Sports are a breeding ground for lessons in character and personal responsibility. Just as we learn things like grit, patience, perseverance and work ethic, there are also many psychological and relational skills you are learning as well. Beach volleyball is no exception.
Whether you realize it or not the best teams perform these seven psychological processes extremely well and though these skills are imperative on the court, the opportunity to use them in work, life and relational scenarios off the court is there for those willing to take it:
- Critical Thinking – Every action has an equal and opposite reaction. In beach that means you need to be thinking two or three steps ahead of your next move. For example, serving. Who you serve determines who will likely hit – unless you have a team who likes to go over on two, typically, who you serve passes and hits the ball. Strategy and critical thinking help create the desired result. Are you a great blocking team who can serve the big hitter, then block or defend? Are you a smaller defensive team that needs to serve their smaller player for more opportunities to dig? The best teams aren’t just thinking about the play in front of them, they are thinking critically about their own skill and ability as well as the ability and skill of those across the net and how that will play out over the course of the match.
- Communication – If you aren’t talking, like all the time, your team will struggle. It’s essentially a marriage or a relationship. Those who communicate not only experience success, they are also more fulfilled at the end of a match. I interviewed a coach this past year who said “we don’t want to lose points of communication.” Not talking, assuming something from your partner, mind reading – those are just freebies for the other team. Communicate before, during and after plays. Who and where are you blocking? Who and where are you serving? What shots are open and everything in between? The more talk, the better.
- Other Focused – It’s not all about you. It doesn’t matter how many kills you have, how many solo blocks you have or aces or digs. What matters is how many of those things you have as a pair and whether or not that results in a win. Beach is a different mentality than indoor because the opportunity for “one big hitter” or “one star player” is limited to two people instead of six (plus a bench load of subs). In pairs, the talent is divvied up and even if you aren’t the big hitter or blocker, chances are you are a heck of a defender and court reader. Doing your part and also supporting and encouraging you partner to do their part is the mark of a mature player.
- Internal Locus of Control – That’s just a fancy psych word for controlling those things that you can control. Play along with me. Here is a list of things you cannot control: wind, weather, sun, rain, the other team, your partner, bad referee calls. Here is a list of thing you can control: your ability to adapt to the elements or weather, your attitude, your ball, your communication, your game. If you stick to the things you can control, life is much better for you and your partner. When you think externally (external locus of control) and allow outside forces to control your game, it’s a mental battle that is hard to overcome.
- Resilience – Other-focused and internal locus of control may seem to contradict each other, but, in fact, when they are used in tandem, they create resilience. We control the things we can control (internal locus of control) knowing our effort directly affects our partner and the outcome of the match (other-focused). The combination creates a resilience born out of not giving up our own effort in order to keep the ball in play for our partner. For example, making a solid second effort on a ball that was dug well, but not necessarily near where you are on the court. You control your own effort and show your partner you appreciate their effort too, producing resilience for both of you.
- Stress Management – When the whistle blows, it is you and your partner in battle until somebody hits 21 (or wins by 2). The best players will manage their skills and stress to make big plays and stay mentally balanced. Pouting, dwelling on the last point or shutting down communication after a bad play is not effective. As a pair, you are bonded for that match, here’s a few easy things to remember: slow your breathing, focus on the next ball, make eye contact with your partner if you feel them start to slip and slap a hand in between plays. Staying connected reminds both of you that you are in it together and reduces mid-match stress.
- Extreme Ownership – Each pair is responsible for calling their own timeouts, for calling their own hands, lines and lifts. In beach you don’t have the arsenal of referees, line judges, score keepers, floor wipers … well, at least not at the high school level. Because of this, each team must take extreme ownership of their own game, performance, integrity, etc. If you need a timeout, know when to take one. If you have sloppy hands, know to call that and if the ball is out, for Pete’s sake, call it out. Ownership now means ownership later and that is good for everyone.
Though it may have started as a fun game at the beach, the sport has taken over the inland and land locked areas with parks and sand courts popping up everywhere. Not only is the game creating opportunities for more players in more places, with only two people on the court (and little coach intervention during matches), players have the opportunity to work and struggle through various scenarios with each practice or match, which grows them in sport and in life.
Priscilla Tallman is a freelance writer in Phoenix, AZ. She has an undergraduate degree in Psychology and graduate degree in Clinical Psychology. She has written for FloVolleyball, Volleyball Magazine, The Art of Coaching Volleyball, Sweat RX, Gorgo Fitness Magazine, CrossFit Fury and the CrossFit Games. She is married with two children and in a former life played collegiate and professional volleyball. She currently coaches high school volleyball and hopes to pass on her love for the sport to the next generation of amazing athletes and leaders.
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