Develop Your Sand Legs

Learn how to move and jump in sand

Young people playing beach volleyball
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When summer is near, many indoor volleyball players decide to head outside and try their hand at beach or sand volleyball. But the two sports have some major differences and being a good indoor player does not guarantee that you'll be a good sand player. The skills are mostly the same, but your ability to move the ball in order to perform those skills has changed significantly.

Even the college standouts and professional volleyball players have a period of adjustment when they move from indoor to outdoor volleyball. It can take a few weeks to truly get your sand legs, which means to move around and jump more easily in the sand.

When you first start playing on the sand, you will feel slow and heavy. Your normally ample vertical jump will decrease significantly. Every movement is difficult with a constantly changing surface under your feet. If you're playing doubles, you'll also have to move and jump a lot more than you would on your six-person team, so your endurance will likely be tested as well.

The key is to be patient and allow yourself some time to adapt to this new game. Learn how to move efficiently and save your energy for when you need it. After playing indoor volleyball all year long, it may take some time to be able to move effortlessly in the sand and get any kind of significant air on your vertical jump. So here are a few tips to keep in mind as you make the transition that will help you develop your sand legs.

Conserve Energy and Use the Wind's Direction to Your Advantage

Remember that on the sand, each movement takes more energy than on the hard court. Don't waste your movement. Keep your attack approach short and sweet—a two-step approach will do fine for most plays.

Keep in mind that the wind is a factor. Pick up some sand and slowly let it fall from your hand to see which way the wind is blowing. Take note and expect the ball to move the same way. 

For instance, if the sand blows to the left as it leaves your hand, expect the set you get to drift more outside than the same set would in an enclosed gym.

Take the time to see the set and compensate for the extra ball movement in your approach so you don't have to broad jump at the last second to get to the ball. It will take some time for you to be able to judge the speed of the ball's arrival and the effect of the wind on the ball's position. Your early mistakes in judgment will help you to learn, so don't be discouraged if it doesn't happen overnight.

Misjudging the ball will put you in bad hitting position, which will, in turn, make it difficult for you to get a kill. If you judge the ball correctly, you will keep the ball in front of you and get a great swing.

Learn How to Jump in the Sand

Unlike when you push off of hardwood for your approach jump, the sand gives under your feet. When the surface underneath your feet moves like that, it takes many inches off of your vertical. In indoor volleyball, you pound your feet quickly off the ground to transfer your forward momentum into upward momentum and it is okay to broad jump a little if you've miscalculated your position.

On the sand, it doesn't work that way. You want to do your best to judge the ball's position accurately so you can jump straight up. This will give you the most vertical you can get on the soft sand. After your short approach, make your hop as usual but keep your feet flat and your toes up.

The jump does not have to be initiated as quickly as in indoor volleyball. Before you take off, allow some time to transfer your weight from forward motion to upward motion. Bend your knees deeply, bring both arms back and use them to help lift your body off the ground.

Allow your feet to sink into the sand so that you have somewhat packed sand to push off of. Take off from the flat-footed position. Do not use a heel-toe motion because the larger the platform you jump off of in this unstable surface, the better your vertical jump.

Practice Playing in the Sand

Playing well in the sand is not only about jumping and hitting. If you're playing doubles, you're going to be in constant motion. Moving in the sand will take a lot more out of you than moving on the court. So you'll need to adjust your cardio and endurance training.

There are a few training drills you can do on your own even before you play with a partner. Get your cardio going by running in the soft sand for 20-30 minutes. You can also drill yourself by starting at the back line and sprinting to the net. Do some deep knee block jumps in the sand and some block jumps with a side step. Practice going to the sand, getting up quickly and getting ready to hit.

But most of all, play sand volleyball. The best way to get your sand legs is to play, play, and play some more. In a few weeks it will feel like second nature, but be prepared to feel awkward, slow, and heavy for a while. The good news is, when you're ready to go back to indoor volleyball in the fall, you'll feel as light as a feather.