Beach volleyball, I have often heard said, is an individual sport with team rules. When things are going your way, the court seems huge, the sand inviting and the opponents small and vulnerable. When you aren’t getting the rub of the green, however, the beach volleyball court can seem desolate.
I think the beach volleyball mindset that we have to have is akin to that of tennis players. Once you are on court, the pair of you are responsible for dictating play, for setting out your tactics and reacting to what the other side are throwing at you. And, even though there are two of you, often you can feel quite isolated-if a team is relentlessly serving on one player, it’s up to that player to get things done.
I’ve come up with three concepts that I think are really important for a beach player’s mentality.
Stay in the Moment
Winning or losing, it’s easy to get carried away, to start thinking about things that are too far away. That could be the people you will face in the final, or it could be the spike that you are going to do once you have passed the ball.
All of this is a distraction from what you should be thinking about at the start and during each point: the next action. Yes, it is important to have an overview of how the game is going, and to talk about tactics, but these are to be talked about between points or in time outs (more about that in the next section). When the ball is live, though, your mind should be honing in on each individual task.
Example 1: if you are already thinking about which way to spike the ball before you have even passed the serve, then you won’t necessarily be fully in the moment when that ball arrives for you to pass it. This could lead to an error, or a missed pass off the net, making that spiking action harder than it would have been otherwise. Stay in the moment.
Example 2: If you are already thinking about who you are going to play in the next round once you have won your game, your whole attention is not on the pair in front of you. They might be adapting to the game in a way you aren’t, because they are in the moment.
My tip? Have a clear ritual to return yourself to the moment. Before every point, I think about one or two cues to return me to the next skill-I am thinking about seeing the back of my hands in my passing position and feeling my weight through the centre of my feet. Get used to this, and you will find that you strip away those extraneous thoughts to re-centre on what is important at that moment: the next skill.
Things will go wrong. Accept it.
Momentum is like a ball rolling down a gentle slope. You need to catch it early, before it deserts you.
Time outs are key to this. By time outs I don’t just mean the one per set that you are allowed to take-I also mean all the other little moments that you can snatch here and there. When you change ends, make sure you stop and walk with your partner, use it to talk.
When a ball gets shanked off, don’t sprint to go and get it-walk there and use the time to reset your mind and return to the moment.
Between points, if you have lost a couple in a row, go and straighten the line, tidy some sand, or clean your sunglasses. Allow yourself (and your partner) to return to the moment. Use the time to get your breath back, re-centre, and clear your mind. Think about the next skill.
It’s so important that you use these little moments that you get in games to your advantage. Taking definitive action to stop the other team’s momentum is vital, if you allow them to dictate the pace of the game then you are allowing them to rush you, to keep you in a state of panic. Use the time outs you are given to stop this, to catch the ball before it’s gone.
Living with the Demon
There is a little demon sitting on all of our shoulders. It works differently for each of us, but it usually reminds us of the negatives, the pressures, the expectation. It’s something that removes us from the present and takes us out of the moment. It might be about how much you want to win, or who is watching, or the size/prestige of the other team, or wanting to please your partner.
Whatever it is, you can do something about it.
Yes, these thoughts may never go away, but we can manage them.
The biggest first step is identifying a distracting or negative thought process, rather than following it. It’s like the Facebook tab open on your internet browser. You know it’s there, and you know you could open it. But you also know that there won’t be anything new or interesting since the last time you checked.
Don’t explore these thoughts. Identify that they are a distraction or a negative influence, and push them away. Replace them with something more concrete, more centred in the moment-return to the routine that you have established. If you need to, take a time out (whether an official one or a mini one.)
If you do these things, you should not only be a better player, but a better partner. Someone who is more level-headed, more consistent, more reliable. Which, at the end of the day, makes you a better beach volleyball player.