by Jeff Smith
Nearly all of the 100 athletes participating in Serve City's beach volleyball program this summer are new to the sport. As a rookie to beach, that is most likely both exciting and a little scary to you at the same time!
And that's totally fine and to be expected. You'll be in good company at our tournaments, as the other first-year Serve City beach players will be in the same boat as you.
Hopefully all of you will be signing up for a Serve City beach tournament in the next few days. Beach practices are great for you in many ways, but practicing without playing in an actual tournament is like practicing for several weeks for a school musical and yet never taking the stage to perform for a live audience. I encourage you to register for a tournament and just go for it. It'll be a terrific experience that will stretch and grow you as a volleyball athlete.
If you're new to beach tournaments, you probably have a long list of questions. That's normal in any new activity. Here are four insights about beach tournaments and how you can prepare for them that will put you at ease about entering a Serve City tournament this month.
1. Get your body ready
July is typically one of the two hottest months of the year. Prepare yourself physically as if the weather for that day's tournament is going to be 90 degrees and humid.
- Drink lots of water and sport drink the day before the tournament. The average person needs 64 ounces of water a day. To gear up for the tournament, drink 80.
- Carb up. Eat a healthy pasta dinner for dinner and a good breakfast the morning of the tournament. If you need to eat gluten free, eat meals that will fuel up your body for a full day of physical exertion.
- Get a great night's sleep. Get to bed early and sleep for 9 to 10 hours to energize you for the tourney.
- Pack sunscreen, sunglasses, a visor and plenty of sport drink and energy or granola bars for tournament day. Be ready for everything.
2. Know the rules beforehand
We've covered the rules, regulations and differences between beach and indoor volleyball in practice. For a quick refresher on the main rules, click here to read the Great Lakes Region's beach volleyball rules of play for Chicago-area tournaments. Read these standards a few times before your first tournament so that you're familiar with them and won't be caught off guard by anything.
3. Come up with a basic team strategy with your partner
Earlier in the week, spend a few minutes talking with your partner about your team strategy. Come to agreement on some basic tactics your team will follow, such as:
- Who will be the captain for rock-paper-scissors to determine serve and side before the match?
- Who will play on the left side of the court and who will play on the right? The left-side player is usually the stronger hitter of the team, while the right-side player is generally the better setter. (This can change if one of you is left-handed. Southpaws usually play on the right side of the court.)
- Who will serve first for your team in each match?
- If you're a high school-age team, will you position a blocker at the net, and who will it be?
- If an opponent's serve splits the two of you, who will take the 50-50 ball? (If one of you is clearly a better serve receiver, a good strategy would be for that player to automatically take all serves that split the middle of the court.)
- Where do you and your partner hit best from on the court? If one of you is small, you'll probably be more successful hitting sets that are seven to 10 feet off the net or farther.
- What are your partner's strengths as a hitter? Are they best at hitting jump spikes cross-court or down the line, or do they excel more at hitting standing roll shots that frustrate opponents by landing in the short area of the court? What are your hitting strengths? The more you know about each other's strengths and weaknesses, the more you'll be able to play to your strengths and minimize your weaknesses as a team.
- Where do you and your partner most effectively serve to on the court? Knowing this will help each of you choose the right zone serving hand signals to relay to your partner when serving. For instance, is your partner better at serving to the deep end of the court, the seams or the short portion? Use your partner's strengths when signaling where to serve.
- How will the two of you determine when to call timeouts? Teams can use up to two timeouts per set. You don't have a coach, so it's up to you and your partner to figure out when to call a timeout. As food for thought, do you purposely save them for the end of each set to ice the opposing server in a tight set, or do you immediately call one early on if your team gives up X number of consecutive points?
4. Focus on your play and the experience, not on the score
Beach volleyball tournaments are very competitive, but they're not nearly as intense as club or school tournaments. The more laid-back atmosphere helps bring out the best in most beach competitors. Play to win, of course, but keep your focus on your responsibilities and your team's strategy and don't give the scoreboard a second thought. In fact, that won't be difficult because most beach tournaments don't even have a scoreboard! There's just a third team along the sidelines, notebook in hand, keeping a running score for you.
The coaching term for this is focusing on the process of playing the game instead of the outcome of the match. The nice thing is, when you just concentrate on playing each rally as well as you can, the score of the game takes care of itself. Enjoy the opportunity you have to play a fantastic sport with a good friend for a partner and the growth you are experiencing as a volleyball player by participating in a beach tournament, developing your all-around skills and improving your quickness, leaping ability and overall athleticism.
Go all-out, celebrate every good play your team makes, have fun and, win or lose, be proud of yourself for accepting the challenge of playing a new sport and stretching yourself in a new way.