5 Tips for the Beginning Beach Volleyball Player

Bored with lying on a towel reading the latest edition of US Weekly as you douse yourself with sunscreen? Get active this summer and have fun on the sand volleyball courts. It's a great workout and very social, but can be intimidating for newcomers. Here are five basics to know before you swagger up to a net:

Beach Volleyball Tip #1: How to Play

Sand is tough to play in. You'll be slower, you'll tire faster and your vertical jump will be reduced to millimeters.

To survive, economize your energy. Take small steps - you lose power on long strides. Beach volleyball is played barefoot, so when the sand gets hot, dig your feet a few inches under the top layers to cool them off. Drink lots of water to stay hydrated.

The good news is sand is forgiving on your joints, so you can enjoy the game well into your golden years.

Beach Volleyball Tip #2: The Right Equipment

Be sure to research which of your local beaches have permanent nets so you don't have to worry about bringing any equipment besides a ball.

Beach volleyballs are softer, lighter and a bit bigger than indoor balls and beach courts are smaller than indoor courts. Men's nets are 7.5 inches higher than women's nets.

If you are a group of men playing on a women's net or vice versa, don't be surprised if you get kicked off when the beach gets busy. It's good etiquette to play on the appropriate net height and if you have a co-ed group, you should play on a men's net.

Beach Volleyball Tip #3: How to Get a Game

If you have a group, it's best to arrive at the beach early to claim a net without waiting for one to open up.

If you show up with only a partner, you can "challenge on" to a court: ask the people currently playing if you and your partner can play the winner of their match. If you beat the winners, you stay on the court.

This can be a bit dicey as it is extremely important to assess the skill level of the court you are challenging on to before you throw down the gauntlet. For example, if the court has a pile of balls at the end line and the average height of the players is over 6'0", avoid this court. They are pros and they would not take kindly to challengers.

Note: Once on a court, keep the games continuous if the beach is busy. It is considered bad etiquette to leave the net empty for long periods of time to take breaks while others are waiting to play.

Beach Volleyball Tip #4: Choosing a Position

Beach volleyball is typically played with two people per side. There are no specialized positions as with indoor - only a left and right side. Most beach players are well-rounded and can hit, dig and block. At the higher levels, one player is dedicated to blocking and one to digging, but if you're just out for fun, grab a side and share the responsibilities.

Beach Volleyball Tip #5: Learning the Rules

A match consists of three sets, or games. The first team to reach 21 points wins the set (teams must win by two points). Two sets wins the match, and the third tiebreaker set, if necessary, is only played to 15 points.

Teams switch sides every seven points. There is no rotation between partners, but serving alternates. Lines are considered in and let serves (when the ball grazes the net and goes over) are legal. Three touches are allowed per side and a block counts as one touch. Sets must be clean (no spinning of the ball). It is best to bump set unless you are an advanced player with hands of gold. Feel free to let the smack talk fly -- volleyball is a social, argumentative sport.

Shake off any summer boredom and try something new! Enjoy ocean air, time with friends and a great workout on the beach volleyball court. Tan included.

Shannon Fiack played intercollegiate volleyball at the University of California, Davis. She has been living in San Diego for the past 6 years and frequently plays beach volleyball in the southern California area.

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