Beach Juniors – Growing The Game by Brenden Matthew Pence

CHAOS BEACH VOLLEYBALL player Brenden Pence talks about growing the game by introducing juniors players to the beach game, its benefits and potential impact beach training can have for juniors for both sides of the sport!

Brenden Pence is an indoor and beach club director and coach in Columbus, Ohio. He has been coaching national level indoor and beach for 8 years and has had multiple athletes compete collegiately in both indoor and beach volleyball. Brenden continues to compete in adult tournaments across the Midwest, as well as in professional qualifiers across the country.

About 8 years ago, I started to develop a love and passion for coaching volleyball. It started at a local middle school, continued as a local club coach, and grew into multiple years as a Varsity coach and club director. Almost immediately, I hoped and pushed for cross training of beach volleyball for indoor volleyball athletes. As someone who was trained in indoor but fell more in love with the beach game, I knew what a benefit it could be to have athletes train in the Spring and Summer in the sand. Although there was a LOT of pushback originally from many local high school and club coaches, the Ohio Valley Region (OVR) has grown to be one of the largest and most talent-rich hotbeds of beach volleyball. Truly, the benefits of beach volleyball are immeasurable. Some of them include

1. Reduce Overtraining- One of the biggest epidemics in youth sports is overtraining. Most of the local volleyball athletes never get a break from the hard court. Starting in the Fall, they are in the gym every day for their High School Program. After their team is done with their tournaments, most get maybe a 2 week break before Club tryouts start (if they’re in the final four teams, they don’t even get a single day off). Clubs start earlier and earlier with their seasons, believing in quantity- that every practice and touch is essential towards their goal of nationals and beyond. Most clubs go well into April/ May, and if the team qualifies for nationals, most club kids will have multiple practices a week through June. That leaves the month of July, which by now is likely managed by their High School coach for open gyms, camps, clinics, weight lifting and individuals. Many of these programs start these expectations in April and May. As you can imagine, a young athlete (especially female athletes) can be burned out mentally and physically, not to mention completely over trained. The more over trained an athlete is, the more likely they are to be injured. Beach provides an amazing opportunity for players to still play volleyball, but to alleviate the mental and physical burn out of a year-long indoor schedule.

2. Mental Growth- Arguably the most important benefit for young athletes, beach volleyball trains mental growth and strength. Players get a chance to coach themselves more in tournaments and adapt, learn a new game with new challenges, learn new rules, deal with uncontrollable variables (wind, depth of sand, sun, etc.) They are able to find a partner who supplements their own game, deal with chemistry and teamwork, and work through many of the obstacles and challenges that come when playing with only one teammate. Even though they are still working on volleyball skills, they are doing it with new rules, strategies and a much needed break from the constant grind of indoor on their bodies. It is amazing to count how many touches a beach player gets in a 2 hour practice compared to a 2 hour indoor practice. Beach players often are better at communicating, efficiency in their movements on the court, and able to adapt and correct situations better on the fly. Generally, beach volleyball players become better decision makers, as every play there are a multitude of scenarios they have to deal with. Players can appreciate having control of their own schedule (more to come on that later).

3. Physical Growth- Speaking of that indoor grind, another major benefit is how much more comprehensively trained a beach athlete is. To be just standing or walking in the sand, an athlete has to use a multitude of stabilizers, supporting muscles and ligaments. An athlete must figure out very quickly how to move efficiently or they will be getting a lot sandier than they’d like! Not to mention, the beach game relies a lot on ball control (power has its place too of course!), so many hitters are able to give their shoulders a break from constantly swinging hard. The landing in beach is much softer and better on an athlete’s knees and backs, and requires efficient techniques to “stick the landing”.

4. FUN IN THE SUN!- Everyone can get on board with this one! Parents and players alike love to participate at these tournaments- out in the sun, fun ambience, no screaming coaches (usually), just you and your partner, enjoying this phenomenal game. Let your players play beach if for no other reason than this!!

5. Collegiate Opportunities- From 8 years ago, the collegiate opportunities have become much more prominent. Although not nearly as large or accessible as indoor opportunities, the game has grown across the country in D1 and D2 environments. It is doable for high school athletes and collegiate transfer students alike! I have had a few players get the opportunity to choose their school and play for them for 4 years, and others have been able to to transfer over after their indoor careers are finished. Although no athlete should solely play for the expectation for a full scholarship only, it does sweeten the deal that this is the fastest growing sport in the nation collegiately! It is awesome to see former collegiate players now succeed on the pro circuit.

How to Get Involved

As an adult, if you want to coach beach, my best advice is to be able to verbalize the benefits of beach to high school and club coaches. It is important to make sure you explain you are not coming after their kids to take them away from indoor, but to supplement and enhance their training. Be a resource and an advocate for them. In the big picture, the volleyball community is better as more athletes play both sports. Earn their buy in! Even invite them in to a practice sometime to see how their athletes are benefiting. Obtain any training and credentials your region may need, and seek out local adult beach athletes who want to help expand the game. Even if you just start with one team of doubles, that one team can turn into 50. My first year, I trained about 12 kids in the summer as indoor athletes in the sand. The second year we grew to 60. The third we had more than 160 beach athletes training with us. Since then, I have scaled back and now work more with the athletes who want to primarily focus on beach, but every athlete can benefit from this training! If you’re lucky enough to have a local beach, you’re set! If you’re someone like me, in the landlocked Midwest, find a local court (parks or bar with courts) talk to the owners about filling their court during the day or before leagues start and creating a new previously nonexistent revenue stream for them. And finally, play! I never make my kids do something that I myself have not done. If you’re going to ask your kids to hit the sand, you yourself should too. Beach is a game that many older players still play, so even if it is in a recreational rec 6’s league, support the game locally and show your athletes you’re a fan of this game.

How to train your athletes and practice plan –

Beach and indoor volleyball are very different, so they need to be trained differently. I keep a coaching bible of all the games, drills, and techniques I teach. There are hundreds or thousands of them out there, and we do live in the Google age which makes it easy to research and find new ideas. If you even put in a little bit of research, you will find some amazing resources to help you best plan for your athletes’ success. We are also blessed with one of the best pools of professional athletes- many of them will lend you their ear, advice or services if you reach out to them. Beach volleyball is an incredibly inclusive and generous community- just ask! Beyond that, my other best advice for how to train your athletes is
• Do not have more than 10 players on a court at a time. Of course, more players is more income, but I have found 10 players is the point of diminishing returns where there is too much standing around and not enough learning. Set a limit based on your situation.
• Set the plans and techniques, but do not OVERCOACH here. I have a favorite saying I like to follow- “complexity ruins execution”- the more simple we can keep things, the better athletes can create their OWN learning.
• 6 to 1 ratio- This is a huge part of beach volleyball. At the end of a practice, your players should have approximately 6 contacts of passing or setting for every 1 swinging contact. You can NEVER practice passing and setting enough, so look at the hitting as the reward for making 6 great passes and sets. Furthermore, when you pass and set that many times, hitting becomes a WHOLE lot easier because you become a lot more proficient at passing and setting, and also swinging out of system. Setting is absolutely essential in beach to remain in system- everyone knows WHO you’re setting, but can you get your partner the ball they need to score 9 times out of 10?

• Have fun and stay positive- these athletes will face many challenges as they hit the sand. They will often feel unathletic, under trained, and unstable. Celebrate focus, attitude and effort. The technique will continue to develop as those three are encouraged.
• Teach Movements- Many athletes will struggle with just walking in the sand, so make sure you teach balance, transfer or motion, and jumping / landing technique.
• Most drills/ games should be started with a serve.
• Train situations- have to attack on two, out of system setting, transition plays, different attacking routes and passing locations, etc.,
• Train your kids how to shorten and centralize the game.
• Watch the best professionals play and where they pass to, set to, and hit from .
• Encourage them to travel to play. Some of my best friendships are from volleyball and I have met amazing people all over the country through the beach community. This is a life-long sport -encourage them to travel to play at real beaches! The best decision I made for myself as a beach athlete and coach was to attend VolleyCamp Hermosa.
• Coach players to create their own systems based on the skillsets of themselves and their partner. Not every team you coach has to do the exact same look. Brainstorm with your teams about what their strengths and weaknesses are, and what their system is. Instill creativity.
• Let players determine their own tournament schedule. Many players get a lot more from playing with and against adults than they do against other juniors. Keep your cost minimal by not paying for/ picking their tournaments- let the players do that. Only charge them for court cost, coaching costs, and any essential equipment. The accessibility and affordability of beach are MAJOR draws compared to indoor. Host certain times for practices that they can/ should attend, but leave the tournament scheduling to them.

I sincerely hope this article illuminates the benefits of beach volleyball for juniors, as well as gave some insight into how to set up a program and get involved. I am always accessible by e-mail (moc.liamgnull@ecnep.nednerb) or by social media. See you on the sand!!