Arizona is set to become the first state to offer high school sand volleyball this spring, the NCAA has designated it as an “emerging” sport that will begin competition in March, and stars such as Kerri Walsh and Misty May-Treanor have achieved international fame on the sand at the Olympics.
So how well will your indoor game translate to the great outdoors?
Several pro beach volleyball players who got their start on the court share their advice so you can make your transition to the sand box a reality.
Challenge No. 1? Mother Nature, in all her windy, rainy and sunny glory.
“The hardest transition from indoor to beach is getting used to the wind,” says Angie Akers, who is in her 10th year as a pro. “The wind makes the ball do funky things, and this is where ball-control comes even more into play. In windy conditions, the team with the better ball control will have the odds in their favor.”
Akers, who was a basketball and volleyball star at Bishop Luers (Fort Wayne, Ind.) before playing volleyball at Notre Dame, urges newcomers to play on the sand as often as possible. And reminds them to pack a bag of patience.
“The more you play, the more you learn and the better you get,” she says. “It is an easy sport to get frustrated by, but you must realize that the learning process may be ongoing, but it is all so worth it.”
Lisa Rutledge, who made her beach debut in 2005 and is competing for a spot in the 2012 Olympics in London, agrees.
“The hardest thing for me was not to get too frustrated with myself,” she says. “Sand is an entirely different game than indoor volleyball. Even if you are an amazing indoor player, your skills are going to take time to transition to the sand.”
Rutledge recommends working with a sand volleyball coach on the key tactics of serving, serve receive and learning to use the wind to your advantage.
“It takes an all-around great volleyball player to be a great sand player because you must be able to perform every skill,” she says.
Nicole Branagh, who tied for fifth with former partner Elaine Youngs at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, advises newcomers to focus on developing their “sand” legs.
“All of the skills used from playing indoor will transfer over to the beach, so you have a great start,” the Miramonte (Orinda, Calif.) graduate says. “You can get your sand legs by going for a run in the sand.
“I used to try and go three times a week for 20 minutes on top of my training. It can be a job just to get your legs ready.”
Other sand stars encourage volleyball players to stick with other sports.
Kelly Schumacher, who played basketball, volleyball, tennis, badminton and soccer in high school and then went on to play basketball at Connecticut and the WNBA, recently has focused on beach volleyball full-time. The Pontiac (Shawville, Quebec) graduate believes playing different sports in high school helped make her a better all-around athlete.
“I'm thankful for my coaches and teammates being supportive in my decision to play multiple sports,” she says. “It seems these days when I talk to high school athletes, there isn't time for them to play more than one sport, and that makes me sad.”
“Basketball and volleyball are very different, with one being a contact sport and the other being played in the sand, but some of the jumping and lateral movement needed for basketball definitely transfers over.”
Christal Engle, who turned pro in 2009, takes that sentiment a step further.
“I would like to challenge young athletes to make sure they have a balance in their lives,” says the Puyallup (Wash.) graduate, who lettered in both volleyball and track. “Play other sports, don't wear yourselves thin, and also have other hobbies away from sports so that you don't get burnt out.
“Playing different sports will improve your volleyball game in ways you might not think. I strongly believe that athletes are starting to focus in on one sport way too early these days.”
And the key to sand volleyball, and almost every other sport, is to remember that it’s fun. In this case, really fun.
“Honestly, beach volleyball is one of the most unique sports in the world,” says Olympic hopeful April Ross, a Newport Harbor (Newport Beach, Calif.) graduate. “I firmly believe beach volleyball is the most fun sport to play on the planet. I can't praise it enough. If you have the chance to play the sport seriously, I'd say definitely go for it.
“It's very tough, but equally as rewarding.”