The 1 Thing Every Beach Great Beach Volleyball Defender Has in Common


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There are any number of different aspects that could make a beach volleyball defender great. You could watch a dozen different teams play, and pick out a dozen different attributes from each defender that you'd like to implement in your own game -- and that's great. Think about it:

What makes a great defender?

  • The ability to read.
  • Positioning
  • Picking up tendencies.
  • Speed.
  • Reaction time.
  • Perfectly timed fakes.

All of these things contribute. They're wonderful, and, honestly, you should try to implement all of them into your game.

In the end, however, they are nothing without one necessary component: Belief. 

I’ve coached a few thousand players and I’ve been competing around the world for over a decade. I can tell you with confidence that there is a common thread among those athletes who make the seemingly impossible scoops, lips, digs, flippers, scrambles and layouts. These players hold on to their belief longer. They simply believe that they can do it and something inside them refuses to give up on that idea. 

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Everyone has the ability to take one or two steps, fall down, and pop a ball up. It’s not that hard when you put the work and the reps in. Great defenders are simply the ones who still think they can do that successfully when the ball is 5 feet from the ground and 15 feet away.

Everywhere in life, people are giving up before they have to, before they should. It's not easy to keep going when your immediate results are telling you you’re not good enough. I’m sure a lot of you reading this have seen graphics that look like these and they sum up the truth quite nicely.




Given the information presented in these highly scientific charts, we have to move forward, towards our goal. We must progress. We have to push through walls and navigate obstacles.

That’s the grand idea but we should be more specific. When we talk about believing, we have to discuss it in the macro and in the micro.

Mark Disappointed
In your beach volleyball career as a whole, it's obvious that you are going to experience the ultimate frustrations. You’ll walk away from tournaments swearing that you’ve wasted so much of your life for nothing. You’ll feel completely inadequate at practices. You’ll chuck sets and look at your hands like they’ve betrayed you while asking them “Why?!”
You can spend half of a season getting the best results of your life and then tank for the rest of the year.
It sounds awful and really, it is.
But something has to push you through those times and it can be summed up in a single word: Believe.
If you can’t hold on to the idea that you will overcome the obstacles, you are toast. If you are on the practice court or in a match already thinking that you could never beat the person on the other side, you should be sitting at home on your couch. I’ve always been one of those players who actually enjoys being down 17-20 because in my mind, it’s just going to be a better story when my team comes out on top! That is not the time to shut down, it’s time to boldly scream “We will not go quietly into the night!”

Careers are long. Some people will figure out their game right out of college but some will creep along, getting one more big finish each year. Check out Casey Patterson’s career. He is a rock star now but it wasn’t always that way! Check out his slow, steady progression through each season. His path has certainly been a squiggly line that has ended up at the top of the world.

Mark Dive 1

We also have to talk about the micro, the .8 seconds in the middle of your play, the time when the difference between you scooping a ball or standing on two feet and watching it fall, is just a decision based on your belief.

What type of defender are you? Do you turn your shoulder when a big guy is detonating on an open net or do you get low stretch your palms out and decide you’re going to lip this guy? 

When you’re sprinting for a ball your partner just shanked off the court, are you trying to pop it up or do you believe that you will make this one handed diving play a perfect set?

I always tell my players, “We aren’t trying to make plays that are good enough to stay alive. We are trying to make the best possible play (with intelligence) that could happen.”


When a ball is falling to the ground and it’s your job to get it up, at what point do you no longer believe you can get it up? Seven feet high? Five feet? The best defenders in the world are the ones who still know, in their hearts, that if the ball hasn’t touched the ground, they can still get it.

Stacy Barnett from the University of New Hampshire used to tell me she liked coaching me not because I was talented, but because I was cocky. She actually told me I had no idea what I was doing but in some ways, I became successful because I always thought I should be able to do anything. If I didn’t make a play, I basically considered it an affront to a universal reality and I worked my butt off to right that wrong. This is the good kind of cocky and all of the best defenders out there have it. They know it deep in their souls -- over the course of a career as well as inside that half second from hand to sand -- that they can and will succeed. Doubt creeps in from time to time. 

Belief overcomes in the long run.

Believe in yourself. Believe longer and harder than anyone. No one will do that for you. The great ones are those who believe that everything is possible for them and don’t stop until that everything becomes reality.

Mark Burik is an AVP & FIVB Pro and the Owner of Better at Beach, which provides accommodations and beach volleyball and classes as well as training in California for players of all ages.


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