Olympic silver medalist, AVP champion, and USC All-American April Ross may move effortlessly in the sand, make fabulous, crowd-pleasing saves, and jump extremely well—on top of being over six feet tall—but her solid grasp of beach volleyball basics is what makes her one of the best beach players in the world. In May, two lucky Team VBM members had the opportunity to take a lesson from April, and here are the pearls of wisdom they managed to harvest from their hour-long session.
Arguably one of the most important basic skills of beach volleyball is passing, or serve receive. If you can’t pass, you don’t get a chance to demonstrate any of your other abilities, so it’s good to get this one down. April stressed getting enough height on the pass so no matter where it goes in the court, your partner has a better chance of getting there. Also, make sure to get your hips around the ball, so you’re only reaching outside your body to pass when it’s absolutely necessary. And, in the women’s game at least, she said serves tend to float to the back portion of the court so don’t be afraid to establish your serve-receive position deep.
Consistency in setting helps your partner have a more successful attack, so April said to stay behind the pass and face your target at all times when setting, whether you use your hands or forearms. Just like in passing, height is important, so she suggested bending your knees deeply before setting the ball. She even puts one knee on the ground before standing up with her set, which guarantees she’s getting low enough.
Another tip to keep in mind: make sure your set has a peak. If the set flies too flat, it can make timing difficult for your partner. This means the farther you have to send your set, the higher it needs to be to peak in the right location.
April also frequently mentioned the idea of hesitation. In indoor, she said, we embrace the idea that it is best to beat the ball to the location, and wait for it. But she believes that in the beach game, it’s better to anticipate when the ball will reach a certain point, and calculate your movements so you arrive just in time to play the ball before moving on to the next task. This allows you to make more athletic, fluid movements. For setting, this means staying behind your partner’s pass and stepping into it, facing your targeted location.
April’s first key to hitting, besides giving your setter a good high pass, is to make sure you position yourself so you’re able to approach at an angle. Often, this involves taking a few steps to the sideline after finishing your pass. Once at the appropriate angle, you’ve reached your point of hesitation, where you wait until you are able to judge the set’s height and location and decide when you should start your approach. April also emphasized the importance of attacking every set with your shoulders facing crosscourt. From this position, you are able to use your wrist or torso torque to hit any shot, and your opponent is less likely to read where you’re going. This attack method also increases consistency in your approach – if every hit begins with the same approach and angle, your technique will be cleaner, and less likely to result in error.
Many indoor players, said April, limit their jumping ability when they transition into the sand. They take the last two steps of their approach slow and far apart. To get as much explosion out of the sand as possible, it is best to have your last two steps be very quick and close together, allowing all of your momentum to take you straight up.
April said the men’s game used to enjoy more relaxed serving. The guys would just try to put the ball in, figuring it was more important not to miss their serve than to score an ace. But in recent years, the men have started using more vicious serves, joining the women in thinking of the serve as their first chance to attack, so April taught both of us how to serve aggressively.
For the men's game, April taught a special serve Jake Gibb uses: a jump float without the approach. All you do is throw the ball up, take a little hop with no preceding steps, and pop the ball right over the net. The key is to hit it very flat with your palm to get the characteristic lack of spin that makes a float serve difficult to pass.
April demonstrated a traditional topspin jump serve, useful in the women's game. Start with the ball in your right hand and your right foot forward, she instructed to take the first step with your right foot while tossing the ball slightly in front of your right shoulder. After that initial step, the approach was just like a three-step hitting approach, the goal being to contact the ball at the highest point possible, and send it careening over the net with a healthy dose of topspin. The trick that day on the breezy Corona Del Mar beach was to take the wind into account as it tried to push the toss over to the left side.
>> In the LA area and want a lesson of your own with April Ross? Send her a message on Facebook at facebook.com/AprilRossOfficial.
Originally published in July 2013