Nine etiquette guidelines for college beach volleyball coaches
By David Fischer
Photos: Peter Brouillet
1. Handslaps between coaches are totally optional.
I tell players to do the customary hand slap on side switches. Some have argued that it takes away the competitive edge, and I tell them that Karch Kiraly did it and he’s plenty competitive. Coaches can check in with each other, but time is at a premium on a side-switch, and we’re trying to deliver secret information. Usually, one coach goes under the net alongside the court while the other one goes around the pole. If there’s eye-contact and proximity, you’re probably doing the hand-slap, but it’s a non-issue.
2. When in doubt, pretend you’re at a public beach.
There are no “private” practices the way there are with indoor teams — there’d be no way to curtain off your courts at a public beach. On the other hand, don’t have your team (or yourself) sit down and scout another’s practice. I haven’t seen anybody do it, but we don’t want one program to ruin it for everybody. Let’s also remind our players to keep the profanity down to a bare minimum, especially when kids or administrators or parents might be present. If weather or travel delays mean that another school shows up during your scheduled practice time, make an effort to give them at least one court to get the travel out. There are usually an odd number of courts at a facility – the “scheduled” school naturally gets more courts.
3. Turn in a guilt-free lineup.
The rules state that your lineup must have your pairs in the order of strength – your 1s must, in the coach’s opinion, be stronger than your 2s, your 2s stronger than your 3s, and so on. It can be very tricky knowing exactly the correct order, especially early in the season, especially with new beach players. There will be players that improve faster than others. I’m in favor of sometimes switching partnerships during a season to reward the hard workers and to keep them all well-rounded, while many extremely successful programs put a premium on keeping pairs together. Either way, the lineups should change, if only slightly, over the course of a season to reflect the present strength of each pair. It’s not a valid excuse in late April that your always-defeated 3s are stronger than your undefeated 4s just because you began the season with a clear conscience.
4. Float above the arguing.
Beach coaches just don’t argue calls directly with the officials, nor are we allowed to. I know we are competitive. I know calls go the wrong way sometimes. The extent of my overt arguing was when one of the prettiest handsets you ever saw was called on one of my players, and I stood up, placed both hands on my head in genuine shock, said nothing, then sat down a few seconds later. (By the way, the rules state that coaches must sit, but many just don’t – some games are just too exciting, some umbrellas too flimsy, some chairs too wet. I don’t have a problem with the standing.) If there is a blatant incorrect call, burn a timeout (or hope that it’s a side-switch) and suggest to either of your players that they politely ask the official for clarification. If you’ve already taken your timeout, just remember that you have to win volleyball games by 2 points. Sideout.
5. Be flexible, appreciate the sport we have, and be willing to improve it.
We, and our beach volleyball-playing players, have no legitimate gripe. We travel to beautiful locations to play and coach beach volleyball, and a majority of people would strongly consider swapping places with us. When a host proposes a different start time, playing order, or even a different date, do what you can do to accommodate. I’m amazed at how fluidly softball and baseball games are moved around, and they’ve got significantly larger teams, equipment loads, and staffs. Still, duals and tournaments have lots of moving parts, and we as coaches can help find solutions to minor problems. At times, I’ve only had 1 healthy player for an exhibition 6s match. Multiple times, I’ve asked our opponent’s coach if she has an extra player, and we’ve created a hybrid pair to play, rather than have four healthy players sit. If there’s not a 4th available, how about using a GA, strength coach, or an alum? Similarly, when one of the scheduled schools doesn’t have an exhibition 6s, a pair from another university can usually be found, since events usually involve multiple schools. I don’t think there’s a victim, especially when you consider it’s an exhibition match. Beach volleyball should be played when possible – open courts and bench players don’t jibe with our sport. If this means a rule needs to change, let’s do it. Flexibility is also required during pre-match warmups – there’s a balance between opportunistic taking of courts and “hogging” all the good courts. Keep an eye out for fairness and if you see a team looking for a place to warm-up, look for a solution.
6. Coach when we’re allowed to coach.
Giving extra advice to our players might make the difference in a match (for good or for ill), but other than during a timeout, a side-switch, or between sets, it is not allowed. Rather than make the officials issue their warnings and red cards, let’s take the high road and respect the spirit of the rules. Personally, my favorite timeouts are when the players catch their breath, grab a drink, discuss what’s going on with each other, and maybe I or one of our other coaches adds a suggestion or two as they head back to do work. From the coaches box, I’ll whoop and clap when we make a great play (it’s allowed), I’ll verbally suggest a timeout to our players if I think it’s needed (it’s allowed), but I won’t say “sideout” after a mistake (it’s a grey area). The partners should be calming each other down and helping each other stay on task. If the players aren’t relied upon to communicate and remember a game plan for 7 whole points in a row, we’re not teaching them how to play.
7. The structure of a dual is a work in progress, and we owe it to the sport to come up with something better.
Clearly, a shady program could recruit 6 super-athletes, play them at the 3-4-5, and kick everybody’s butt. To me, a win at the 3-4-5 is pretty meek – more like a tie than a victory. Even a 1-4-5 victory is a little tenuous. The rules in place to prevent stacking don’t prevent stacking. Switching the 1s and 2s when you know your real 1s are doomed might feel legal since they only moved one slot, but is also a classic “stack.” The up/down one-slot rule also causes ridiculous situations…if a 1s player has a sprained ankle, but is still healthy enough to hobble through a match at the 5s, the coach currently must play her at the 1s or 2s where she’ll get clobbered. Having her at the 1s or 2s also violates the “order of strength” rule. My proposal: we do away with the up/down one slot rule, have the 6s match count, and if there’s a 3-3 tie, the stronger wins count more (winning at 1-2-5 is better than at 3-4-6, because 1+2+5 is a smaller number than 3+4+6). You just add up the corresponding numbers of where the wins took place, and the low score takes the cake. Or, to really mix things up, if two universities are only playing each other, how about School A picks 2 names out of a hat and plays 2 random players from School B? Have each player play 3 matches with 3 randomly-drawn partners and I bet we’ll have enough data to know which school is stronger. Better solutions are out there if we put our heads together.
8. Have your players cross under the net on side-switches.
Switching sides was never meant to be a timeout. Walking around the poles is purely an attempt to get extra-detailed instruction from the coach and it forces the referee to determine whether the stroll around the pole is slowing the game down. It is. If a player doesn’t feel like walking under the net, she can jog around. They’re athletes, and they’re in the middle of a game. And while we’re at it, timeouts should be taken in each team’s original box. That’s where their water is. If a team doesn’t want to take the timeout because of the long walk, they can remain on their side of the court. If they want to be like Ron Lang, the next server can spin the ball on her finger at the service line, staring at their opponents who think the timeout will somehow help.
9. There needs to an NCAA Championship for the Top Pairs in addition to the Top Schools.
Some fantastic pairs from around the country had a great season but no post-season. Every other remotely similar sport has an individual and a school championship. Also, without a post-season for the top pairs, coaches will water down their #1 pairs to gain wins down the lineup. The 1s should be the strongest and most prestigious match – it’s the 1s! Your best player deserves her best partner if we want the game played at the highest level. And let’s not do away with the flighted pairs tournaments. Beach volleyball is historically played in tournament format, with multiple matches in a day. Conditioning should matter, and great stories are yet to be written about players giving gutsy performances in their 3rd, or even 4th (gasp!) match of the day. Give your 3s and 2s a chance to see how they stack up against other schools’ 1s. They definitely will remember those matches, win or lose. The AVCA had a fantastic tournament format for Top Pairs / Top Schools that took the same number of days as the NCAA Championship – bring it back! To not gently but persistently lobby for an NCAA Pairs Championship is just poor etiquette.