The essential guide to serving up a good beat down

by Todd Rogers

Volleyball Instruction Magazine, 2002


I started playing beach the summer after my freshman year in high school.  We had a group of 30 or 40 guys who would go down to East Beach in Santa Barbara and we'd take over a court.

On any given day, you might find a hundred high school kids surrouding us.  Some would bring a football or a frisbee, and everybody would jump in the ocean when it got hot, but the day's activities revolved around volleyball.

On the court, one team would usually dominate.  out of every five or six games, there was a game that would last an hour, then five others that would last ten minutes.

It's hard to put into words how much fun I had.  We'd play all day, nine in the morning until three in the afternoon.  If you got tired, you'd take a break, go grab a burger, then come back and play more.  By the time you were headed home, you'd be tired, but it was the best kind of tired.

The magazine has asked me to put together 12 tips to improve your beach game, but the biggest tip I can pass along is this: get to the beach and play.

If you do that, you'll be a lot better volleyball player by the time school starts again in September.  And you'll have a great summer.

1. Never give up

There's a guy in Santa Barbara named Mike Moss who has been playing more years than I've been alive.  He takes the court with a cigarette in his mouth and challenges his opponents to knock it out.  As far as I know, nobody has ever done it.  The guy is incredible.  He has some of the quickest hands I've ever known.

I mention Mike because he never gives up on anything.  The ball can be 50 feet away, and he'll go for it, and sometimes he'll get it.

It's amazing.

Not giving up on a ball seems like common sense but, even on the pro tour, you see people get lazy and quit.  I'll admit it, I've been guilty of it too.  Dax and I used to side out at such a high level that if a ball wasn't there and I didn't have a fairly easy shot, I'd be, like, forget it.

With rally scoring, you have to go for it.  But it shouldn't take a rule change to get you motivated.  Be like Mike and never say die.

2. Feet to the ball

I think this is what won the Olympics for Dain Blanton and Eric Fonoimoana.  Setting has never been Dain's strong suit, and Fonoi used to tell him all the time that he needed to get his feet to the ball, but Dain never did it on a regular basis.  In Sydney, though, he did it every single time.

You could see that he was really working hard on squaring up and putting it right where Fonoi needed it.  And Fonoi sided out like a champ.

How do you know you're getting your feet to the ball properly?  Just remember this: if there was a ray of light coming out of your forehead, it should point directly to where you want the ball to go.

This isn't difficult.  It's just a matter of working a little harder on each point.

3. Pass the ball high

This is simple so I'll keep it short.  If you pass the ball high and shank it, your parter will have some time to run it down and give you a decent set.  If you pass the ball low and shank it, it makes setting much tougher.

Give yourself a greater margin of error with a high pass.

4. Watch the hitter not the ball

This point has been made frequently in the pages of this magazine so why do I still see people people watching the ball?  I'll say it again.  You learn what the hitter is doing by watching the hitter, not the ball.

It's harder with some players than others because they show a similar look whether they're shooting or hitting.  But even hitters who are good at disugising their intentions will give you a little clue before they make contact.

5. Make the other team work

On a transition hit, you're usually six or seven feet off the net.  In this situation, don't try making a radical cut shot or bombing the ball.  It's better to hit deep middle and see what happens.

A cut or a big bomb from off the net is a low percentage shot.  By keeping the ball in the court, you give yourself the opportunity to score a point.  You might make a dig or a block, or the other team might screw up.

And just think how your partner will feel if he runs 25 feet to get the ball and you crank it into the tape.

Keep it in and keep the pressure on.

6. Talk to your partner

It's amazing how often I see two players go through the match and hardly say a word.  What are they thinking?  I mean, communicating and exchanging information is a big part of the game.

You and your partner should be saying things like, "Hey the left-sider likes to hit angle when the set is off," or "I'll block line, you take the hard driven hit in the angle and try to chase down the cut."

Another thing: always call the ball.  Don't lose points because you think your partner has it and he thinks you have it.

7. Don't forget the floater

The jump serve is huge in today's game, but I see way to many players lose point after point by sticking with it when they're bruising the net or pounding balls 10 feet out of bounds.

I like starting off with the jump serve but, if it isn't working, I switch to a floater.  One advantage to the floater is that a lot of people don't know how to pass it because they hardly ever see it.

The floater also allows you to be strategic.  For instance, if you're playing a shorter opponent, you can serve him short and make him work.  Then you can expect a shot.  When a short guy has to run in, then retreat, then approach again, he usually shoots.

Hey, you can even send up a sky ball.  Whatever you do, just change things up.

Don't rip your way into the losers' bracket.

8. Make the call

The key to making a good call for your partner's hit is looking at the defender.  Some players look at the blocker, but the blocker doesn't give you the necessary information.

Watch to see if the defender is faking or camping out in the middle of the court.  If he is, wait a little longer to make your call until he breaks one way or the other.

keep in mind when you're calling the shot, you're going to be wrong sometimes.  You'll shout "angle," your partner will hit angle, and the digger will be waiting.

Don't let that stop you.  You should call every ball.  I still do, and I've been playing 15 years.

And if you do make the wrong call, don't hesitate to change it.  There's nothing wrong with calling "angle" and then screaming "LINE LINE LINE."

9. Start low and stay low on defense

Most players start out in a good, low position, then straighten up when the ball is hit.  That's a waste of time.  You should stay low as you pursue the ball.

If you can do this, you'll find yourself digging a lot of those balls that were hitting the sand, especially when the hitter shoots.

10. Dig high, set high

This is even more important than passing high.  On a pass, your partner is ready to set, so she has a decent shot to retrieve a shanked ball.  But, when you make a dig and your partner is blocking, she often has to make a radical change of direction, so she needs tim to get to the ball.

To pop it up high, make your your platform is angling toward the sky.  It should be sloped slightly downward but not so steep that the ball shoots forward.

Remember that the dig doesn't have to be right on net.  If it's high, it can be 10 feet off and your partner will still be able to give you a good set.

The same principle applies to setting.  If your partner has just dug a ball, jack up the set high enough for her to have time to recover from the dig.

11. Toss high

Have you noticed that in international volleyball everybody is tossing the ball to the moon on their jump serves?  That's true on the beach and indoors.

Why the upward trend?  I've thought about that, and I'm not sure I have the answer.  I do know that since I started tossing the ball higher, my jump serve has improved dramatically.  I know, too, that most great jump servers have high tosses.

I think one reas on a high toss adds to the jump serve is that the timing is easier.  If your toss is slightly off, you can make an adjustment with your feet, but iwth a low toss, you have to make the adjustment with your arm, and that's a lot harder.

Be careful with high tosses in windy conditions.  When the wind is straight against you, toss it out a little farther and then go bang it.  But if there's crosswind, you might want to lower your toss.

12. Look before you hit

One key to improving your kill percentage is taking a quick look at the court before you jump.

This isn't easy.  It takes a lot of practice and some players never really feel comfortable with it.  But, if you make a habit of it now, it'll be that much easier in the future.

Of course, if all else fails, just hit the ball and hope for the best.  Deep middle is always a good option when you're in doubt.

Todd Rogers has a game that's well received by beach old timers because he plays the way they play -- heavy on ball control and smarts.  This summer, after 13 years and eight tournament victories with Dax Holdren, Rogers will take the court with a new partner, Sean Scott.  But before he dives into a heavy competition of AVP and FIVP play, he'd like to disagree with former BYU Coach Carl McGown, who wrote about passing in the June issue of Volleyball.  McGown contends that, when making a forearm pass, it's more important to get your arms in proper position than to get your feet behind the ball.  "I think that's right at the Olympic and collegiate level," says Rogers, an assistant coach for the UC Santa Barbara men's team during the offseason.  "But juniors should always get their feet behind the ball.  Once you get better, you can start experimenting a little more, but not when you're first learning."