I was no different than anybody else when I began playing beach volleyball: I was bad enough to the point that only a handful of sane people volunteered to play with me. I couldn’t blame them, of course. I was genuinely terrible. If you wanted a good cardio workout, you could volunteer to chase down my passes. Other than that, I was of little use on the volleyball court.
With a limited pool of people to play with, I opted to simply practice as much as I could by myself. Most in the beach community are under the impression that you need multiple people to practice and train in order to get better.
I think this is a poor excuse. I grew up shooting hoops in my driveway until my fingers were bleeding, pounding balls at the driving range, putting and putting and putting, swimming laps for hours, running sprints in my backyard.
In every single sport, you can get better by yourself. In some cases, this is even preferable.
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For beach volleyball, you only need a ball – like our drill, Night Night Setting – or a wall or roof. In the case that I’ll mention today, you need just a ball, a net, and a trashcan (or a more sanitary target to hit, but the one I chose in Florida was a trashcan).
Judd Smith, the man who launched my beach career, saw how much I loved the game, and how much I wanted to get better. So every morning, he’d let me use his bag of balls and court in Navarre Beach, Florida. He’d set up a trashcan in the high line, and instruct me to hit 10 balls in the trashcan before I could move it. Then he’d head up to the bar, grab a Bud Light, and watch as I tossed to myself and hit high lines until I had 10 in the trashcan.
Then I’d move it to the cut shot. Judd would bring me a Bud Light and a sandwich, and I’d hit 10 more in the trashcan. Once the cut shots were finished, I’d move to the left side, where I’d hit 10 more trashcans in the high line, then 10 more in the cut.
After I completed all four corners, my morning practice was finished. The better I got, the quicker this training became.
I’d highly recommend using something more sanitary than a trashcan as your target – a chair, net, cones, bag, your dog, something – but it was kind of funny, what happened. Every tournament I played in while I lived in Florida, I’d hear Judd yell “TRASHCAN!” whenever I hit a perfect high line or cut.
While I no longer set up trashcans as targets, I do my best to get to practice 20 minutes early and hit my standing shots. It helps you calibrate, warms up the shoulder, and gets your hand contact sharp.
You don’t need to do this by yourself, either. I just like to point out solo drills because they’re the easiest to do: All you need is yourself and a ball.
Over the last two years, my wife, Delaney, and Katie Spieler did this drill a few evenings every week, setting up targets in the lines, cuts, and deep middles, setting each other hundreds of balls as the sun set.
We dubbed this “sunset shots” and those evenings are some of my favorite memories in California.
Call it sunset shots, call it trashcan, call it whatever you want, but go out and hit some shots.
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