Beach volleyball tips for beginners
July 26, 2010 6:50 PM   Subscribe

Tips for a beginner beach volleyball player?

My friends and I recently started playing beach volleyball. It's all in good fun but I'd still like to work on my skills and improve my game, especially now that we've put together a team for a co-rec league. I tried googling for tips, but every page I've come across seems to assume that I'm already proficient at indoor volleyball and am simply transitioning to beach. I'm very much a beginner at volleyball in any setting. We're playing in teams of 6 so it seems that little of the strategy that applies to teams of 2 would be of use, but correct me if I'm wrong.

Here are my specific problems:

#1. I'm 5'3". I know I can forget about blocking - but in what other ways does my lack of height impact my playing and what are things I can do to compensate?

#2. I'm slow. In case you were thinking I could compensate for my shortness by being quick and agile, sadly I'm not. I'm not a fast runner in the first place, and in sand I feel like I'm running in one place. Is there a certain technique to running in sand?

#3. I am brutal at serve receiving. Part of it might be psychological. I am very afraid when the ball comes whizzing at me at high speed. I also have a hard time tracking the ball and figuring out where I need to be to receive it. I can't tell where it's going to land until it's almost there, and then see #2. If I manage to get it, the ball often goes flying in any which direction, which doesn't help the setter much. How do I absorb the ball and control its direction?

#4. I have very bendy joints that are prone to hyperextension. Right now one of my fingers is mostly blue from a sprain. How do I protect my fingers and elbows? I know a lot of it is from sloppiness since I'm so often too slow to get into position, where I end up bumping with just one arm or mistiming sets, and those hurt!

I know I'm doing a million other things wrong that I'm not even aware of yet. I'd appreciate any other tips that have helped you or others in your beach volleyball experience. Merci!
posted by keep it under cover to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (10 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I am not awesome at beach volleyball, although I have friends who are! I have played mostly recreationally, so I think I at least know what it's like to be a total beginner.

1. Oh man, don't give up on blocking! Sure, it's hard to jump in sand, but you can do it! (I have a friend who is probably shorter than 5'3" and it is amazing how well he can block)

2. For this and #1 you just need to . . . do it a lot. Try running around the court when you're not playing, just to get yourself some more practice running in the sand. Same for jumps. Play around, jump a lot. It gets easier, although it's still hard. One thing that tends to help is to make sure you keep on your toes, and don't rest your weight on your heels, which will slow you down. Being slow to get into position may be an easier problem to fix than trying to run with your arms in position (which was my problem!).

3. Stop being afraid of the ball! I know, I know, this is hard, it's fast and that's kind of scary! Getting over being afraid of the ball was my first major hurdle, and once I crossed that, volleyball was so much more fun! Make sure to follow the ball with your eyes the whole time it's in the air, and follow it as it flies. You'll get better at this as time passes, just pay attention to the ball, and watch where it goes, even if it isn't coming towards you. To help get things to the setter, make sure as much as possible that you're facing the setter or looking at her or him or where you need to set the ball to. Conversely, if you can watch where the hitters on the other team are looking, you can often use that as a hint as to where they plan to hit the ball.

4. I never had this problem particularly, but I know people do tend to tape their fingers which seems like it may well help.

In general, you'll get better to a certain point by just playing regularly, and then to get past that point you will have to actively work on things. The playing regularly point can be reasonable for recreational and casualish competitive play, but it won't win you any tournaments. I was never as dedicated as most of my friends, and so my overhand serves and hits are still pretty lacking.
posted by that girl at 7:26 PM on July 26, 2010

I agree with that girl, the number one thing you can do is to stop being afraid of the ball. You can't really be as effective as possible if you're not willing to just go after it.
posted by MidsizeBlowfish at 7:56 PM on July 26, 2010

Practice digging with the back of your hands.

Seriously. Lots of times, you won't be able to scramble fast enough in the sand - so learn to dive forward and dig with the palms of your fands facing the ground.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 7:58 PM on July 26, 2010

There are exercises to strengthen your fingers. But taping isn't a bad idea. Serve reception is a matter of concentration and practice. Assuming you're holding your arms correctly to bump, you just need to concentrate (hard to do when you're anxious). You can also increase the hight of your jump through training. People also do weight training--jumping against resistance. Get those you play with to work with you on skills.
posted by Obscure Reference at 1:13 AM on July 27, 2010

For fear of ball practice, have someone serve at you, and hit the ball with your head, like a header in soccer. That'll force you to keep your eyes on the ball, and you'll quickly learn that even if the ball is coming straight at your face, it takes just a little tiny readjustment that can be done in .1 seconds to make it hit your forehead where it won't hurt at all instead of your nose, which can be kinda painful. Bonus points since hitting the ball with your head is allowed during the game, too!
posted by Grither at 5:27 AM on July 27, 2010

1. Do give up on blocking, and work on your defense instead. Offensively, it is key for short players (well, everyone really, but especially short players) to develop good topspin on their hits to make up for the lack of height, so work on getting a good snap of your wrist at the top of your swing.

2. Running in sand is just tough, but you'll get better if you practice.

3. You have to want to pass the ball. As far as controlling it goes, it helps to keep your platform (your arms) locked out and straight, and as far from your body as possible. Bend your knees and put your shoulders forward, like this girl, although her weight is too far back.

4. This is just a thing that sucks about vball. My fingers are all mangled and weird, although I've only broke one in more than a decade of play.

I've played vball since I was 12 and player-coached my team in college.
posted by Aizkolari at 5:37 AM on July 27, 2010

Also, Benny's idea about pancaking in the sand is not really feasible, especially for a beginner player.
posted by Aizkolari at 5:38 AM on July 27, 2010

Best answer: Everything I say comes from a mostly non-competitive point of view, but I play pretty regularly on sand after never really having played before. Are you playing 2v2? 6v6?

1. Height is definitely not a problem, unless you're in a relatively competitive league. Most people I play with aren't able to get too high over the net, but if people are playing the net a lot either back off to be prepared for a dig after a spike or be prepared for a short tip just over the net. It just takes experience to know when to prepare for each one. Working on jumping will probably help, but if you learn to dig really well it won't matter if you're never at the net.

2. Running in sand is hard. That's pretty much it. Practice, practice, practice, and you'll eventually feel less like you're sinking in and more like you're actually making progress. This is much easier in a 6v6 game, since you'll have a lot less space to be responsible for.

3. I've never really been bothered by receiving the serve, but standing firm in the face of a hard spike totally takes getting used to. The best cure for being afraid of the ball is to just be hit by it. A lot. It really doesn't hurt all that much past the initial sting (and possible blow to your ego...). Tracking the ball is a very different issue. Just be sure to keep your eyes firmly on the ball, and be wary of wind. The ball is light so it can take some odd turns or stops in a breeze.

Learning that bump pass to the setter was one of the things that gave me the most trouble. You have to learn to let your arms give a lot if the ball is coming in at a good speed. It helped me to think of my arms as just breaking apart when the ball hit them, so there's not a solid surface for it bounce off. Learning positioning and angling your arms correctly can help a lot. Things will be much easier when the game slows down a bit for you and you can get set in a spot before the ball reaches you.

4. I'm not really prone to much hyperextension, but strengthening the muscles around the affected areas might help. Wish I could be more help...

And as for Benny Andajetz suggestion of digging with your palm down, you might want to check the league rules to make sure that's allowed. It's also a lot harder on sand than on a gym floor.

Feel free to MeMail me if you have any specific questions about any of this. I love volleyball, and I love helping people get involved.
posted by This Guy at 5:41 AM on July 27, 2010

My tip is to take a beginner class. For me, just the very first class made a HUGE difference in my ability to control the ball. Your local rec-and-ed may offer them, by me every city offers beach vball classes but I live in CA. I think at this stage even an indoor class would be a huge help for beach playing, since you always need to be able to effectively control the ball. Having someone demonstrate and watch you and correct your bad form and give you personal pointers can't be overrated.
posted by lemonade at 6:45 AM on July 27, 2010

Best answer: Yes, it sounds like you would benefit from developing the basic skills of the game, forget the substrate.

Blocking can be effective even if you don't get very high. How high do you think the other side is jumping? Just getting your hands there will cut off territory that the opposing team can spike in, taking pressure off your partner. Put your thumbs up (pointing towards the sky) and your hands slightly less than the width of the ball. When you clear the net with your hands, flex them forward so that reflected shots go down onto the other side.

As mentioned, running on sand is hard. Doing it a lot makes it easier. Sand also makes diving for digs easier. Dive like a u-boat! Never run with your arms together. Ideally, you run, get your footing and position your arms, and then complete your bump. You may not be able to get your footing all the time, but positioning your arms is always a second step if you have to move.

For serve reception, and running in general, know where you have to be and where you don't have to be. This field sense comes with practice, but there are basics to keep in mind. You should stand far enough back that any ball over the level of your shoulders is going out of bounds. That gives you no reason to move backwards.

Which brings me to the point that you should always run forward for receiving. Then, be confident in your partner covering their territory. Now you've only got a small square to cover. You can get to where you need to be. When the serves are coming fast at you, all you have to do is aim your bump in the right area and let the ball hit your arms. And even let your arms give after making contact with the ball as This Guy said. Hits from the ball don't sting as much when you aren't moving through them and you'll have more control if you take some of the mustard off the incoming hit.

It also sounds like you would benefit from a simple bump-set-spike back and forth drill with your partner. One bumps to the other, who sets to the first person who spikes it back to the other. After developing a rhythm with that, increase the intensity of those spikes. You'll start to see that the ball is not that scary, no matter how fast it's coming at you.

Good luck and remember to have fun.
posted by HE Amb. T. S. L. DuVal at 1:49 PM on July 27, 2010

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