SANDCAST Mailbag: How does off-season training differ from in-season? Other fan questions

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SANDCAST-Travis Mewhirter-Tri Bourne

No matter what kind of year this would have been — normal, COVID-impacted, enormously successful — the day before Thanksgiving is, officially, off-season for beach volleyball. Even in a year when The Hague is running its New Years tournament, teams wouldn’t necessarily be training just yet. Soon, but not yet.

As such, our now-monthly SANDCAST mailbag, including the — ahem — savvy Savvy Simo, UCLA’s court one defender during the weird 2020 season, features a variety of off-season focused questions.

Enjoy, and if you’d like to send questions, email us at sandcastpodcast@gmail.com or direct message Travis Mewhirter (@trammew) or Tri Bourne (TriBourne) on Instagram.

How does your off-season training differ from in-season training?

  • Tyler Mewhirter

The million-dollar question, and one with no definitive answer. Not even close to a definitive answer. A few weeks ago, when Misty May-Treanor came on the show, she unveiled the off-season training she settled into after eight or so years of experimentation: She wouldn’t touch a ball. From November through February, she would stay in Florida with her husband, Matt, who was playing for the Florida Marlins — now the Miami Marlins — and she would exclusively focus on lifting weights. Worked well enough for her. All she did was, oh, win three gold medals and retire as the greatest defender in the history of beach volleyball.

But that’s just one approach.

Nick Lucena and Phil Dalhausser also avoid ball-focused practices, choosing instead to focus on the weight room. Traci Callahan, however, like Tri Bourne and Trevor Crabb, is switching positions. All of them have adopted a low-intensity, rep-focused off-season program where they get loads of reps at their new positions — defenders all — while also lifting weights to build a base of power and strength that will sustain them throughout the season.

In-season, then, becomes, for most everyone, maintenance. It is almost impossible for beach players to maintain their strength and weight throughout the entirety of an eight-month season.

Most in-season training schedules will feature four or five days a week on the sand, with two or three days in the weight room, doing mostly light rehab, or prehab, work, to keep aching knees, backs, shoulders, healthy enough to play the next tournament.

It’s an imperfect science, so if there are any trainers and nutritionists out there who want to help, we’ll take it!

What are the best ways to learn the Xs and Os and strategies of beach? Books? Videos? Etc.

  • Mike Lessel

Tri and I learn, and play, in vastly different ways. Given that I picked up the game when I was 24, I’ve had to expedite my learning process, thus digging into as much film, doing as many interviews — via this podcast and writing books and stories on the greats — as I could, and playing in as many tournaments as are available. Last year, for example, between AVP, AVP Next, CBVA, p1440 developmental tournaments, and any other random ones I could find, I competed in 35.

What I’ve found is that the more you put yourself in situations where you have to learn the Xs and Os, you’ll learn the Xs and Os. You’ll learn, through trial and error, when and how to set up a proper line dive, or angle block, or even a double-up. When to switch whom you’re serving and when to mix up your offense.

The best teacher on this topic that I’ve come across is, surprise surprise, The Professor himself, Todd Rogers. I interviewed him for my first book, We Were Kings, and he told a story when he and Theo Brunner were playing against Dave McKienzie, maybe in Cincinnati in 2014. All throughout the first set, McKienzie was killing them with the cut shot, to where it was 14-14, maybe 15-14. Rogers let it go, let it go, let it go, to the point that Brunner was wondering whether or not Rogers was ever going to try and get one.

It was a set up.

He scooped the next few cut shots, opened up a lead, won the set and, 30 minutes later, the match.

Xs and Os, courtesy of the professor.

That comes from abundant experience, yes, but also studying the game, and your opponent. Determine what their favorite two shots are, and play the percentages: How can we take one of them away, or make it more difficult? How can you force them to hit their least favorite or accurate shot or swing?

Similar to off-season vs. in-season training, the Xs and Os of beach volleyball are no exact science. It’s trial and error, figuring it out as you go, though the more exposure you have to the sport, the quicker you’ll learn.

Cal Poly beach 2/14/2020-Todd Rogers
Olympic gold medalist Todd Rogers is the best Xs and Os mind in the game/Cal Poly photo

What do you think is a skill people often forget to train?

  • Keetevolley

Tri and I had different answers for this, but both of them, funnily enough, have one commonality: You can train them by yourself. My answer was serving, something I rarely, if ever, see as a focus in practice and training, and something that I think is maybe the most valuable skill to jump levels in beach volleyball.

Prior to my first open tournament, in the summer of 2014, my buddy and excellent coach, Joey Keener, told me, bluntly, that I wasn’t skilled enough to make it in open. But what I could do is work on my serve. It’s what John Mayer calls a closed-loop skill: It’s the only aspect of beach volleyball in which you’re in control of every element. You control your toss, where you serve from, to whom you serve, and what kind of serve you’re hitting.

Prior to that tournament, held in Gulf Shores, Ala., site of the NCAA Championships, I’d hit 50-100 serves a day, by myself. That weekend, I made the finals, thanks almost entirely to my serving.

Reid Priddy is one of the few players I’ve seen who dedicates time exclusively to serving.

“It’s the best defense I have,” he said. And he’s right. At the top level, if the team is in-system, it’s almost a guaranteed side-out. If they’re out of system, you have a chance.

Give yourself a chance. Grab a bag of balls, head out to the beach, and serve for a bit.

Bourne, on the other hand, mentioned a skill that many have probably never even considered to be a skill: blocking footwork.

Since 2014, despite standing just 6-foot-5 — this is short for an elite blocker — Bourne has been one of the most formidable presences at the net, thanks in large part to his feet. He’ll go out to the beach tennis nets and practice shuffling, loading, then pressing — then doing it over and over and over again, going through every type of blocking move he could make.

It’s not a sexy skill, but it is a necessary one.

And one that, like serving, you can do all on your own.

SANDCAST 9/30/2020-Tri Bourne
Tri Bourne is a master of blocking footwork.

How come ESPN will show cornhole and shuffleboard but not beach volleyball?

  • Joe Meserve

I do not know the exact financials of this deal that cornhole and shuffleboard and other random sports like drone racing have with ESPN, but I can almost guarantee that ESPN is not paying the organizing federations of cornhole and shuffleboard to televise their product.

Which is why beach volleyball fans should stop being so obsessed with getting on ESPN, a quickly dying brand that’s laying off employees by the half-thousand, and be more appreciative for the relationship we have with Amazon Prime.

Amazon Prime pays the AVP to stream its product, which is a wonderful flip of traditional television contracts beach volleyball had in the past, in which the AVP had to pay NBC or ESPN or whoever to televise their product, and then recoup that investment by selling commercials.

The AVP doesn’t have to do that with Amazon, and it’s awesome. Revenue streams are awesome.

Forget ESPN.

‘Tis the season to be thankful for Amazon.

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