In Touch With Beach Volleyball

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There’s more to beach volleyball than meets the eye. As the first Swatch Beach Volleyball Major Series tournament heats up in Poreč, Croatia, here’s info to make you feel like an insider.
Where did beach volleyball come from?
That question raises passions almost as much as the matches on the court!

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Tea Juric and Dalida Vernier of Croatia (in white) perform during the Swatch Beach Volleyball Major Series in Porec, Croatia on June 3

Folks in the USA believe that Americans developed beach volleyball: when conditions weren’t good for surfing, rather than getting bummed out, dude, surfers invented the sport.

Meanwhile, Brazilians are certain that beach volleyball was born on Copacabana Beach. Which would mean that when 2016 Olympic matches are played on Center Court in Rio, the sport will be going back to its birthplace!

One thing is certain: Brazil and the USA have been beach volleyball powerhouses ever since international competition began, and even though the rest of the world has risen up to meet them, the two countries are still fierce rivals. Whenever a U.S.-Brazil game is in the lineup, it’s definitely one to watch.

What are the basic rules of the game?
Two teams, of two players each, play on a sand court divided by a net. One team starts play by hitting the ball over the net (the serve), and the receiving team has a maximum of three hits to get the ball back to the other side.

Play continues back and forth (a rally) with a maximum of three hits allowed on each side. When a team allows the ball to touch the ground or sends it out of bounds, the opposing team scores one point. When the serving team wins a rally, they score a point and continue serving. When the receiving team scores, they get a point and it’s their turn to serve.

Every match has a maximum of three sets. Each of the first two sets is won by the team that first scores 21 points – with a minimum two-point lead. If the same team wins both sets, the match is over. If each team wins one set, a third deciding set is played, this time to 15 points (with a minimum two-point lead).

The highest-scoring first set in men’s FIVB Beach Volleyball World Tour history was in 2010, when Marcio Araujo and Ricardo Santos of Brazil beat Americans Phil Dalhausser and Todd Rogers by a tally of 41 to 39 – a total of 80 points in one set!

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Alexander ‘Xandi’ Huber and Robin Valentin Seidl of Austria (in red) perform during the Swatch Beach Volleyball Major Series in Porec, Croatia on June 3

Where’s the coach?
During top-level match play, coaching of any kind, even a wink or a hand signal, is against the rules. That’s why you’ll see coaches looking stone-faced in the grandstands – it’s not that they don’t care, but they need to stay neutral.

What’s with all the chatter?
The two players of a beach volleyball team have to work together perfectly, because there’s no one to step in and take up the slack. You’ll always see players pumping each other up after a point. If you hear them shouting at their partners while the ball is in play, they’re giving “calls” – for example, if one player is watching the ball, the other will call out how the opposing team is setting up their positions.

One of the fun parts of beach volleyball is getting to know the various calls and celebrations – different teams have very different styles, and the personalities really shine through.

And how about all those finger signals behind the players’ backs?
To avoid confusion, those signals indicate how the two players will cover the court.

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Barbora Hermannova and Martina Bonnerova of Czech Republic (in white), Isabelle Forrer and Anouk Verge-Depre of Switzerland (in red) perform during the Swatch Beach Volleyball Major Series in Porec, Croatia on June 2, 2015.

You have to be tall to play beach volleyball, right?
Well, it doesn’t hurt. The women’s net is 2.24 meters high, and the men’s tops out at 2.43 meters. (A football/soccer goal has a height of 2.44 meters.) But attack, speed, finesse and quick reflexes are important, too, and there have been outstanding players of all sizes. At the Poreč major, among the women alone the player height ranges from 5’6” to 6’5” (167.6 cm to 195.6 cm).

What is the FIVB World Tour?
The Fédération Internationale de Volleyball is responsible for all forms of volleyball on a global level, and the FIVB World Tour is the stage for the best beach volleyball in the world. FIVB tournaments are where teams earn Olympic qualifying points. The Swatch Major Series is a new extension of the FIVB World Tour and part of that Olympic qualifying process.

What’s the format of a Swatch Major Series tournament?
It’s the same for men and women. First, 32 teams qualify for the “Main Draw,” where initial play is in eight pools of four teams each. Those who survive move on to the Round of 16, then the Quarter Finals, Semi Finals, a “Small Final” for the bronze medal, and the “Big Final” for the gold medal.

And ultimately, what makes beach volleyball so much fun?
Austria’s Alexander Horst, who is playing with Clemens Doppler at the Poreč Major, says: “I think the great thing about beach volleyball is that it’s a mixture of sport and lifestyle and a summer kind of feeling. You can come to the beach, watch high-level sport, have a party, enjoy the sunshine… It’s the perfect place to be.”