I once had an exchange with a volleyball dad. He was looking for some advice on his daughter. At 16 she was an England international at the U19 level and had aspirations to play in college in the States. One of the academies accepted her for the next school year. Shortly after, the England sand volleyball training program invited her to join them in a similar academy type of situation. A former beach pro ran the program. The father sought my advice on the decision with regards to the impact on recruitment prospects. Below are the thoughts I shared with this father, but I’d be interested to hear other views.

So the question is to attend the indoor academy and train with other members of the England youth national team mix or go the beach route to train under a former professional and with other England beach internationals. The player in question was an outside hitter, though capable of hitting anywhere on the net. She was about 5’10”, with a good jump and long reach (slender build). She both hit and blocked well and generally had good ball skills. In the most recent season she had some back issues, but otherwise I was not aware of any injuries. If she went the beach academy route, part of the deal would be that she’d continue playing indoor ball in the National Volleyball League.

Now generally speaking I almost always encourage my indoor players to get out and play beach or grass doubles. It’s a great way for them to improve their abilities and have a different kind of volleyball experience. That’s not the same as choosing between training full-time as a beach player vs. as an indoor player, though.

If this girl played another position, like middle blocker or perhaps setter, I may feel differently. In this case, though, I thought going the beach academy route made a lot of sense. As an OH prospective college coaches would expect her to have solid skills all around – not highly specialized ones as would be the case in other positions. Beach volleyball would help her continue developing those skills. I also thought sand training would reduce the pounding her body would take as a full-time indoor player. That could have long-term benefits.

From the recruiting perspective, the math was fairly simple. There are WAY more indoor programs and scholarship opportunities, and that wouldn’t change any time soon (if ever). As such, focusing on the indoor side in the recruitment process offers more opportunities, especially given the way the NCAA counts volleyball scholarships (an indoor scholarship athlete can play sand without issue, but a sand scholarship athlete cannot play indoors unless being counted toward the indoor scholarship limits). That said, being a dual-surface player would make one quite attractive to schools where players are part of both the indoor and sand teams (rather than the teams being run separately).

All things taken together – working on her all-around game, the opportunity to train under a former beach pro, still getting to play indoor competitively – I thought going the beach academy route in this case mades a lot of sense. That’s what I told the father.

Agree? Disagree?

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John Forman
John Forman

John is currently Technical Director for Charleston Academy. His previous experience includes the college and university level in the US and UK, professional coaching in Sweden, and both coaching and club management at the Juniors level. Learn more on his bio page.

    4 replies to "Volleyball Academy: Indoor or Beach?"

    • Oliver Wagner

      Since volleyball and beach volleyball are two different sports (at least from my point of view) and the principle of specifity is one of the most important (again from my point of view) there are almost no synergies between the two sports. I don’t know many athletes who can compete on the highest level in two sports. If she is one of them, congratulations. But if not I say focus on one sport.

    • John Forman John Forman

      Oliver – I’m sure we could have a lengthy discussion on the subject of specificity and beach vs. indoor volleyball, so I’ll leave that aside for the moment. What I would say, though, is that in the US it is the case that many of the top level beach players were once top level indoor athletes. This is very likely a function of the opportunities to use indoor volleyball to get a university education, with beach volleyball taking over as a primary focus later. With sand volleyball now becoming a collegiate option as well, it will be interesting to see the impact over time.

      The case I address in the blog post is a specific one, however. My approach was to think in terms of creating the best possible recruiting platform for the player in question. While she could probably get plenty of offers as strictly an indoor player, having meaningful beach playing and training increases her attractiveness to programs that combine sand and indoor, and by extension in places where she is inclined to go to school. And again, if she wasn’t an OH where all-around skills are required, I’d probably think differently on the academy subject.

      • Oliver Wagner

        Okay, I didn’t get your point at first. I can understand that. If the system’s like that I completely agree with your thought. Although the “detour” beach volleyball might cost her an important step during the summer indoors…

        • John Forman John Forman

          Actually, there seems to be relatively little indoor volleyball in England during the summer (same in the States, other than camps), so she doesn’t really miss out from that perspective. I think the national squads will have August training camp, but other than that, once the National league wraps up in April/May the focus seems to shift very much to beach. As I understand it, the player in question did a lot of beach training last summer.

Please share your own ideas and opinions.