Problem #5: You don’t have a clue what the defense is doing.
Mistake: No look in the approach / looking way to early.
Easy Fix: Eyes forward on the last two steps.
Models: Bruno Oscar-Schmidt, Todd Rogers
“I got shots. I got every shot. I got shots for DAYSSS!” Cutty, high line, jumbo, short waterfall, waterfall over the block, chop cross, slime line, pit sizzling seam, deep middle… You name it I got it.”
So you can hit every spot on the court but you’re still getting dug like a pre-school sandbox. Why? Because you just aren’t using them at the right times. You’ve spent hours working on your standing cut shot (which has next to zero translation to the real game) and it falls for a kill… sometimes, and you feel great. But, there’s always that one defender that eats you up. You dice, you hit hard, you go away from your favorite shot because, shoot, ya gotta try something to get the ball down. You’ve tried every location and every type of swing and you’re still not hitting that 60% attack percentage that can win tournaments. It’s not your arm. It’s not your vertical. It’s not your setter.
If you’ve gotten to this point in a beach volleyball article, you probably have an idea what an approach looks like but we need to go over it anyway. The approach can always get better and in our Gold Camps, we break it down to make sure all of the inefficiencies are booted so that you can jump as high and as quickly as possible. I won’t tell you to use a three step or a four step approach but I will tell you that more than 98% of the players on the World Tour are using a four step. Check out some YouTube videos and start pause-playing the videos after the peak of the first contact and watch the attackers steps.
The majority of players start with their small first step while the setter is contacting the ball. From there, they accelerate and increase in size with each remaining step. For right handers these steps are normally Right…Left..RIGHT-LEFT. It would be reversed for lefties and yes there are notable exceptions to this rule, like Phil Dalhausser and Aleksandrs Samoilovs but for simplicity’s sake we are sticking with the traditional approach.
The hands and arms should come back as the player is leaving their second step and swing up in to a bow and arrow shape after the last two. The players in our Intermediate and Advanced Winter Classes are STILL working on these fine details every weekend. I, myself spent a good deal of last year making sure that I was getting my feet to the ball before I jumped.
So you’ve got all this down. You’re doing it consistently and making great contact with the ball but still not terminating points. What is it?
IT’S YOUR EYES!
You spent your entire approach watching the ball and now that your in the air, loaded and ready to attack, you have no idea where to hit it because you never saw the defense. This probably isn’t even running through your mind. At this stage, maybe your game isn’t developed enough to realize that you should be asking this question on take off. However, it needs to get there! Vision is the way to the next level.
There are those players who think they are seeing the other side but they are simply doing it at the wrong time. I see a lot of advanced players look at the other side of the court when their approach starts (when the setter is setting) but they never look again after that. This type of look gives the defense 3 steps of time to change their positioning without you knowing. We have to look as late as possible while still being able to make good crisp contact on the ball.
SO WHAT’S THE RIGHT ‘LOOK’ SEQUENCE?
Some players look at the court right after their pass and there CAN be benefit to this. It can re-orient you after a scramble or a serve that put you out of position. As a coach, I don’t focus on this because in terms of valuable information, it is way too early. Good defenders, like the ones who have read our previous blog 😉 are not standing where they will end up during this phase so it’s essentially false information. To have a close ended answer, just pass forward and set more up and down balls so that everything stays in your visual field.
Moving on… For the purposes of this article we will use a four step approach. On our first step, our eyes should focus on the setters contact so we can have great, accurate steps to the ball. Get a read on what type of contact your setter is likely to have so you can get your feet to the ball in the end.
On the second step (left foot for righties) you MUST follow the ball. This is crucial to getting yourself in a great hitting position. In beach volleyball it’s massively valuable to get your last to steps to be right behind the ball so you can jump straighter.Our left foot (right foot for lefties) is our power and direction foot. It’s the left foot’s job to take us to the spot we will jump from and ideally, jump straight. If you are looking at anything but the ball during your left step, you won’t be able to get your feet to the right position for attacking. We go over this in depth during our VolleyVert Camps which have over 35 hours of training, instruction and theory sessions. If you are hungry to go ALL-IN for a training camp, this one is for you.
NOW IS WHEN WE SEE THE DEFENSE!
Now that the left foot is in the process of getting your feet to the right spot, you will have to take a late quick look. Your eyes will leave the ball and dart forward as your 3rd step is hitting the ground and you only have a flash to see where the defense is before you have to find the ball again. Since you’ve gotten your last two steps JUST behind the ball and you took a quick look, your peripheral sense will help you with any super late moves but if you hit on the way up and your contact is crisp, your shots are going to find the sand.
Not every player uses this eye sequence. There are players like Alison Cerutti who prefer to just beat the block peripherally and hit with power. Players like these can swing hard enough from a variety of positions to over power most defenders. Other players have a great sense of game flow and super peripheral vision so might not use the ‘look’. For those of us who are forced to use more tools I invite you to start training your eyes.
If you look too early you will lose the ball and have a false sense of where the defenders are. If you jump from under the ball, you will have to look up to sharply and you will lose your peripherals. If you hang before you hit (my personal issue) you will lose height, and crispness on your spike contact so the defenders will be able to catch up. If you have to hit a ball from way behind you, it probably won’t be worth taking a look because you will have to track the ball flight just to get a solid contact anyway. In this case, find a perimeter or the middle and hit there flat and fast.
Set up a camera or a smart phone on the side of your court next time you play. Check out what your eyes are doing and get comfortable using the proper sequence. It can be as valuable as the jump itself in terms of kill percentage. If you’re still unsure, send us some video and let us show you what’s happening in your game. We have a great team that can dissect your game and give you great feedback right to your inbox.
Happy Spiking 🙂
-Mark Burik is the Owner of VolleyCamp Hermosa and competes on the AVP and FIVB World Tour.
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