About the Sport
The basic skills of beach volleyball are the same as for volleyball, and the flow of play follows similar lines: one team serves, the other tries to win the rally - or 'side-out' - with a pattern of dig, set, spike within the requisite three touches.
Having only two players on a team leads to differences in offence and defence. There is more shot variety (with half-speed, finesse and placement shots); blockers take more risks (deciding where to block and when to pull off the net or back-pedal to play defence); there is greater mobility in the backcourt (players are not so bound by 'positional' convention - they are free to move to all areas of the court); and players need to be adept in all the basic skills.
On the beach, there is no such thing as 'calling subs' if you're having a bad day. And there are no court-side coaches - players decide tactics during time-outs.
Because of the many difficulties of playing outdoors, such as the sand, the sun and the wind, beach volleyball players must have outstanding ball skills and court speed. Partners must be well matched or opponents will win easy points by exploiting the weaker player.
At the Atlanta Olympic Games, the United States' Karch Kiraly and Kent Steffes and Brazil's Jackie Silva and Sandra Pires won the first Olympic gold medals awarded in beach volleyball. Kiraly, regarded as the greatest volleyballer ever, had previously won two Olympic Games gold medals as a six-a-side volleyballer in Los Angeles in 1984 and in Seoul in 1988.
For beach volleyball, matches are played best of three sets using the rally point system. The first two sets are played to 21 points, with the final tie-breaker set being played to 15 points. A team must win a set by two points. There is no ceiling, so a set continues until one of the teams gains a two-point advantage.
At Sydney 2000, preliminary matches were one set played to 15 points, with a ceiling of 17 points (i.e. a team could win a set 17-16). The medal games were best of three sets to 12 points, with the first two sets having a ceiling of 12 points. The third set to 12 was rally-point, whereby teams score a point for every rally, regardless of which team served. As well, the third set has no ceiling - a team had to win by a two-point advantage.
Sydney 2000 - There was a men's and women's volleyball event and a men's and women's beach volleyball event. In volleyball, 12 men's teams of 12 players and 12 women's teams of 11 players competed. In beach volleyball, 24 men's and 24 women's pairs competed.
Righty or lefty?
The entire 81sq m of sand is shared by only two players, so teams tend to divide the court evenly and specialise in playing left or right. This gives greater consistency in receiving serve and shot selection. It's also easier to spike a ball that hasn't passed across the line of your body, which is why left-handers like to play right side and vice versa.
Frontcourt or backcourt?
One player will often take care of all the frontcourt blocking, while the better defender keeps to the backcourt making digs.
Ways and Means
All players at the elite level carry a 'bag of tricks' to help get them through every game. Teams that come out and simply blast away at every ball soon find themselves worn out in the sand and the heat, and quickly outsmarted by more experienced players. This is why you'll see such a wide range of shots. Disguised shots, off-speed spikes, 'going on two' (hitting the second shot over), cut-shots, pokies, chops, rainbows, loops, jousts - all are part of the beach volleyballer's offensive repertoire. As for defence: pulling, holding, faking, chasing, diving, juking … the list goes on. These terms are explained under 'talk the talk'.
Talk the talk
Ace - Also called a 'spader', this is when a serve hits the sand without your opponent touching it. Easy to understand; harder to produce. See also 'hubby wife'.
Block - Beach players must be creative when blocking, often faking one way and reaching the other to fool their opponents into a poor decision. Watch for the impressive cat-and-mouse work of Brazil's Jose Loiola, at the net.
Cut shot - A soft, spinning shot intended to drop close to the net and the sideline. An intelligent player has a wide range of cut shots to keep opponents guessing. Sinjin Smith of the US owed much of his brilliant career to developing cut shots that looked identical until the moment of contact, frustrating those who played against him.
Dink or pokey - Since using the fingertips to 'tip' or push the ball is not allowed in beach volleyball, players use their knuckles instead. This is usually a soft shot played just over the net or blocker's hands.
Faking or 'Juking' - A backcourt strategy whereby players show they are heading in one direction by moving or stepping that way, only to change direction at the last moment and, hopefully, lure the spiker into playing a shot directly to them. Sometimes a defender will fake several times before committing to an area of the court.
Hubby Wife - And you thought your relationship was in trouble! This is a form of ace that occurs when a ball is served between two players and indecision causes them both to leave it. As in: "You've got it - I don't want it - Ace!" Australia's Julien Prosser loves the hubby-wife, and tells younger players: "When you're in a fiddle … go down the middle."
Loop or Rainbow - Ideally, this shot will look the same as the cut shot, but at the last moment is delivered not soft and short, but high and deep to land just inside - or, preferably, on - the baseline. The idea is to draw the defenders in short, then 'loop' the ball over their heads.
On Two - When a player unexpectedly hits the ball over the net on the team's second shot, rather than setting his or her partner as expected. If well disguised, 'going on two' can be very effective.
Pulling - Sometimes a blocker will elect not to block and will 'pull' back into court to help play defence instead. This usually occurs when the spiker is not in a position to spike the ball effectively. All great blockers must be aware of what's happening through the net to react quickly.
Roof - Forming a strong, roof-like block in front of a hard-driven ball will result in the intended spike being delivered sharply toward the feet of your opponent. A much sought-after result.
Shank - When forearm passing goes bad. A 'shank' is the act of trying to pass the ball well, but sending it off into the crowd, instead.
Six-pack - A ball smashing into your opponent's head is a 'six-pack' because, traditionally, it meant they had to buy you one after the game.
Skyball - A tremendously high (usually underarm) serve that moves in the wind and hides in the sun, causing difficulty for the receiving team.