Like most female volleyball players, Kaylee McClure started indoors on all-purpose gyms and in climate-controlled facilities.
But in seventh grade, as a member of the A5 Volleyball Club in Alpharetta, Georgia, Kaylee traveled to a tournament in Navarre Beach, Florida. Her indoor team was knocked out early, but she teamed up with another player and entered the beach tournament.
“We ended up winning the entire tournament and played some of the best volleyball ever,” Kaylee says. “But just having the sun shining on my face, wind blowing, and hearing the waves as you play was and is the most peaceful thing ever.”
“I knew then that I did not want to continue playing indoor much longer.”
Mention volleyball and most people will assume indoors, given its history dating back to the late 1800s, just four years after basketball was invented. The sport debuted at the Tokyo Olympics in 1964.
But mention volleyball now, and you must add a qualifier: Indoor or Beach?
The latter is the NCAA’s fastest-growing sport, starting with 15 Division I programs in 2012 and growing to 53 next season. Beach volleyball is projected to top 100 collegiate programs by 2020, which means a huge influx of opportunities and scholarships for female student-athletes.
Consequently, for the first time ever two years ago, more high school girls played volleyball (432,176) than basketball (429,504), according to the National Federation of State High School Associations. And that wasn’t a fluke; the trend has only continued since then.
The boom of beach volleyball is hardly set, with new clubs and tournaments constantly cropping up. But the sport’s culture remains pure and party-centric.
“Have you heard the term ‘beach bum?‘ ” Rob Long, founder of Next Level Beach Volleyball Club, a JVA member club in a suburb of Cincinnati. “Well, you think of a surfer or beach volleyball player. That culture has remained.
“Besides, would you rather be in the gym all day long or on a beach with guys and girls, and adults can have adult beverages?”
In 2012, Long criss-crossed the Ohio Valley to communicate to club directors the need to teach its athletes how to play beach volleyball. He developed seminars and events between May and August. Indoor clubs had its players compete on the beach during the summer to sharpen their overall skills.
Though he started Ohio Valley Beach with just 12 girls, Long has experienced dramatic growth over the last few years, changing the name to Next Level Beach Volleyball and counting 400 players in the program.
But instead of endearment, Long faced resentment.
“My belief is, the indoor clubs do not want to lose their athletes. They want (the players) under their thumb, doing what you want, 24/ 7,” Long says. “They don’t want their dollar walking out the door. It’s kind of harsh, but it’s kind of true.“
Rob Long lfar left, Abby Hughes far right
Troy Tanner was a member of the U.S. men’s volleyball team that won a gold medal at the 1988 Seoul Olympics. Tanner founded one of the nation’s top clubs, JVA member Tstreet Volleyball out of Irvine, California.
But he says he encourages his indoor players to head to the beach during the summer.
“No one’s blowing a whistle, no one micromanaging you,” Tanner says. “You’re just playing for joy. It really helps them to play in the sand, dealing with the wind and the sun.”
Bryan Jones runs S3 Volleyball, the largest beach club in and around Atlanta. Kaylee is one of his top players; she’ll be heading to the University of Alabama, Birmingham to play beach volleyball.
Jones says beach volleyball maintains the joyful spirit because of the team size.
“I think a lot of it has to do with — and I know it sounds funny — the girls really take ownership of their game on the beach,” Jones says. “If you have five teammates, they can help you and cover for you. Your coach can instruct you.”
“On the beach, its all up to girls,” he adds. “They take ownership of the game, 100%.”
Abby Hughes started playing volleyball when she was seven years old, and she joined her first club team in fifth grade. In seventh grade, Abby started to play beach volleyball.
She’s played both ever since.
“Everyone asks, ‘How have you played for so long without getting burnt out?’ ” Abby says. “But they’re so different. During the high school season in Ohio, you can’t play beach, and so I start to miss beach. Then during summer, I’m excited to play indoor.“
In the fall, she’ll start her senior year of high school. But earlier this year, she committed to playing both indoor and beach volleyball at Florida International University.
Abby Hughes far left with teammates
For Abby, the greatest rush in the sport comes indoors, when her entire team is rolling and flowing.
“That’s so hard to come by,” she says, “when everything is going so well at one time.“
But Abby, a setter indoors, loves to showcase all her skills on the beach.
“I can be a big hitter,” Abby says, “and I don’t have to be 6 foot 4!”
Abby, though, notes the culture of indoor versus beach is vastly different. From her experience, indoor clubs tend to stay at hotels and do not interact much with the competition. Beach clubs sometimes rent houses and do become friendly with competing teams.
“I’ve developed way more relationships off the court with (beach players),” Abby says. “The whole environment is relaxed and chill. And you play on a beach. That’s so cool!”
For related reading on junior beach volleyball click here. S3 Volleyball, Tstreet and Ohio Valley Beach Volleyball Club are all members of the Junior Volleyball Association. To find out how a JVA membership can impact your club and athletes, click here.
About the Author
This article is written by Sean Jensen from SportsEngine, the official technology partner of the JVA. SportEngine offers special pricing and packages exclusive to JVA member clubs. More than just a website, SportsEngine can help you solve serious challenges you face with tryouts, billing and collections, team communication, tournaments, and more. For more information click here.
Sean was born in South Korea, but he was raised in California, Massachusetts and Virginia, mostly on or near military bases. Given his unique background, he’s always been drawn to storytelling, a skill he developed at Northwestern University and crafted for the last 16 years, almost exclusively covering the NFL. He’s earned distinctions from the Illinois Associated Press, Minnesota Associated Press, Society of Professional Journalists, Pro Football Writers of America and Associated Press Sports Editors. In 2006, he received a special achievement award from the St. Paul Pioneer Press. In 2014, along with BroadStreet Publishing, he created The Middle School Rules children’s book series, which tells the inspirational childhood stories of famous athletes such as Brian Urlacher, Charles Tillman, Skylar Diggins and Jamaal Charles. He is a passionate author, speaker and content creator, working with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and YMCA. Sean lives in a Minneapolis suburb with his wife, two children and dog.