training packages. This allows athletes to participate in less time-intensive beach development during the period they are committed to indoor.
Both hybrid models support growth in club participation, opportunities for extended revenue generation and athlete satisfaction. The key is to harness the surge of excitement in the sport by supporting the dual pathway at any level.
MARK YOUR BEACH SEASON
Every beach club is unique, primarily due to geographic locations for weather, stage of growth, and access to facilities, both indoors and outdoors. Unfortunately at this time, there is not a replicable “one size fits all” model for success; it must be tailor-made. One of the biggest challenges for the club director is determining the beach season, specifically the dates, that can be sustainable and meet the demands of the athletes. Keep in mind that what got the club where it currently is may not get the club where it is going in the coming year(s).
Depending on the factors listed above, some clubs may only have a month in the summer, others a few more, and even fewer have a comprehensive annual calendar. The good news is that quality solutions can be found at all levels to maximize participation, generate revenue, and drive growth and success.
Once you have decided what beach calendar is right for your club, you can begin planning activities that support the goals and objectives of your club at all levels.
ENCOURAGE TEAM AND INDIVIDUAL COMPETITIVE ASPIRATIONS
Understanding the individual aspect of beach volleyball in planning competitive pathways for a club is complex. The autonomous nature of the sport allows athletes to train and compete whenever and with whomever they want. While there are very few club versus club tournaments offered, there are endless unique competitions, national tournament qualification pathways, and points systems athletes can engage in. Paying attention to both team and individual opportunities will allow greater efficiencies in running the club, managing coaching commitments, and enhancing satisfaction with all levels of athletes.
In indoor club volleyball, teams are formed for the year, coaches are assigned, a tournament schedule is set, and a training regimen is established. Directors can easily structure an entire program around a group of athletes, knowing the team can commit to compete in the selected events, despite unforeseen circumstances. This can be a bit more challenging for beach directors.
In beach clubs, partnerships may change every weekend for the entire year. Athletes may train within multiple clubs and typically navigate their own pairings for each tournament based on their individual aspirations. Club coaches may offer input but the final decision is typically left to the athletes to decide and to register. This does not make planning as seamless as the traditional indoor approach. Not to mention there is no bench in beach! Lack of substitutes for injuries and last-minute cancellations may wreak havoc on a planned beach competition or trip.
Fostering a healthy beach club culture requires appreciating that there are two competitive pathways, team and individual, that should be encouraged and celebrated.
Empower your athletes to navigate their individual aspirations but also highlight your calendar with some club vs club competitions. This allows you to successfully staff coaches and showcase your club culture at major events while supporting the autonomous athlete. Clarifying expectations for competitions and partnerships will allow athletes and families to confidently maximize their engagement and for your organization to prioritize quality, drive sustainability, and build momentum around club successes.
FOCUS ON QUALITY TRAINING
Because of the individual aspect of beach, the focus of beach clubs should be to drive quality training opportunities that fit both the club goals and resources as well as the growth and appetite of its athletes. There are many factors to get right for a training program including overall calendar, weekly scheduling, coaching staff, number of athletes, program packaging, age groups, genders, athlete to coach ratio, pricing models, development levels...the list could go on!
Despite these considerations, the golden ticket for successful clubs lies within having an experienced beach coach driving your athlete’s training and development.
In this phase of rapid growth, identifying a skilled beach coach to lead or guide your coaches and volunteers may be one of your toughest challenges. However, there are many options that can be incorporated if you are limited by your coaches’ experience or availability. For example, condensing a training program into a camp and bringing in a veteran coach to lead it might be an option. This provides exposure to quality drills and feedback for your athletes as well as a learning opportunity for new beach coaches. Another option would be to invest in your coaches by supplementing their knowledge with a beach education program. It is imperative that your athletes have access to training prepared by an experienced beach coach.
CREATE A CULTURE FOR INSPIRATION
More than anything, when an athlete joins a club it is the duty of the club to provide inspiration. It can be to improve peer-to-peer interactions, become healthy and fit, challenge their growth as an athlete and person, develop leadership and communication skills, make friends, reduce stress, engage in teamwork, and/or learn time-management. Again, the list can go on for the benefits outside of winning the tournament.
Consider bringing in a professional beach athlete to your club to lead a camp and share their journey. Our beach pros have so many insights and lessons learned that all athletes and coaches will take away new knowledge to improve their game. Better yet, why not host a pro athlete camp during the Olympic games in 2020! What better gift than to give your athletes an Olympic watch party attended by a professional athlete to provide guidance on team’s competing and what to watch for?
Another element for clubs to consider is off-the-court athlete advocacy, including educating them on navigating the recruiting process and preparing them for the collegiate experience. Holistically developing the athlete in terms of mentoring, managing partnerships, academic guidance, strength and conditioning programs, sand agility training, film review, sports psychology, health and wellness, nutrition, and athletic training are vital for elite performance.
Providing educational opportunities for off-the-court athlete development should be woven into club calendars.
Furthermore, everyone knows that sport and recreation clubs are the hub of community life, especially at the local level. If a club is in the early growth stages, it may be necessary to engage with other local clubs to build exchange initiatives (such as with hosting a competition or pro clinic) to keep motivation high, burn-out low, and opportunities for growth efficient. This also boosts energy in forming a hub or league of beach volleyball that is locally accessible and allows growth to flourish.
Lastly, remember to share your story on social media! You will find many of the beach influencers and athletes on Instagram sharing their journey from across the world.
This blog was originally published on October 10, 2019 by the Junior Volleyball Association.