Mental Toughness in Beach vs Indoor Volleyball Athletes

“Mental toughness is to physical as four is to one.”

~Bobby Knight


Alright…. before everyone starts taking offense to this post, I want to explain why I decided to write about this. Having played both indoor and beach volleyball, I have had a lot of people approach me to talk (either at me or with me) about the two sports. Some people are simply curious about the differences between the two, but a surprising number of people have strong opinions about which athletes are “better.” I am currently one of the only players in the world playing at the highest level in both beach and indoor volleyball, so I think I have a decent grasp on the two, and what defines the athletes that play both sports.

As you can probably imagine, people with a history in indoor volleyball feel that indoor is a tougher game, both mentally and physically. Individuals whose history is in beach volleyball obviously feel that the opposite is true. Below, I have highlighted some of the more common comments I hear from the proponents of both beach and indoor volleyball. Please keep in mind that these are not my personal opinions. I am simply relaying comments I have heard from other people.


  • With 6 people on the floor and a massive block, it is much harder to score in indoor.
  • There is more size and power involved in indoor.
  • Indoor players are highly specialized in their skills, and are very good at the skills required by their positions.
  • Indoor is a much faster game than beach, and is harder to keep up.
  • Having a coach on the sideline makes it tougher on the other team because they are making analyses and adjustments with their teams during the match.



  • In beach, there is nowhere to hide. If you are struggling, there are no substitutions so you either figure things out, or lose.
  • There is no coach, so players have to make in-game adjustments on their own.
  • With only 2 people on the court, there is a lot more area to cover.
  • Beach is much more physically demanding than indoor.
  • There is more strategy involved in beach than in indoor.


Having so many people share their opinions about the two sports with me, the comments about the mental toughness of indoor vs beach players are the ones that always stick with me the most. It is true that indoor teams have substitution players ready to replace someone who is having a bad game. It is true that having coaches on the sidelines can be helpful to players who need some guidance or strategy adjustments (it can also be unhelpful, but that is another issue). I agree that beach players have to truly understand an opponent and their tendencies to make in-game changes themselves.

The thing that I don’t agree with, though, is that one type of athlete is mentally stronger than the other. That just isn’t the case. Beach and indoor volleyball are two different sports, much like hockey and tennis. Are tennis players more mentally tough than hockey players because they are on the court alone and can’t talk to their coaches? I don’t think so.

For me, a person’s mental fortitude can only be analyzed on an athlete-to-athlete basis. There is no general rule that states that athletes of one particular sport are mentally stronger than athletes of another. That is incredibly biased and unfair. In any sport, no matter how it is structured, there are athletes that are extremely mentally tough and there are some that aren’t. Period.

I have seen both indoor and beach players completely crumble in crunch time, and I have seen some rise to the occasion under extreme pressure. If you are the go-to player on an indoor team or the person getting served on the beach, when it comes down to the wire, you are expected to score. The types of pressure are no different, and the end goal is the same. Whether there is a coach on the sideline or not, if an athlete is mentally tough, more often than not, they will get the job done, and they greet the pressure with open arms. If they aren’t, they will shy away from wanting the ball or being aggressive when it matters, and the result will tell the story. It’s as simple as that.

It drives me crazy that people always want to compare beach and indoor volleyball, and prop up one type of athlete over another. As someone who plays both, there is no comparison; the two games are completely different. It’s like comparing apples and oranges. The base skills may be similar, but it stops there. In sport, there are people who exhibit incredible mental toughness, and there are people who don’t. The tough ones don’t all play the same sport (doesn’t that sound ridiculous??).

I’m curious to hear your thoughts on this matter. Please feel free to comment below to start a discussion.

xo, Sarah



  • Corinne Williams April 17, 2017 at 8:20 am

    Hey Sarah,
    I agree that mental toughness cannot be compared between sports – beach and indoor volleyball included.

    My question about mental toughness (aka determination, perseverance, drive, etc) is whether it is a trainable team skill? On the nature vs nurture spectrum, is mental toughness something we are born with and is part of one’s character. Or is mental toughness something that is learned and developed through our life experiences? Maybe it isn’t an either or situation.

    As a club volleyball coach, I am experiencing more and more athletes with a lack of determination / desire to work through challenging situations. There is a threshold that they reach and they just stop pursuing success.

    • Sarah Pavan April 18, 2017 at 6:42 pm

      I do think that the answer lies somewhere in the middle. There are some people who will naturally be determined, driven, etc. and there are some that will need more guidance and help getting there. I think that if those things become a part of “team culture” and are expected, it can be a trainable team skill. A lot of it starts at home as well, though. If a kid never has to work for anything, or is allowed to quit whenever things don’t go well, it will be harder for them to have that grit and resilience on the court. What do you think?


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