Fundamentals of Sand Volleyball Part 1: Philosophy, Passing & Setting

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By Shaun Catlin, Club Director, Triple Crown Volleyball

Let me give a brief back story to bring relevance to my approach to coaching and teaching sand volleyball. While growing up in the late 80's and early 90's, beach volleyball was a normal way of life for my friends and I. We watched players like Sinjin Smith, Karch Kiarly, Scott Ayakatubby, Adam Johnson, Tim Hovland and Mike Dodd live on TV. When my friends and I played we would don the apparel of our favorite beach volleyball players and emulate their style of play. I so badly wanted to be Karch Kiarly with that unlocked passing form or Sinjin Smith with the insane defense and incredible vertical but most times I was just an Ack and wore colorful shorts.

Early on we learned to set, pass, and spike just by watching and doing. We didn't have a coach to push us or show us the proper form or best techniques; we just watched it live on TV or recorded it with our VCR's. I remember playing some recorded tapes of Hermosa so many times that the tape wore out and was eventually chewed up by the VCR. I believe that the coach and the athlete have an equally important role to play in the success of a beach athlete. Below are some keys to my coaching philosophy, followed by fundamental drills for beach volleyball athletes and coaches starting to learn or teach the sport.


Play the Game Stress to play, play, and play some more because that is what ultimately yields improvement. Play with a purpose so each game becomes practice for the next game. Arrive to practice 30 minutes early to get on the court and leave 30 minutes later to refine techniques learned during practice. Play pickup games outside of practice, participate in tournaments and play at the highest levels in both juniors and adults.

Teach the Game The formula to be a better player is to teach the game. During practice, break down the game with players and encourage strategy discussion against an opposing team. Looking for strengths and weakness leads an athlete to a higher level of understanding of the game, and, more importantly, a realization of how their opponent can be beat. This obviously is a delicate discussion as it's not meant to be negative, but rather an insightful or intelligent debate that creates smarter athletes.


Play the Game As a coach, learn the game and if possible, play the game. This game is so new that sometimes it's easier, faster, and more exciting to show players how to play the game. The coach can lead and teach by example so players will emulate the coach's behavior. It is an opportunity for the coach playing style and set the tone for the sand program.

Teach the Game The coach is a teacher, an educator. That title carries a huge responsibility, to teach the game by learning it from your athletes. Nothing is more rewarding for a coach than when the player masters the skill you've been teaching. Make sure the player understands what correction is needed and how to apply it; this is a critical piece of coaching any sport. Ask the athletes questions during practice. With the guidance of a good coach, players can find the answers on their own. It's the most powerful tool that you can use to help an athlete in their quest to become a better beach volleyball player.

Learn the Game Drill modifications are a great opportunity to get the athletes in an active learning role. The more engaged the athlete is; the better they are able to learn. There may be times in practice when the drill is not going right, it's not accomplishing its purpose, or the speed of the drill may be wrong. Encourage participation and feedback from your players as you modify drills during practice. Be ready to adjust and modify as you go.

So exactly what are the fundamentals of beach volleyball? It is well beyond the pass, set and hit that we are all used to. In beach, our fundamentals are based on learning and teaching the game. Since the game is played without active coaching the athletes must coach themselves and their partners during a match or tournament. Teaching them this skill is critical in how they learn to learn.

Here is one drill, which is simply modified, so that you can apply it to each of the skills below. These drills can be performed with as little as 3 players per side or as many as 18. Progress the drills and modify them to fit the level. Each drill allows as many PSH (Pass Set Hit) scenarios as possible however they will require adjusting them for the appropriate skill level. Please note that depth, dryness of sand, humidity, and temperature will ultimately change the number of reps and quality of reps before exhaustion. Please be mindful of those elements prior to applying these drills or any beach drill.

Passing:Basic Key Words: Platform, Angle, TargetAdvanced Key words: Ball forward, Loaded, Fluid

The skill of passing in beach outdoor has similarities such as targets, platform and angles however some of the keys we use in beach require us to compensate for wind, sand depth, and opponent defense. We use key words such as "ball forward" to indicate to our players to keep the ball passed forward so that all movements are graduated towards the net. A huge mistake that our new beach players make is passing the ball to an indoor setting target or passing the pass with fast tempo. We actually use a target in the sand called PoH or "Point of Hesitation". It's the center of the front court allowing you and your partner to see the entire court and setup for the offensive play.

The diagram of the drill to the right shows a simple passing drill. This drill is not coach driven as we like to see all of our athletes perform reps.

Triangle Passing Targets hit to passers, setters approach to set ball but catch ball and become the next hitter. Hitter then moves to passing lane while passers move to setting lane. Remember that we are focusing on passing only here in this drill. A controlled down ball from the hitter to the passer allowing our passer to performed blocked style passing. To increase difficulty the ball may be presented from across the net to the passer. This drill may be performed on both sides of the court. This may be either a timed drill or a goal based drill.

Our advanced key words describe our action in our simplest form. "Ball forward" describes where the ball should go. Athletes should understand what ball forward means, in such that it describes both the location and the platform required to make the ball go forward. We define "loaded" in our club many different ways. "Loaded" can be used to describe the pass but it also is used to describe a set or an attack. Being loaded is similar to a spring and compressing of that spring, allowing you to push a passed ball forward with direction and accuracy. Lastly the advanced keyword of "fluid" is meant to portray smooth solid movements before, during or after a ball contact. Jerky or rapid movements intend to be indicative of improper footwork, arm speed, incorrect platform rotation, or simply just lack of confidence.

Setting:Basic Key Words: Target, Pin, OpenAdvanced Key Words: Loaded, Release, Apex

Setting for beach requires finesse and technique not common for non-setters to apply. It's is solely based on each players own hitting preference but learning to adjust and keep the ball on target is the absolute most important skill. Basic keys such as "target" is simply where the target should be, which is roughly 3 feet inside the pin two feet inside the net, and "pin" is referring to the antenna (or post of the net if no antennas are available), while "open" refers to the angle in which the setter finishes the set. Target area for beach should be almost wherever directly the passer passed the ball allowing the passer, now the hitter, to attack the ball with little lateral movement and focused attention to the hitting target.

The diagram of the drill to the right shows a simple setting drill by expanding o the Triangle passing drill above.

Triangle Setting Targets hit to passers, setters perform movements to set ball successfully and become the next hitter. Hitter then moves to passing lane while passers move to setting lane. Remember that we are focusing on setting only here in this drill. To increase difficulty the ball may be presented from across the net to the passer. This drill may be performed on both sides of the court. This may be either a timed drill or a goal based drill. This drill must focus on the setter and the keys of "target", "pin", "open" but advanced players may focus on loaded", "release", and "apex".

The advanced key word "loaded" is similar or even identical to the loaded position during a pass. The main differentiator would be the apex. When discussing release, it involves releasing the set, and we have a couple of ways to do it. A back set requires a high release essentially setting over our heads and with a very tight apex. A low release would be for someone who is far away and setting ball back into the court from a position outside of it. "Apex" is the ball's path up in the top most arc. With a loose apex the ball travels further away from the setter while a tight apex almost sets the hitter in an up and down motion. A zero apex set would essentially land back in the setter's platform. Notice that I'm making the assumption that all sets are pass sets and not hand sets. However all keywords here can describe a hand set.

In an ideal situation we want to use a nice tight apex. As a coach you must instruct your athletes to face the pin when setting as it keeps the ball moving forward. Quite a few of our indoor players learn to set parallel to the net but this does not allow the setter to take advantage of the court to view and provide an attack call to the hitter and it does not always guarantee that the ball will be between you and the net. Keep those eyes on the pin and your opponents.

In the Part 2 of Sand Fundamentals we will take triangle passing and setting and morph them into a hitting drill and discuss fundamentals of blocking.


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