October 17, 2012

Volleyball and Surfing

I am almost recovered from my post Hawaii depression.  It is a wonderful feeling stepping off the plane in HNL and smelling the sea air mixed with the tropical flowers, especially after a long, long flight.  When I get on the plane at HNL to leave and we take off, I must look like a child who lost their puppy!  It usually takes me a couple of days to get through Blue Hawaii.....

Flashing back, I was lucky enough to spend a bunch of time surfing, or trying to surf.  I fortunate that my friend and best man is a local boy who lives about 5 minutes from a nice, easy surf spot in west Oahu. I have surfed many times before, but can only get on the water once a year at best.  Because of my height and weight, I have to use a long (long) board - I am not one of those surfers you see on television ripping cut backs off the top of the waves.

Being that my volleyball mind is always on, I started thinking about my vacation surfing challenges and how they relate to playing volleyball - Yes, the waves were small and infrequent, so I had plenty of time to think out on the water.

A few crossover observations:

1.  In Shape - Before my trip to Oahu, I had been jogging consistently to train for my daughter's 5K school fundraiser run.  A decent amount of endurance had built up, and I thought this would get me through the initial days of being physically out on the water.  I was wrong - I was not in surf shape.  After the second day of surfing, my shoulders were burning and it hurt to brush my teeth. I made the mistake of not being in shape for what I was trying to accomplish. This training/preparing mistake cost me 2 days of surfing; if I had arrived in shape, I could have been riding waves instead of having my arms melt paddling out and trying to catch waves.

I see the same mistake being made by volleyball players - Volleyball shape is specific to the sport.  Players do some running and think they are in shape to begin the season.  Instead of using the first week to maximize their skills sets, they have to use the first week to get into volleyball shape and work through their soreness.  Volleyball shape means being able to jump, and jump, and swing, and jump, and swing, and explode, and dive/roll, again and again and agin.  

2.  Coaching - After the first two days, the weekend arrived and my friend was able to go surfing with me.  Him being in the water, and giving me some tips (coaching) immediately improved my surfing abilities and made the experience more enjoyable.  Instead of getting frustrated by watching the wave pass me by or cleaning out my sinuses by face planting in the Pacific, I was now "standing on top of the world".  Was he an expert surfer?  No, he is actually a much better body surfer than board surfer, but he has so much experience in the water it was easy for him to provide coaching.  

Same with Volleyball - Coaches are there to provide instruction and give feedback to make your volleyball experience better.  While every coach may have their shortcomings and no coach is perfect, many times the depth of experience/age/wisdom/miles on the odometer, allows a coach to do their jobs successfully.

3.  Small Things - I was doing anything wrong when I was surfing, I just was not doing enough right.  A number of small suggestions by my friend made the difference in my surfing success.  Examples - I was wasting shoulder strength by not being balanced on my surfboard; I was too far back, so I was dragging while paddling which used more energy. By moving up 4 inches, I was able to glide more on water.  I was also going way too deep in my arm paddle stroke, which caused me to rock back and forth on the board and made the edge/rail of the board dig into the water, along with making my shoulders more tired; the fix was to shorten my stroke so only part of my fore arm went into the water while I paddled.  On my take off, I was still alternating arms when I paddled and could not generate enough speed to catch the wave; by going to a double arm stroke, I was able get up on the wave speed. Small adjustments made the enjoyable difference.

As Volleyball players move beyond the fundamental skill knowledge, it is the small adjustments illustrated by the coach which can make the difference between success and failure.  Just think about all the small things which a player usually hears from a coach (and all too often does not apply) - hands up early when setting, present the platform early when passing, low body movement instead of tall when passing/defending, elbow up quick when attacking, hit down the line, off speed to the middle - These are all small tips, which can be applied easily to be successful.

4.  Apply -  Knowing that I am not skilled in surfing, and knowing I did not have time to figure it out myself, I immediately applied the Coaching and Small  Things.  I had no illusions that I new better than my friend and I trusted that I could be better by applying.  Sure enough, my last 4 days of surfing were much better than my first two - I was catching waves, moving much better in the water, had more stamina because I was more efficient, and had more fun.  Catching waves is fun, being out in the water is fun, being calm and confident (or more confident than earlier) is fun!

Too often, Volleyball players don't Apply.  I see it all the time in my camps; simple coaching instruction I provide players, they refuse to apply, even though I absolutely know it will easily make them better.  Maybe it is a matter of teenagers being teenagers, of kids being spoiled brats, or thinking that since they were All Conference last season or the best player in Waxahatchie that they know better.  Even in the collegiate ranks, players can refuse to apply the coaching, and then get mad when they don't play.  If you are hitting .083 by attacking only cross court, and the coach tells you to hit line to tool the block, but you refuse, don't be upset when you are standing at the end of the bench guarding the water cooler because you are still hitting .083.  Coaches are not coaching you for fun, to hear their own voice or to try and embarrass you, they are coaching you to get better as an individual, so the team will be successful.  Hitting .300 is fun, tooling the blocker is fun, getting better is fun, winning matches is fun.

5.  Maximize - I was aware of the fact that I only had a week to surf.  I did not want to waste waves and days by being stubborn.  I wanted to maximize my time in the water - Sometimes that meant paddling like a Kamehameha and catching a great wave, while other times that meant just sitting on my board and watching the sun come up over the blue Pacific.  Probably my most enjoyable moments were being out in the water with my buddy, talking about nothing serious while waiting for waves and enjoying every minute immensely.

Players seem to forget that they have a small window to be a competitive volleyball player on a team.  This is especially true in collegiate volleyball, where you can't pay a fee to join a team. They can get emotionally caught up in so much toxic, petty, childish issues which only demean an especially valuable time in their life and collegiate experience.  Instead of just enjoying the simple times between matches and practices, they roll around in emotional poison ivy. Instead of letting a drama hand grenade fly by, the reach out catch it and pull the pin and then feel sorry for themselves when it blows up.  Choose to focus on the positive, choose to savor every moment, choose to enjoy being around your team mates (even if they are not perfect or your best buddy) choose to do the right thing, not the drama thing.  


  1. Great post! So many life lessons can be found in the volleyball world.

  2. Great analogies and examples. I've only surfed a few times in Hawaii, but feel like I was there! And definately there as a coach... Mark


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