In 1998, Sinjin Smith was the winningest beach volleyball player in the history of the sport, and these were his tips for players looking to add a few more Ws to their career records.
1. BLOCKING BIG WHEN YOU’RE NOT
Mike Whitmarsh is the best blocker in American beach volleyball. He’s tall and has an explosive style that allows him to make a big move, jump into the line or angle at the last second with his long reach, and stuff a ton of balls.
Since you and I can’t do that, we have to rely on being clever. One way to make up for a lack of height and a huge jump is to let the hitter see you in front of him, take a step to the side and jump into the angle. You can also take a step the other way and jump into the line.
If you’re blocking line, try taking a slight step inside the hitter so it looks like you’re going to block angle and then step into the line and seal it.
It’s important to not try to take everything when you play defense. The same goes for blocking. Some players try to do too much and end up with fewer roofs. What you should do is take away one hit. That’ll get you a block once in a while, and it will make it a lot easier for your partner to concentrate on covering the area that you’re giving up.
2. PUTTING THE BALL DOWN WITHOUT BOMBING
Siding out and scoring points isn’t always about cranking the ball at the speed of light. You can be just as good a hitter by refining your shots and placing them where the defenders aren’t.
One point I want to stress is that you and your partner should be sure you’re not setting each other right on the net. That’s a great set if your hitter is Kent Steffes, but for normal players, it’s a lot easier to get the ball to the sand if you have two or three feet to maneuver.
Here are the five spots on the court you want to be able to hit:
1. Standard cut
2. Short cut
3. Deep corner
4. Deep line
5. Short line
Keep this in mind: If you’re facing a big blocker, it’s harder to shoot the ball to the line because he’ll be straight up and down and a lot higher in the air than he would if he was blocking angle. That means you can cut the ball with a lower trajectory. The less time it spends in the air the tougher to dig.
3. THE MESMERIZER
If you can’t crank the jump serve like Jose Loiola – and chances are pretty good you can’t – you might want to consider adding “The Mesmerizer” to your repertoire. It’s still a jump serve, but you don’t have to get way up in the air or hit it super hard, and it’s often a lot more effective than a regular jump serve.
To get the best results with this serve, hit the ball flat with just a little bit of topspin. If you contact it above your head, you’ll get too much topspin, and if you hit it too far out in front of you, you’ll get unwanted backspin.
A normal topspin jump serve has a true flight. Unless it’s hit extremely hard, it’s easy to pass because it goes right where you expect it to go. But “The Mesmerizer” is different. By hitting it without much topspin, you’ll produce a serve that moves around in the air and often catches the passer high, which makes it difficult to handle.
Let’s face it, you’re not going to pinpoint the line very often with a blazing jump serve. So mix in “The Mesmerizer.” I guarantee it will get you more points.
4. OUTSMARTING THE HITTER
I’ve seen a lot of defenders try to cover everything and end up with nothing. Good defense comes when you realize you have to give up something to get something.
By coordinating with your blocker, you can take away a lot of the court and create problems for your opponent. For instance, when the blocker is taking angle, try camping in the angle and breaking for the line right before the hitter makes contact. Once you’ve done that a few times, set up in the angle and then stay there while the blocker takes line. Another possibility it to start in the angle, fake two steps toward the line, and come back to the angle just as the hitter is pounding or shooting the ball in your direction.
Keep in mind, you have to commit to something. If you’ve decided you’re going to break for the line when you’re standing in the angle, don’t wait too long. If you do, you won’t get there in time to make the dig when the attack hits line.
Remember, when things aren’t going right, you have to make a change. Don’t wait until you’re down by four points. If one defensive strategy isn’t working, try another.
Originally published in September 1998