Sand Volleyball

posted Jun 10, 2017, 1:26 PM by Cynthia Dang   [ updated Jun 10, 2017, 1:26 PM ]

Did you know that today is National Get Outdoors Day?!  Yep, summer is officially here and Coach Mike and I will be celebrating by going to play some sand volleyball with friends tonight, which made me think of writing this blog post. With our summer program starting on June 13th, one question I’ve been asked frequently is “Why should I play sand volleyball?”

Beach volleyball was actually a “late comer” to the sports scene. While it’s been popular for eons in coastal areas across the world, it wasn’t introduced as an Olympic sport until 1996… but since that time it has grown to be one of the favorite summer Olympic spectator sports worldwide.  There are several organizations for professional beach volleyball players (AVP, NVL, EVP, etc.), but traditionally there wasn’t really a “feeder” program or great training program to introduce players to the beach. Usually indoor players would casually play on the beach, discover that they enjoyed it and try to make the transition into the tournament scene.

In 2011 sand volleyball was finally added as an NCAA women’s sport; by 2015 there were about 50 sand programs nation-wide. In June of 2015 most programs changed from the name “Sand Volleyball” to the more widely accepted “Beach Volleyball” and the NCAA Beach Volleyball Committee was created.  The first NCAA Beach Volleyball Championship was in 2016; USC won the inaugural championship and followed up their performance with back-to-back Championships taking the win over Pepperdine in 2017.

Ok, so now you’re thinking “That’s great, but you still haven’t answered my question”, right? 



Playing indoors with 6 players on the court we often become accustomed to certain movement patterns; we rely on our teammates to help fix our mistakes; we take for granted that we have stable conditions to play in; we often specialize in one position that we excel at. Take away the walls, the floor, the (usually) consistent lighting, and all of your teammates… now add the sun, the wind, the rain, uneven playing surfaces, lines you can trip over (I may have personal experience with this one! haha), and now you only have one teammate… and now you can no longer only play your position… you have to do everything…. Sounds like chaos, right? That chaos is what makes beach volleyball not only a great challenge, but an incredible learning tool.

Now that the NCAA has approved Beach volleyball as an official collegiate sport, college volleyball coaches increasingly are using beach volleyball training to improve even their indoor players. In fact the vast majority of women’s collegiate beach volleyball players also compete on their college indoor teams and their collegiate coaches expressly recognize the benefits that beach volleyball has for their player’s indoor game. John Cook, head coach of the University of Nebraska Women’s Volleyball Program states:

 "We feel there are many advantages to training in the sand and we have gone as far as building an indoor sand court at Nebraska. Not only can [the players] play on the sand, but we can train them there as well."


USA Volleyball’s John Kessel (Director of Sport Development) recommends beach volleyball for improving your indoor game. John says that:

"The beach game is GREAT for improving your indoor skills/game. Whatever your weaknesses are, you get to work on them a ton. Unlike the 6 person game, you touch the ball in every rally, and with just two of you covering the court, you learn to read and anticipate much better. Dealing with the sun and wind helps you be more adaptable. Player height is less important outdoors where ball control and skill is more important." 


I want to touch on the player height statement for just a moment. We all know by now that I am short; very short in volleyball standards. I’ve often said to my shorter players that size means nothing- it’s your skill. Last year while watching the NCAA Beach Volleyball Championships I was elated when I read the bottom of the screen and saw that this girl that was playing for Stanford was only 5’5”. I thought she looked small next to her partner, but in my world EVERYONE is tall and sometimes my judgement is off. After the player stats flashed on the screen I really engaged my brain and watched this girl play. In that particular match she was absolutely dominating the other team (whose players were 5’11” and 6’1”). This girl really proved that size doesn’t matter during the match. After the conclusion of the match I went and did some research and found that it wasn’t such a rare thing to see “short” players in the sand. In a world where indoor players seem to keep getting taller and taller, being under 6ft in the beach game still fairly common. Not that I ever thought you HAD to be tall to be a beast… Misty May-Treanor (my idol) is a three time Olympic gold medalist and the most successful beach volleyball player in history, and she’s only 5’9”.


So we know that Coach Cook and Mr. Kessel recommend it, but they’re not the only ones. Olympic gold medalist/Women’s National Indoor Team Coach and beach legend Karch Kiraly recommends beach volleyball for indoor players. According to Karch Kiraly:

"It’s easier to take your outdoor skills into the gym than to bring your indoor skills outside. Simple reason. Beach volleyball forces you to have all the skills. That’s why I think it’s a good idea for indoor players to play on the beach. . . . Learning those skills can only help improve a player’s indoor performance. All my years playing on the beach as a kid certainly helped my indoor game. If nothing else, a player’s quickness and jump will be increased by playing on soft sand."


In an Art of Coaching Volleyball interview, John Dunning (formally the head coach at Stanford University), says:

“If they learn how to play in the sand, because it’s a different game, they are going to enjoy the sport of volleyball longer in their life. It’s a social game, it helps build the love of your game; you just go out there and play with friends.”  He goes onto say that, “It makes you such a better indoor player. A lot of things get hidden by the 6 people out on the court indoor; when you’re out there in the sand they don’t hide. I think it helps, they both help each other.”


There is a TON more coaches out there that believe playing outdoors is THE way to train and strengthen your skills. For me personally as a coach the bottom line is this: If you want to get better at EVERY aspect of the game and get in shape for the next high school or club season, the sand is where you need to be. If you can’t make it to a sand court, even playing outside on the grass will be a different challenge and teach you so much about the game. Our program starts next week! If you can’t commit to the summer program, join us for a drop-in or at least go to the park with some volleyball friends a few times over the summer!  You’ll be having fun and making yourself better at the same time!