Sandman

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Andrew Fuller in college coaching mode at USC.

An arenophile is someone who collects sand.

This definition headlines one of the pages on Andrew Fuller’s photography website and it’s a description that certainly fits him. This 6’9″ former star of the Virginia Tech club team has his masters of fine arts in photography from the Academy of Art University in San Francisco, but he’s found his professional niche as a beach volleyball coach for professional and college athletes. The 30-year-old has traipsed through sand all over the world as a coach for his wife, pro beach volleyball player Lauren Fendrick, and her partner Brooke Sweat. Just this summer, he sank his toes into the sand of Shanghai, Moscow, Berlin, Stavanger, Gstaad, The Hague, and Klagenfurt, not to mention the domestic sand in St. Petersburg, Milwaukee, Long Beach, Salt Lake City, Manhattan Beach, Cincinnati, and Huntington Beach.

In 2012, NCAA sand volleyball’s inaugural season, Fuller began his collegiate coaching career as an assistant at Long Beach State. The next season, he moved over to USC, where he now coaches under Anna Collier and has helped guide two Trojan duos to pairs national championship titles in Gulf Shores, Alabama.

Fuller gave us a peek into the relatively new field of collegiate beach volleyball coaching and shared the not-so-juicy details on coaching his wife.

VBM: What is the biggest difference between coaching indoor and sand?

AF: The obvious difference is having two people on the court, which is more complex in some ways and simpler in others. Youre able to focus on your players a lot more, but also the scrutiny of player to player is more magnified between the two partners. I like the simplicity of it, having only two people. There’s more of a relationship there that is easier to build.

It’s super important for beach coaches to create autonomy in their players and make sure they dont become reliant on you. You have to give them the tools to fly on their own because the rules for beach coaching are that we cant say anything during play, and we cant say anything between plays other than telling them to call a time-out. So if your players dont have it figured out on their own, and if theyre not able to develop some strategy or have some mechanism to manage the game in some way, then theyre going to struggle.

VBM: What kind of pressure does that put on you as a coach, not being able to sub and not being able to communicate with your players during the game?

AF: It makes practice super important, and it makes the players own decision making really important. It’s really hard to slow the game down when youre a coach in the match. You have one timeout per set, maybe a TV timeout if youre in a really big match, but it’s so much about the players and so little about the coach. You try and develop [game management] in practice, but when it comes to competition, it’s really all about the players, which is fun. They really take ownership in their matches because there’s nothing being said in between points.

VBM: What do you do to help players make the transition from indoor to beach?

AF: Build them up a little bit because it’s very humbling at first when you get out there. Youve got to let them know that theyre going to get smashed a little bit at first if they havent done it before, and that’s OK. Maybe give them some stories of other players, like my wife Lauren, for example. She’s a really good beach player now, but when she first started going out there she was getting crushed by 40-year-old pregnant ladies. And she was a starter on UCLA’s indoor team.

It can be humbling, but youve got to be OK with that and you need to be OK with failure. Especially because there are no subs. Youre absolutely going to crash and burn at points in your career and if you let that define you at the onset, bouncing back is going to be tough.

VBM: How do you make the transition from player to coach?

AF: Still figuring that out. Being willing to adapt your coaching style or strategy to whatever player you have is important. What you did as a player isnt going to work for everyone. There are so many ways to play this game that you need to be constantly learning and looking for ways to cater your coaching to who you have. Beach players come in all different shapes and sizes. I coach Brooke Sweat who’s a 5’8″ quick little defender who I cant relate to from a physical standpoint. I cant relate to a lot of the women that I coach from a physical standpoint. Im a 6’9″ left-handed guy. So basically Ive stopped thinking about myself as a player. Maybe if there’s something that I did mentally well or even that I learned from failing, I can share that, but it’s really about who’s in front of you and it’s not about [you], so youve got to shut that part of yourself down quickly if youre trying to coach.

VBM: What resources do you use to develop yourself as a coach?

AF: Pretty much every day on my way to work Im listening to some sort of podcast. Sports Coach Radio is phenomenal. Daniel Coyle [author of The Talent Code] and Dr. Roy Sugarman had a great thing on the Coach Your Best podcast. [And then] some stuff that doesnt necessarily pertain to athletics, like the Daniel Pink podcast talking about business. A lot of social science: Malcolm Gladwell, Freakonomics, Radio Lab. I just feel like Im in this really good spot of learning right now and trying to apply this stuff. Im reading Give and Take by Adam Grant right now, and Im trying to give as much as I can intelligently as a coach, and I think people respond to that.

VBM: How have those resources impacted you as a coach?

AF: I try to be really mindful of asking questions of the player and having guided discovery within their game rather than me trying to outline something that I think is right. Beach volleyball is so driven by the player; they should be discovering how to play the game themselves. As much as I can, I turn it around to say, Hey Sally, what are you trying to do with your arm swing right now? Then theyre able to create the words and hopefully do some more self-reflection. Then the transfer of them being able to do it successfully is going to be so much higher than me saying, Hey, keep your arm up. The more that I ask questions, the better the athletes become.

VBM: What are some of your favorite drills to use in practice?

AF: Anything as real as possible. With the pro teams that Ive worked with, they have such a grinding seasonLauren and Brooke had a stretch where they had 11 tournaments in a rowthat they have tons of game reps and for certain parts of the season well be very small in our movements, moving no more than 10-15 feet just locking down those body movements. But I think for younger players, playing is so key and having a ball that’s initiated over the net and being OK with it being a little messy and sloppy. Sometimes there’s this desire among coaches to have this beautiful drill set up and have it look really neat and crisp and tidy, but the real learning is when it’s just a mess and trying to create some calm and peace within that.

VBM: Tell us a little bit about the recruiting landscape for NCAA volleyball.

AF: I can only speak from our perspective of what were looking for [at USC], but we really want to see athletes who are trying to play the game they see at higher levels. With YouTube being the greatest volleyball video resource ever known, there’s no excuse for younger student athletes to not know what it looks like at the highest level.

If I was going to make a request of anyone interested in playing sand volleyball in college, [it would be] keep playing in as many tournaments as you can, and if you send video to a coach, make sure that it shows you playing at a level that is similar to college. We want to see you hitting against a block and playing against people who are maybe better than you. It’s OK if youre just getting smashed. Sending a video of yourself getting float-serve aces against people who are three years younger than you is not helping us assess your level.

VBM: How is coaching Lauren and Brooke different from coaching at USC?

AF: There’s a lot more personal attention with Lauren and Brooke because it’s just the two of them and were on the road together a ton. Im also able to do way more volleyball stuff with them. At USC, in addition to doing all the assistant coach tasks, I also do all of the director of operations stuff. If I were to make a gross generalization, I would say like 20 percent of what I do at USC is on the court coaching skills and 80 percent of it is non-skill-related jobs: fundraising, recruiting, the budget, reimbursements, travel. It’s kind of flipped with Lauren and Brooke. Like 80 percent of the stuff I get to do with them is on a court doing practice, working on their skills, and 20 percent of it is figuring out practice time on a warm-up court at the Klagenfurt Grand Slam, for example.

VBM: What’s it like coaching your wife?

AF: It’s awesome. At USC, it’s the university who hires me, not the players. But on the professional end, Lauren and Brooke are my bosses basically. So if they didnt want me as their coach, I wouldnt be their coach. Im flattered that they want me to work with them. They are both so fun to work with and theyre such true professionals. Brooke is getting on the road at 5:30 in the morning to drive up to Hermosa from Huntington Beach four days a week. It takes a level of dedication and professionalism to do that, and then to show up ready to take criticism and apply it. People who have reached that level of success just show up and work. Were never talking about motivation or saying, Hey, you guys need to try a little bit harder today. They just show up busting their tails and that makes them so much fun to work with.

Lauren and I are doing a presentation at the AVCA Convention this year as player and coach. We dont really feel like being the husband and wife duo is really that interesting because it actually happens quite a bit. There are all sorts of husband-wife duos on tour.

VBM: What was traveling on the international tour like this year?

AF: It’s an absolute adventure. But the travel stuff is just nuts. It’s for sure the hardest thing on the athlete’s body. Were on a plane for 12 to 20 hours and every tournament is a little bit different in terms of the hotel, the transportation, the food. Some tournaments have really good food, like Klagenfurt, and then other tournaments it’s like white toast, some really weird-looking scrambled eggs, and cold cuts.

VBM: Do you have any travel advice?

AF: [Bring] earplugs, eyemask. A lot of people do compression tights to make sure there’s not a ton of explosion of your ankles. Trying to acclimate yourself to the time zone that youre in is super important. Let’s say we get to Europe and it’s 10 in the morning, were not just going to go to bed. Were going to act like it’s 10 in the morning to our bodies. Or let’s say we get in at 10 p.m., even if were wide awake, well try and fall asleep. If we cant fall asleep naturally, well take some sort of sleep aid. Just getting on that schedule is so important.

Being adaptable is important. If youre someone who only eats certain things and needs the perfect amount of sleep, doing the world tour is probably not for you. But if youre down for a little adventure and having less-than-ideal circumstances, then it’s great. The past two years of traveling on the world tour have been the most insane and fun part of my life.

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