Most of my friends and beach volleyball partners are currently in Cancun, competing in an unprecedented back-to-back FIVB tournament series that will be critical in the race to the Tokyo Olympic Games. With all of them gone, it’s been tough to find full training groups. It would have been easy to take a few weeks off. Wait until things settle down.
Rest is important, yes, but my international season begins again – it opened in Doha in February; Adam Roberts and I finished fifth – at the end of May, in Bulgaria. Now is not the time for rest. Now is the time for reps, reps, reps, getting better, improving. So I did not sit on my couch all week. Instead, I called Tim Brewster, one of my favorite training partners and a guy I took a fifth with in an FIVB in Tel Aviv, Israel, at the end of 2019.
For an hour, we went through some light reps, going over all the usual suspects: passing on both the right and the left, hitting line shots, hitting cut shots, swinging line, swinging angle.
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For the last hour, we did the beach volleyball drill on which I am about to elaborate: We played one-on-one.
One of the main reasons the Drills of the Week I post about have been focused on practices with smaller numbers – one person, two people, three people – is because it’s tough to get four people together for two hours. Most adults have jobs, kids, responsibilities to attend to. Playing beach volleyball for two hours does not take care of those responsibilities.
But you can almost always find one other person.
You can always play one-on-one.
The drill is as simple as it sounds: You cut the court in half -- you can do this hamburger or hot dog style, and I recommend you do both -- and you play one-on-one. It’s completely normal volleyball: each play begins with a serve, each player gets three touches. You play to 21 points and switch every seven.
It is exhausting and thrilling, an absolute blast as you improve every single possible touch in the game. You must learn to serve on a fairly slim portion of the court. Your passes must be controlled enough so you can set yourself. Vision is imperative on offense, as the court is now tiny, and you have to know where the open spot is. You’ll learn to dig balls in the most unusual of fashions; anything that keeps the ball in the air and off the sand will do. You’ll poke, tomahawk, scoop, gator, hand-dig, even use your platform on occasion.
Most importantly: This drill teaches you to always, always, always keep the ball moving forward. If you keep your pass in front of you, you can keep your set in front of you. If you can keep your set in front of you, you can see the entire court, knowing where to hit the ball. If you know where to hit the ball, you score.
If you score, you win.
As you play, you’ll notice how critical it is to keep the ball moving forward. One pass behind your head and now you’re in desperation mode: Just keep the ball alive. You’ll be blind to what the defender is doing, and you won’t be able to get your set anywhere near the net for a smooth attack.
Of all the fancy ball control drills there are, this is my favorite. You get every kind of touch in the game. If you control the ball, you win. If you don’t, you lose. Simple as that.
Scale that out to a real match and what will you find? The team with the best ball control almost invariably wins.
So finetune your ball control. Can’t find a group of four? No problem. Actually, it’s kind of awesome.
Go play some one-on-one.
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