I’m out in Rio de Janeiro training at the Rio Beach Volley Academy. It’s my first time here (I know, I should have made it out here ages ago…) and I’m loving it, because it’s such a different beach volleyball experience than anywhere else in the world I’ve been to. I’ve picked out three reasons why Brazilian beach volleyball continues to be a global force..
The Brazilian training style is infamous for reps, reps and more reps-and that’s definitely not wrong. The pro players are out on the beach 5 times a week, every week, and not just with one coach. The pro players (often there’s just one of them training alone) will have up to 5 or 6 support staff working with them to make one session run. That could be hitting partners-junior players, or other players on the way up-assistant coaches (someone who just hits and serves is called an ‘arm’) and a couple of coaches.
What does this mean? It means that you can hold a level of intensity through a drill that I haven’t experienced elsewhere. You can be fed 10s of balls one after another after another, reducing your reaction time, testing your lungs and really drilling you into some muscle memory. So in 90 minutes of training, you might get two or three times as many ball contacts as a training session elsewhere, without as many support staff.
But is this good? In my opinion, yes, as long as you know what you are working on. In our sessions we have really clear goals that we’ve established, with objectives for each ball touch. Then you have to hit those goals with each touch. It’s not easy! But the theory is, if you can do that touch under loads of time and physical pressure in 30 degree heat in training, then doing that touch in a real game, under less aerobic pressure, should be easier.
Another thing that has really stood out for me is that everyone is training on the beachfront, in front of the public, at fixed times every day. I cycle about a mile along the beach to training each day, and on that journey I pass 3 pro teams training at the same time, day in, day out: players like Evandro, Alvaro Filho, Carol Solberg and Oscar. You can just sit down and watch them, if you want to. It’s comparable to the beachfront in LA, where the same happens, but it’s more regular and more regimented. You know exactly when and where each team will train.
As well as that, the beach itself has been changed in a way to make it more suited for beach volleyball-all the beach volleyball ‘centres’ have setups with nets around the court, boxes to hit off, water to cool the courts, showers next door etc. These are fully professional court setups on possibly the busiest beachfront in Brazil-it’s amazingly open for everyone to watch, and has really changed the shape and use of the beach. It’s brilliant to see beach sports being given such a centre stage!
It’s easy to see why Brazil has long been one of the superpowers of beach volleyball-the depth of players here is stunning. Although it’s famously cutthroat who plays with who, there are so many development opportunities for younger players coming through the system. They can be extras for training or sparring matches with other top players, there is a wealth of top coaches to work with, and their domestic tour is really strong and provides enough prize money to live off for lots of the middle tier teams.
We don’t get to see this depth that often on the World Tour; there, it tends to be the top 3-4 Brazilian teams travel, because it’s difficult for them to guarantee enough money from travelling there otherwise. There often aren’t any Brazilian teams at 1 and 2 star tournaments, because they can play the same or better level on the Brazilian tour, and guarantee themselves more money.
The time we do see it is when the World Tour stops in Brazil, and travel for all the Brazilian teams becomes easier. There were 6 Brazilian teams in the men’s main draw, which ended with a Brazilian 1-2, and 8 main draw teams on the women’s side, which ended with a Brazilian 1-2-4. Stunning.
What do you think about the Brazilian style? Are some commentators right that Brazil’s time is past? Why? Drop a comment below.