This spring, we’ve added to our our women’s volleyball program at LMU the grueling task of sand volleyball. We’ve set our portable offices by the waters of Marina Del Rey. We’ve toiled amidst the horrific backdrop of sun sand and waves, yet we’ve carry on…

For all the differences in the beach and indoor games, the similarities and cross-overs have been several. There has, however, been one key difference in behavior.

We compete really hard during our sand practices.

This is not to say we don’t get after it on the hardwood. Our team takes it seriously, works mindfully, and plays hard. Sure, we have moments we could be better and the coaches have to bark a little, but the norm is at a good level. None of that is what I’m talking about. On the sand it’s different;

It’s personal.

When we compete for individual points, with the losers moving down and the winners moving up, their investment soars. They complain about calls (I tell them to stop), they talk CONSTANTLY to one another during the play (I definitely don’t tell them to stop). The one’s that don’t talk are reminded forcefully by their partners to communicate better (I cover a gleeful laugh and let that go). They challenge each others on their scores at the end of each round (For sure, I tell them to stop.) When I ask them before each water break what they’ve learned, several are ready to share their observations. As they wave off after missing a side-out, they often have a question as to how they can approach that play better next time.

This probably isn’t very shocking to many who have played beach volleyball, especially to those who played in the days of 5 courts going and losers sitting for hours, thinking of how they need to improve to hold court next time. There’s something about the beach, be it the individualized format, the “win or go home” structure, maybe the combination of both, that just breeds competitiveness.

I believe one of the great benefits of indoor over sand is the connection of being a true member of a team. The structure of the indoor game allows it to be seen a little easier you are a part of something much bigger than yourself. One of the challenges of the indoor game is there is more to hide behind. There’s five other people, there’s personal stats (who in a beach game is going to say “yeah I lost, but I got 20 kills and hit .400!”??), and there’s only one match no matter what. In the traditional beach bracket, you have to earn the right to go on. You’re always in the playoffs.

Generating this type of intensity indoors is of course possible, but maybe more difficult. There are many different methods being used in the indoor game to foster competition, but in my short tenure as a sand coach, none of them seem to have had the immediate and profound impact of two beach courts, a few volleyballs, and the instructions that winners move up and losers move down.

One of my personal goals over the next two months is to carefully observe how many of these behaviors play out, and to see if we can can improve upon our current structure to weave the best elements of both games into one coherent training plan. We’ll see it how it goes. Hopefully better than my bright reddish tan…