At the collegiate level, the dual athlete is becoming extinct. Only a handful of athletes can handle the rigor of two sports during a collegiate year, especially at the Division I level. The trend is trickling down to the junior level, and hybrid athletes serious about indoor volleyball and beach volleyball have to sacrifice something to excel at both.
Let’s look at the challenges hybrid volleyball athletes face, and the opportunity that these challenges present on the landscape of beach volleyball:
Challenge: Not enough time
Junior beach volleyball has become a year-round sport, propelling more opportunities for competition, and raising the level of talent. What was once a 3-4 month season, is now easily 6-9 months, matching the demands of playing indoor volleyball. If an athlete competes for a high school program, an indoor club program, and a beach program in a given year the athlete is essentially training 19-21 months in a 12-month year.
- High School usually covers August/September – early November (for girls) with a commitment of 5 days per week.
- Indoor club season will start as early as mid-November/early December and ends in June or early July with a commitment of 3-4 days per week plus 8-12 weekends.
- Beach is primarily February/March – mid-August and requires 3-4 days per week plus several weekends. However, warmer climates and clubs with indoor beach courts are offering leagues, tournaments and training in the fall and winter months as well.
Also there is high school beach season! In FL, there are now at least 30 high schools participating in a new beach league. They are using the duel format with a season that runs from late February to May. Coach Dave Palm in West Palm expects to practice his high school team 5 days per week, adding even more complexity into the planning for not only families, but Beach Club Directors as well.
Dakine Volleyball Club in Tacoma, Washington fields several nationally competitive teams and Division I beach athletes each year, and has some Freshman and Sophomores still playing both surfaces, but these are intermediate players, hitting as many beach practices as their schedule permits.
“By the time athletes are juniors, they are making their decision to go either beach or indoor. Beach volleyball is now very competitive, and there is no longer any low hanging fruit in terms of beach scholarships. Players have to pick their surface now, and be all in by their junior year” shares Dakine Beach Director Chris Hannemann.
This trend is starting even younger as players as young as 8th grade are passing on indoor to pursue their beach dreams.
Challenge: Burnout and overuse
Collegiate beach coaches are finding out that their star indoor player committed to play for them actually cannot compete on the beach due to burnout, and the beach program is left shorthanded. This is becoming more common among the Division I beach programs. Getting the “free” indoor scholarship player has resulted in not being worth the risk, since many bail last minute on the beach season due to fatigue or burn out.
Volleyball in general is a very asymmetrical sport. Swinging with a dominant hand, landing mostly on one hip over time will change the symmetry of the body. Although beach is a more giving surface that does not cause the same stress on the knees, shins and back, elite athletes are still exerting the same muscle groups and taking numerous swings with their dominant shoulder.
Any professional or collegiate athlete has a prolonged offseason, a time to focus on other aspects of their life, as well as get their bodies physically ready for the upcoming season. Athletes at the junior and college level competing in beach and indoor feel pressure to attend camps, clinics, and training whenever offered in order to meet expectations and not miss out. This results in limited physical and mental rest and recovery time.
Opportunity: Validation for juniors beach
Dakine Volleyball Club only has a few elite athletes now trying to do both surfaces at the same time. This year marks the first year that the girls playing indoor at Dakine cannot travel with the beach team to events. This is because sports on the travel beach program are so competitive now.
“Beach athletes are committing to training year-round on the beach and it simply isn’t fair to give travel spots to the indoor girls,” adds Hannemann. “In the years past I have always accepted the exceptional players to our travel events. Now things are just too tight with training and commitment. Our top girls practice on Tuesday, Thursday, and Sunday, which is also the same days our top indoor girls practice and I would assume it’s the same in other clubs, so the timing isn’t great.”
Dakine has a Sunday beach program during the season called “Sandy Sundays” where top athletes from all clubs to come to Dakine and train in the sand during the indoor season. They can also train in the sand on Mondays and Wednesdays, but the level is lower since it is the non travel groups. The elite indoor athletes are limited in terms of how much training and travel they can do with the elite beach program.
Hannemann shares that many collegiate beach coaches will ask him “Is she playing all beach or is she doing indoor as well?” Across the board the movement is one or the other. “I think this just adds more validity to our sport of beach volleyball.”
Most Division I collegiate programs now have a full time beach coach and are moving away from using the beach season as a training program for their indoor players. Coaches are fielding a full roster of beach only athletes.
Opportunity: More matched competition and elite events
Beach clubs are joining together to create a competitive slate of events for their athletes to compete in, for example the BVCA Club Challenge Series powered by JVA. The format is a duel tournament, which made it practical for the NCAA to adopt beach volleyball. Each club brings a team of six players, broken up into three doubles teams. Terminologically, you could also say a club brings a squad of pairs. Just as with any tournament, you’d enter that squad into a pool, where the squad will be matched up against other squads from other clubs. Those matchups between two squads is referred to as a duel.
Most “Open” Division BVCA events are 5 squad events. Clubs will travel 10 to 12 players, and the “6th” team will play exhibition matches, very much like the collegiate level.
“This really challenges a club’s depth, and I think really makes the Directors think about the future strength of their whole program and depth rather than a few players on the top, again very much like the collegiate programs” adds Hannemann.
The BVCA Club Challenge Series events are nationwide, drawing in college coaches from all over the country to recruit top talent competing in the same competition model as the college programs. As more clubs begin working together to create their competition schedule, we will see an increase in high level tournaments that do not require as much travel for the elite beach athletes, similar to the growth of Power Leagues on the indoor side. In addition, adopting the club duel format will give the junior athletes a gateway to the expectations and culture of college beach volleyball, something the college coaches find valuable, especially for incoming freshmen.
Most big weekends for beach and indoor tournaments fall on the same weekends. So it is very difficult for a player to do both competitive indoor and competitive beach.
“If a player wants to do both now at Dakine, they have to finish their season at the end of June, and try and catch up to the beach players that have trained in the sand all year long. Very hard to do.” states Hannemann.
Overlapping beach volleyball and indoor volleyball can work, but athletes, coaches and families need to have realistic goals and be structured with each individual player’s time. Athletes need an “off-season”, some time away from the sport, that values strength training over repetitions. Set up a yearly calendar and make adjustments based on mental and physical health. Have healthy conversations with your high school coach, indoor club coach and/or beach coach to find balance.
This article was a collaboration with Chris Hannemann, Club Director of Dakine Volleyball Club, a JVA member club located in Tacoma, Washington.