HERMOSA BEACH, California – To watch Trevor Crabb play beach volleyball from 2013-2017 was to witness a master class in the art of hitting the high line shot. Not just the high line, actually: Crabb, a right-handed left-side player, would hit every variation of a line shot you could imagine. He’d hit high lines. He’d chisel low lines. He’d hit short lines and fast lines and he’d occasionally even bounce line.
“50 shades of line,” Casey Patterson once quipped on a livestream when Crabb was competing in a country quota in The Netherlands.
It’s a devastating shot, the line. Even when everyone knew Crabb was going to be hitting some variation of a line shot, few could stop it consistently enough to beat him. When we master the high line shot, it opens up a wealth of other offensive opportunities. If the defender is now shading towards the line, we have an open cut or high angle; if the defender shifts back, our line opens up once more.
It’s the most commonly hit shot in beach volleyball for a reason: When hit well, it’s near impossible to stop on a consistent basis.
Below are the three biggest keys you need to know to master the high line shot.
The biggest key to opening up your line? Making sure the defender does not know that you’re going to hit the high line.
“A lot of times when we talk about attacking, we talk about how you have to find your hitting corridor first,” AVP Professional Beach Volleyball Player Brandon Joyner said. “This is where you’re going to start your approach from. The reason this is important for you to establish after you’ve made your pass is that we need to trick the defender on the other side that your cross court attack or cut is an option you have available.”
How do we do this? How do we show angle, yet still have the high line ready?
After we pass, we need to get into our batter’s box or point of hesitation. Ideally, this point of hesitation will be an area where we’re showing that we can spike into the hard angle. The threat of this alone will force the defender to shift into the area of our hardest hit. When the defender shifts, this will open up the high line.
“Always approach cross court so you are making the defender stay put long enough, so when you hit your line, you’re making the defender cover too much court,” Joyner said.
And when the defender has to cover too much court?
We get a high line kill.
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Let’s forget about the defender for a second. We’ve passed well and we’re in system. We’ve established a line of approach that shows we can spike into the hard angle, which has forced the defender to shift into that angle. Our high line is open, so open – yet there’s still the issue of the blocker.
To hit a successful high line shot, we still need to hit it over the blocker without it getting touched. How do we do this?
We hit the ball at the highest point.
“When you make the high line shot, after you jump, make sure you’re contacting the ball as high as you can and finish up,” Brandon Joyner said. “We do not want to pull this ball down to the line. Finish with your hand high like you’re the smartest kid in class.”
When you stay high, you’re doing two things: You’re still creating the threat of a swing, and you’re getting the ball over the block. One of the worst habits of individuals hitting high line shots is that we tend to shotput the ball, or push it over the block, dropping our elbow first. When we drop our elbow, both the blocker and defender will know that a shot is coming (if you want to test out your skills reading the hitter, check out this video). This will both remove the threat of the angle swing, and it will drop our point of contact.
Stay high, finish up, and kill that high line shot.
We’ve done the first two steps: We’ve approached well, threatening the defender with an angle swing or cut shot. We’ve jumped high, reaching up up up, contacting the ball well over the block.
Now we need to finish.
How do we finish? With trust.
Do you think that, after thousands upon thousands of line kills, that Trevor Crabb doubted the angle of his hand to finish the kill? Absolutely not. He knew it was going to be put in an excellent position to score.
But if we don’t trust the angle of our hand, if we try to turn our shoulders to guide the ball – much like a golfer attempting to guide his drive – a plethora of unfortunate events could unfold: We could pull it out of bounds, we could decelerate and make poor hand contact, we could hit on the way down, thereby removing the advantage we created in our second priority.
If we don’t trust ourselves, we don’t score. If a pitcher doesn’t trust his curveball, he hangs it, and it gets blasted for a home run. If a golfer doesn’t trust his swing, he sends it into the trees. If a quarterback doesn’t trust his arm or route, the ball gets picked off.
You’ll get a kill for it.
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