In July 1993, five of the best beach volleyball players in the country shared their favorite tips with VBM. Free advice has never been so spot-on!
Serve a Knuckler
By Brent Frohoff
Until a few years ago, the jump serve was nothing more than a hit-it-as-hard-as-you-can-and-hope-it-goes-in serve. Today’s professionals, however, are refining it, serving it a variety of different ways: short, deep, hard, soft. Basically, anywhere. At any speed.
Over the winter, while I was doing a jump-serving drill, I noticed that some of my best serves were the ones I contacted incorrectly. These balls came off my hand with minimal spin, and when I could control them, they were effective.
As I was going back to serve during a practice game last winter, I thought, “Let’s try something new.” I used my normal jump serve approach but slowed my arm swing and hit the ball flat off my hand. The ball “knuckled” right at Tim Hovland, and he shanked it. I figured if I could get Hov to make a bad pass, this serve could work on almost anyone.
The key to the Jump Knuckle is disguising it by using the same approach you would with a regular jump serve. Slow down your arm swing right before you make contact, and hit it just like a standing floater serve.
The Jump Knuckle should be used when the opposing team has just seen a bunch of hard jump serves, just like when a pitcher throws an off-speed pitch after he’s thrown a few fast balls. Remember, you’ve got to keep the opposing team guessing. So give the Jump Knuckle a try next time you play.
Try the Tomahawk
By Brian Lewis
When the ball is above your head and you can’t take it with an overhand pass, it’s time to break out the Tomahawk, better known on the beach as the “Tommy.” It’s a great way to handle weird shots from your opponent or balls that come off the block with tons of spin.
Here are three situations when I use the Tommy:
1. A trouble shot: The ball is off the net, and you aren’t able to get in position to take a good swing.
2. A hard serve: The ball is coming at you at breakneck speed, and you don’t have time to get your feet adjusted to make a normal pass.
3. Change of direction: You’re running into the net thinking your opponent is going to hit a short ball, but the ball goes deep, and you have to reverse and backpedal.
Different players use different hand positions for the Tommy but there isn’t a right or wrong way. Just do what feels comfortable. But remember two things. One, form a good surface area so the ball doesn’t go spraying all over the place. Two, watch the ball as it comes towards your arms.
With the Tomahawk in your repertoire, you’ll be able to adjust more easily to unexpected shots from your opponent or deflections off your partner’s block. And that will translate into more points and more victories.
Cut ‘em Down
By Karolyn Kirby
Whenever possible, I like to swing away because it helps keep my whole game aggressive. But to be a good hitter, you have to offer the defense a variety of looks. And the cut is a perfect change of pace.
To make the cut shot work, you need to disguise it. Approach the same way you would to hit the ball, start your normal swing, bring your elbow forward and then change the direction of your elbow at the last second. Strike the outside of the ball. If you’re cutting to the left, keep your thumb up. Cutting to the right, thumb down.
A cut shot should be sharp and fast. Looping it too high in the air makes it easy to dig. To get it down quickly, reach high and snap your wrist to create topspin.
Along with being a good shot to fool the defense, the cut can also be used in emergency situations when the blocker has the advantage. Say, for instance, the set is diving toward the line, and the blocker is taking the line away. Try the cut. The blocker has already committed, so you don’t want to swing right into her hands.
Another good way to outsmart the defense is speeding up the pass-set exchange with your partner and then dropping in a cut. That’s a tough one to defend because it gets to the sand very quickly.
Mastering the cut is essential to becoming a complete player. But remember, it’s most effective if you’re an aggressive hitter.
Get to the Net
By Randy Stoklos
One thing I’ve always preached is the importance of getting all the way to the net when you’re blocking. A lot of players make the mistake of stopping two or three steps away from the net. But when you do that, you’re probably going to be late going up for your block, and the hitter will have an easier time putting the ball down.
I like to be an arm’s length away from the net because it gives me more options. If the set is on the net, I can go straight up and block without having to take any steps and without drifting. If the set is off the net, I can retreat and play defense with my partner.
If you’re the sole blocker on your team, like I am with Sinjin, sprint to the net after you serve. Don’t jog. If you jog, you’ll be too late to put up a strong block.
Deciding when to stay up and block and when to drop off depends largely on whether your opponent’s set is tight to the net or set off. A good tip in being a strong blocker is control of the serve. If the serve is short, the set is probably going to be close to the net. In this situation, block. But if the serve is deep, there’s a better chance your opponent will make a bad pass, and the set will be off the net. And that’s a good time to drop off and play defense.
Another important element in being a good blocker is proper foot positioning. Your right foot should be forward when you’re blocking on the right side, your left foot forward on the left side. This allows you to stay open to the court when you move off the net. This will increase your chances of making a dig that will stay in the court.
A quick review: Stand at arm’s length away from the net, sprint to the net off your serve, watch the set, and think about your footwork. Remembering these simple tips will help you become a more feared blocker.
Know the Territory
By Linda Carrillo
In two-person beach volleyball, it’s essential for you to know what part of the court you’re responsible for covering before you receive serve. Discuss it with your partner before each serve to make sure you’re on the same wavelength.
Generally, there are a few basic rules to follow:
1. If the server is on the left of her side of the court, the left-side player on your side is responsible for covering the middle and angle, and the right-side player takes the line.
2. If the server is on the right, the left-side player takes line, and the right-side player takes middle and angle.
3. If the server is in the middle, the left-side player covers middle to angle when the opposing team’s left-side player is serving, and the right-side player covers middle to angle when the opposing team’s right-side player is serving. Got that?
You need to be aware of wind direction, too. If you’re responsible for covering the middle, you might have to follow the ball over to your partner’s side of the court to make a pass. That’s okay. Better to do that than to assume she can get it and let it go between you.
Another key to covering the court on serve receive is playing to your strengths. If you’re a better hitter than your partner, you’ll want to cover more court so you can take more swings.
Familiarizing yourself with these tips with help you to eliminate communication breakdowns and increase your winning percentage.
Originally published in July 1993