It became a recurring motif, though not exactly a conspicuous one. If you’re a regular listener to SANDCAST: Beach Volleyball with Tri Bourne and Travis Mewhirter, you’ll know that our final question to our guests is some iteration of: “If you had to give an up-and-coming beach volleyball player one piece of advice, what would that piece of advice be?”

Some might expect a secret drill, a certain lift in the weight room, that one key to unlocking their potential, the secret formula to why Taylor Crabb always seems to be in the right place, at the right time, all the time (just watch the Manhattan Beach Open final and you’ll understand).

The most common bit of advice, however, is as simple: Just play. This week, with Bourne home in Hawai’i and me in Maryland for an emergency trip home, we had to cancel the podcast, so we gathered advice from four of the best in the game — Taylor Crabb, Rafu Rodriguez, Nicolette Martin, Katie Spieler — on how, exactly, they became the best in the game.

“Be a student of the game,” said Crabb, a likely candidate to win at least one of Most Valuable Player, Most Improved Player and Best Defender on the AVP Tour this season. “Be smarter rather than stronger, faster, bigger. It’s more important than the other things. Learn the game, learn why things work, learn why things don’t work. The more you play, that’s when you get bigger, faster, stronger, going on the beach, just playing every day, you’ll train those muscles naturally. The gym does help also but the IQ of the game is the most important thing.”

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This season was, incredibly, only Crabb’s third on the beach. Just as he did in 2017, he enjoyed a career year in 2018, winning a pair of AVPs in Seattle and Chicago as well as claiming King of the Court in Hawai’i. His theory, too, was supported by three other SANDCAST guests — Spieler, Rodriguez, Martin — who all, not so coincidentally, enjoyed career-highs.

“Just play every day,” said Martin, who claimed fifths in Austin and Seattle, narrowly missing her first Sunday. “We were talking about playing too much or whatever, but if you’re up and coming, I think it’s super important to get out to all those CBVAs on the weekend and just be playing as much as you can because it’s such an experience sport for sure. Just as much as you can touch a ball, the contacts, make sure when you’re going to the beach, get [phone] numbers, talk to people, that’s huge.”

It has been for Martin, just as it has been for Spieler, a 5-foot-5 dynamo out of Hawai’i who made her first career Sunday in Austin, where her and Karissa Cook finished third. The founder and coach at East Beach Volleyball Academy, Spieler tells her girls to do exactly what she does over the summer: “Get out there and play as much as possible,” she said. “Growing up at East Beach, I would just go down and play with older guys or pickup games all day on the weekends and I think that’s when I really learned that I, a) loved the sport, and b) just a lot of different ways to score. So I don’t think you necessarily need to play for a club, even though that’s great if you have the resources to do so. Just that we are able to go down to the beach, grab a ball, maybe pick up a player and get better is great. So just get out there.”

Rodriguez, the final guest on the SANDCAST radio hour of sorts, emphasized tournaments and pickup as well. He’s no stranger to CBVAs and AVP Nexts, despite winning an AVP in San Francisco this season, his first career AVP win.

“Just go out and play in as many tournaments as you can,” he said. “Learn the game playing the game, right? Even me, I go out and play in CBVAs and all those one-day tournaments because you got to go out and play. Yeah, you have to train and learn the techniques, but you need to go out and play and play and play and play.”

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