Warming up on the beach with your partner has two very powerful messages that indoor players and coaches need to listen to so that more kids find success earlier in the challenges of our sport.
First is the tradition/culture of Dig/Pass-set-hit to warm up with. Your doubles partner stands off the net a bit, hits to you, you dig back, they set and you hit. We taught this to all the kids at the USAV Jr Beach Tour Stop in Vail this Friday...and having just done an IMPACT course from 11pm to 130am (I kid you not) to help get some western area teams (including one from Alaska) who had not been trained yet to gain the valuable information in those 5 hours of sharing - I once again quoted Marv Dunphy, our 1988 Gold Medal winning men's Olympic team coach from the IMPACT manual on page 53 - to wit
"Since we learn best in training situations that are basically gamelike, we should incorporate three contact drills as often as possible. I am convinced that the best hitting drills are pass, set, hit (P-S-H), the best setting drills are P-S-H and the best passing drills are P-S-H. Likewise the best defensive drills are dig, set, hit combinations."
So why is it that indoor players spend so much time THROW, set, hitting...or even Toss and hit? Coaches who throw for the players are stealing valuable timing, reading and skill opportunities from both their setters (who worthlessly learn to "read" a throw), and from their hitter/passers, who do not learn the rhythm and timing realities of passing and then hitting.
My culture in beach goes back 50 years. We pass set it, with no coaches around then, and we still do. Indoor players should too. ALL the time.
The second beach warm up idea is called tennis. To get your partner reading and moving, you simply go back to elementary school volleyball and hit the ball back and forth on one hit. Warming up in the sand, you cooperate first to hit near your partner, and then start to make them move further. As you are warmed up, you transition to competitive scoring, enlarging the court and trying to put the ball down on the court, but still using just one hit. Warming up more, you get to hit the ball a second, and then even third time, to yourself of course. There are just two of you, and using the net, playing over it, is of course paramount -- something again too many indoor players ignore, by standing in front of it and partner peppering. You have to hustle thru the sand, and of course get to the ball before it bounces and ricochets off the court.
One of my favorite commercials is the Roddick vs. Pong clip, where the electronic pong simply returns EVERY single powerful shot. THE line in the clip is "My life is about finding a way to win..." and then Roddick comes up with a new idea and defeats the pong bar...You can watch it here.
I will not reveal more, only to say that again reading the ball on the OTHER side of the net, reading your opponent's intentions BEFORE contact, is what this warm up of tennis does.
So in the last few months I have had the pleasure of working coaching clinics along side Tom Hogan assistant coach in Beijing from the USA Women's team and Ryan Millar, starter on our USA men's gold medal team. What made me smile was that both teams over the last quad had a favorite warm up....yep...tennis!
The women started one vs. one cooperatively, seeing how many in a row, ball on the fly, they could get, before adding a second player per side and transitioning to competitive scoring. The men could option to let it bounce and went competitive almost right away. I had watched the women in Colorado Springs play tennis, enjoying the high level version of the elementary school game, as these elite athletes fought hard to find a *** in their opponents armor covering the court. I did not know until working with Ryan that the men warmed up with it as a favorite also. The moral of this story? Kids of all ages, even Olympians, like games more than drills, competition and scoring as part of it, and prefer to play over the net -- learning to read their opponents intentions in advance.
So get out there and grow the game, by playing tennis and teaching your players the most important skill in our sport - reading. Leave a comment and let us know if there are other ideas on this topic you might want to share. Speedball, and Greedball, variations of monarch of the court games, will be another topic for my blog soon...along similar themes seen above.