Making the Transition from Beach Volleyball to Indoor (and Back)

“You are allowed to be a masterpiece and a work in progress, simultaneously.”

~Sophia Bush

 

For the past five years, I have been flipping back and forth between indoor and beach volleyball. I started my career, and have spent most of my life, playing indoor volleyball, but in the hopes of competing in the Olympic Games, I decided to pursue beach volleyball as well. You can read my full story and journey to the Olympics here and here.
 

So, since 2013, I have been playing professional indoor volleyball overseas during the fall and winter months, and from late spring until the end of summer, I compete for Canada on the beach. Being the only person in the world who is currently competing at the highest levels in both sports at the same time, I think I have a unique perspective on what it means to make the transition between the two, and I wanted to offer some insights to those of you who are doing the same thing!
 

I have been asked what the transition between the two sports is like often, so here are the questions I get the most:

1. How long does it take to feel comfortable in the sport when you switch?

When I first started making the transition, it took me several weeks to feel good going either way. The longer I have been doing it, though, the shorter the transition period has been. Now, in my fifth year doing this, it took me about a week and a half to two weeks to feel game-ready coming back to indoor. Going from indoor to beach was about the same, but the cardiovascular fitness aspect of beach takes a little longer to reach.
 

The important thing to remember is that you won’t be perfect or feel 100% coordinated the first day you step on the court. Your body has been conditioned to perform certain movements and skills in a very specific way for months, and they won’t just change automatically. Patience is key.
 

2. What are the hardest parts of the transition to beach volleyball from indoor?

The skill that takes me the longest to adjust to is jumping. In indoor, hitters jump forward and through the ball to create more momentum and power. The uneven surface of the sand, though, makes jumping forward almost impossible, and if I were to try to jump through the ball, I wouldn’t get off the ground very high. I would probably end up in the net!
 

On the beach, it’s important to transfer the forward motion of the approach into a strictly upward movement of the jump. This requires a lot more attention on my part to really bend my knees and load my legs before I jump, instead of doing the bouncy, quick indoor jump that I am used to. I always devote a lot of time to working on my jumping mechanics during every beach pre-season.
 

Another challenge of coming back to the beach is the high-level of cardiovascular fitness required. In indoor, the floor is a flat, hard surface and there are 6 people on the court to share all responsibilities. In beach volleyball, however, the sand presents a huge challenge in that it limits the ease of movement and is always changing. Add to that the fact that only 2 people have to cover the whole court, and the level of fitness required to play at a high level increases exponentially. I always joke that I hate the first two weeks of beach season because I feel so out of shape, but even the most in-shape athlete requires a grace period on the sand.
 

3. What are the hardest parts of the transition to indoor volleyball from beach?

Like I said before, on the beach, we have to transfer all of our approach energy to a straight up and down jump. This works because beach is more of a finesse game that relies more on precise placement of the ball than sheer power. In indoor however, we need to generate a lot more power to be able to score. It is much more difficult to put the ball on the floor with a 2 or 3-man block and a full defense around them. A lot of the additional power we get in the attack comes from an explosive approach and jumping through the ball. At the start of every season I find myself jumping straight up and down and wondering why I am not hitting very hard. It doesn’t take long for me to remember I have to alter my jump!
 

Blocking is also much different indoor than on the beach. In indoor, I will have 2 or 3 players to watch and be ready to block, whereas on the beach, there is only 1. Also, the game is much faster indoor, so I have to make my lateral moves much quicker and get my hands over the net faster. There is a delay in blocking on the beach to hide my moves from the attacker, and that delay that I am used to using would mean that the ball is over my head before I even jump indoor!
 

Physically, transitioning back to indoor from the beach is a breeze as far as cardiovascular fitness is concerned. What’s not so fun, though, is the impact on the joints, and the added strain on the shoulder and back, etc. The hard court indoor makes moving easy, but the body takes a beating from jumping and diving, especially the knees. There is also a lot more pressure put on the back due to the torque created when attacking, and the faster whipping motion of the arm is tough on the shoulder. There is still some of that strain in beach but because beach athletes don’t generally have to swing as hard as often as indoor players, it is made much more evident in indoor volleyball.
 

4. How do you keep your body healthy and injury-free when transitioning back and forth between the two sports?

I think the biggest reason why I have been able to continue to switch back and forth between beach and indoor for so long without a break is that I am incredibly diligent in taking care of my body. I know and listen to my body well, and I have been able to pinpoint what my trouble areas are. I am proactive in strengthening those trouble areas before they become nagging injuries. I do a ton of preventative exercises for my shoulder and hips, and I approach weight-training sessions as opportunities to strengthen my body as much as possible to prevent injury and play at the highest level possible.
 

I also sleep A LOT. A lot of recovery happens during sleep, and since I am pushing my body to its limits, it needs a lot of time to recovery. Recovery also comes from eating well, and eating ENOUGH food to fuel my muscles.
 

Weight lifting and prevention exercises and going to bed early are not always fun, but I credit them 100% for being able to go 5 years straight with zero off-season. I’m 31 years old, and I still feel great…. even better than I did when I was in my teens and early 20’s.
 

I know that there are a lot of athletes out there who play indoor during the winter and beach during the summer. Making the transition between the two will always take some time, but focusing on the basics for the skill mechanics will help a lot, and remember…. take care of your body!! You only have one 🙂
 

xo, Sarah

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