Developing Autonomous Beach Athletes

One of the beautiful aspects of beach volleyball and a huge differentiator between it and indoor is the autonomy of the sport. In, the main responsibility of the athlete is to show up. Their schedules are made for them, uniforms ordered and distributed, coaches assigned, and film/stats sessions are led by the staff. In beach, most pro athletes have to navigate partnerships, hire a coach, create their own training schedule, build out their competition calendar, negotiate sponsorships, and hire a strength and conditioning coach, medical provider, and sports psychologist. They film and break down video themselves, decide what stats are important for their development, and scout their opponents. 

With junior athletes now training and competing within beach clubs, athlete autonomy is often left under-developed. Even though athletes have four years of college to prepare for their professional careers, there are easy-to-implement solutions to assist in the autonomy development of your junior beach athletes.



At the beginning of a training block, ask your athletes to set their personal and SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-bound) goals for the duration of that block. Have them share these with you in advance of the first training session. This will not only help you cater your coaching to your individual athletes but also, you should see some main themes for the whole group. 

At the first training session, spend the first ten minutes setting three goals as a group. This will help focus your athletes and create a solid foundation for that training block. At the last session of that block, go over the group goals and then take a few minutes with each athlete to go over their personal goals and review what went well and what they would like to improve on for the next time.



Whether the competition schedule is controlled by your club, the athlete, or a little of both, there is value to having your athletes create their schedule at the beginning of a training block. This schedule should include competitions, practices, strength and conditioning, and any other relevant activities. 

For competitions, have them dive a little deeper. Ask them to create a “mock” budget, navigate that organization’s points system, research the tournament format, and set their SMART goals. After the event, have them fill in the actual costs so that they can learn and be more accurate for the next event. 


Sample Budget

Event Title: CBVA 16U  |  Location: Santa Cruz, CA  |  Date(s): 3/14/2020
Line Item Budgeted  Cost Actual Cost
Registration Fee $45 $45
Travel Costs (gas, flight, etc) $20 $15
Hotel $120 $120
Food/other expenses $50 $60
TOTAL $235 $220



Whether your club partner athletes together or it’s left up to them, having them think critically about partnerships is key to their autonomous growth. After a few weeks of training, consider having your athletes answer these questions and send them to you:

  • In our training group, who is your ideal partner(s)? Why? What areas do you need to improve on to secure this partnership?
  • In our training group, who is the most realistic partner(s) for you? Why? What are areas for improvement to make this partnership more successful?

As a coach, you may be surprised by the answers you get and will learn quite a bit about your athletes. This is a great exercise for encouraging your athletes to reflect on where they currently are and where they would like to be. 



Although the culture is starting to shift, video and stats are generally underutilized in beach volleyball. With the free resources available to athletes, there is no reason why these shouldn’t be a part of every serious athlete’s weekly development regimen. 

Watching Others: Have your athletes pick a professional or collegiate athlete who they think has a game similar to their own. It can be as simple as choosing a blocker or defender. Then, have them YouTube the most recent match of the athlete they can find. Have them rate the athletes’ skills from 1-10 where 10 is “Olympic gold medal” and 1 “Needs serious improvement”. Have them justify their ratings but make sure they know there are no right or wrong answers!



Date of Match:



Watching Themselves: If your athletes are in the recruiting process, chances are they already spend a good amount of time watching themselves. However, there is a difference between watching for highlights and watching for development

In the same way that they watched the pro athlete, have your athletes critique a match of themselves. However, change the scale to be more applicable to their future goals: College recruitment. Have them use Top 10 D1, 10-20 D1, 20+ D1, D2, D3, JC, NA to rate their skills.  


Match Review Self-Assessment

Bump Setting
Hand Setting
Attacking - Driven
Attacking - Shots
Digging - Driven
Digging - Shots
Sand Dynamics
Volleyball IQ



Scouting in beach volleyball can be difficult because of the unpredictability of the next opponent. However, asking your athletes to create a simple hitting chart is a great exercise in focusing your athletes during their off matches, even if they end up not competing against that pair. A very simple hitting chart method:

  • Draw a line from where the player hit from (on their own side) and to on the other side. If the attack is hard-driven, the line should be solid. If it’s a shot, the line should be dotted. At the end of the line, draw an X for a kill, an O if the opposing team digs the ball, and an E for a hitting error. 
  • As your athletes become more advanced and quicker at scouting, you can add more complexities such as rating their serve receive passes (0-3) and marking whether the defense was blocking line, angle, or pulling off the net (BA= block angle, LB= line block, NB = no block).
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After the match is over, have your athletes jot down some scouting notes that they learned.


Scouting Report Example

Attacking Tendencies Our Defensive Strategy Our Serving Strategy
Left Side Player
Right Side Player
Overall Serving Strategy
Overall Strategy



Assign one athlete per court per training session to run a drill they designed (make sure they submit to you at least a day in advance for you to look over!). They will begin to understand the complexities behind beach volleyball training sessions and why/how you develop and run the drills the way you do. 


Drill Template

# of Athletes
Drawing  (see court diagram below)


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Another perk of implementing these “homework” assignments for your athletes is to test their level of engagement and drive to become a better beach volleyball player. You will find that some athletes complete these assignments promptly and thoroughly, whereas others will leave it until the last minute, incomplete, or not even bother at all. For me as a coach, I always want to invest more time and energy into those who I can see investing in and being accountable for their development. 

If you implement a few of these off-the-court development opportunities, you will not only encourage your athletes’ autonomous development but also will learn a ton about your athletes! Happy training!

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