Beach volleyball is a game. Game’s are meant to be fun; but at the elite level, the game, in and of itself, ceases to be fun in the absence of winning. In fact, with winning or losing on the line, the game can become quite stressful. And in this aspect of the game, the athlete’s character is first called in to question.
I can’t think of a better way to spend a Saturday than in the sunshine, at the beach, immersing myself in a volleyball tournament. If you havn't watched a beach volleyball game involving elite athletes, do yourself a favour and YouTube it. It is one of the most athletic, exciting and entertaining spectacles you will see in sport. What also makes it so appealing (aside from the bikini bottoms and tanned abs) is that unlike many other professional sports, the athletes themselves are accessible. In a hockey arena, or on a football field, you are separated from the athletes by a barrier or distance. But on the beach, you are right there, and interaction with the athletes, even in the middle of a game, is frequent.
Like other sports, the athletes feed off of spectator engagement. Depending on the character of the athlete, they may play up their performance to the crowd and even seek that interaction. This brings me to my thesis, that beach volleyball reveals the true character of an athlete.
Stress coping mechanisms
Undoubtedly, if you have at all been exposed to sports, you have heard the terms “clutch” and “choke”. Both terms are in reference to an athlete’s ability to perform under pressure. And in my opinion, both are very telling of an athlete’s level of self-belief and confidence, not just within a competitive arena, but at a foundational level. Of course, self-confidence is a liquid concept - even with the best athletes in the world - and is shaped by many factors, such as recent successes/failures, support, and performance history. However, it is my assertion that even in the face of varying results, and athlete will eventually regress to their own mean, which is at the core of their ego.
Some athletes play better when they’re angry; it helps them focus, provides motivation, wakes them up, etc. For other athletes, getting all caught up in their emotions during game-play means the wheels fall off. Regardless of whether the stimulus is perceived as positive or negative, the athlete’s knee-jerk response will give you a good idea of their general nature. There are plenty of players that play well, bounce a ball on a dynamite spike, and then mean-mug you like you just pissed in their Cheerios. Conversely there are plenty of players who will laugh at themselves for shanking a cupcake serve. These players are probably a lot easier to live with outside of the sand, whereas the mean-muggers are more likely to go home and kick their dog after their boss called them Michael instead of Mike.
A player’s celebration style, after making a good play or winning a point or a match, will tell you a lot about who they are and why they play. But ‘a celebration is a celebration’, you say; ‘you are commemorating the fact that something good happened…how can that vary?’ A celebration is not a celebration, I tell you, not with some players on the beach. Granted, for many players, they are just pumped that they or their partner just made a good play. Celebrations build momentum, and momentum is just about the most critical component of beach volleyball. Momentum is how upsets are engineered. Depending on the player: some celebrations are a stress catharsis, some celebrations are a fun way to showboat to the crowd, and some cellies are just meant to be a big ‘ol f*ck you to the other team. While an individual player can most certainly exhibit all 4 types of celebrations, players generally gravitate to just 2 at a time. For instance, emotionally sensitive players will usually display catharsis and f*ck you’s, while more level players will have a more relaxed celebration (like the standard fist pump and side-five).
Type A personality types tend to be organized, methodical, strategic and calculated. Type B personalities are often easy-going, adaptable, flexible and resilient. Who makes the better leader? Most of you probably said Type A, but the truth is either can be successful on the volleyball court, and either can lead. But in successful beach partnerships, there is usually one player who assumes the role of the leader. However, as any athlete knows, you cannot go through an entire season without struggling at least once, and it is in this moment that the other player needs to be able to step up and take control. Without both players having the ability to take command when needed, that partnership is doomed to fail. Beach volleyball, made of up 2 person teams, is without a doubt a testing ground for personality types.
If you are caught in an existential quandary about who you are and what your place in the world is, go play a beach volleyball tournament and you will soon find out, because the wonderful sport of 2 versus 2 beach volleyball doesn’t build character, it reveals it.