At the time, it seemed like the silliest drill I’d ever done.
Two days before p1440 Huntington Beach, at the end of the 2018 season, our coach, Leandro Pinheiro, had us jumping over a bench -- to begin our approach.
I’ve long been a supporter of making everything as gamelike as possible. It’s always made the most sense to me: Train how you play. When you play, you sure as heck aren’t jumping over benches to begin an approach. You shouldn’t be jumping at all.
But Leandro saw something in my partner, Myles Muagututia, and I that he didn’t particularly like, and he wanted to fix it. All week long, we were getting ahead of the set, so when we went to swing, the ball was either on top of our head or a little behind us. We lost power, precision, and vision in virtually all of our attacks. We were still able to function, mind you, in the same sense that we can all function on six or seven hours of sleep. Eight hours is just inarguably better, just as hitting the ball in front of us is inarguably better.
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Leandro wanted us to be as close to perfect as we could be heading into the final tournament of the season, and one in which Myles and I could legitimately compete with some of the best talents both in the country and the world.
So he set up a drill to negate any possibility of us approaching too early. Myles and I stood deep in serve receive, with Leandro at the net. He’d slap a ball, which commenced our approach. In front of us was a bench we had to jump over. Problem was -- or what we thought was a problem -- Leandro was already setting the ball by the time we landed. We thought we were going to be late, so late, until... every single time, we were precisely on time. The ball, no matter where Leandro set it, was always in front of us on contact. We were hitting better angles, with more heat, able to see the entire court in front of us.
We did that drill for maybe an hour: slap, jump over the bench, approach, swing. It was one of the best drills I’ve ever done to fix -- or at least temporarily alleviate -- the most chronic mistake in beach volleyball: approaching too early.
Our Attacking Master Class is loaded with drills just like these to help fix that issue, so if you're too early on your approach, or if you're offense isn't where you want it to be, I highly recommend you check it out!
Two days later, Myles and I won our pool without losing a set, a considerable achievement, given that Ed Ratledge and Rafu Rodriguez were also in our pool and didn’t win a set. One day after that, we took career-high fifth-place finishes, and the most prize money either of us has ever won in a tournament (we split $5,000).
Of course, there are countless more elements that go into successful tournaments, but we sided out as well as we ever did in a roughly year-and-a-half long partnership. It was the drill we didn’t know we needed, to get the finish we always knew we wanted.
Drills might seem silly sometimes. In fact, they almost all do, especially the ones that aren’t very gamelike.
In beach volleyball, silly tends to work.
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