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Don't Get Sand In Your Face

It doesn’t take much to catapult a sport like beach volleyball into people’s recreational agendas when the United States celebrates gold medals won by Phil Dalhausser and Todd Rogers in men’s and Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh in women’s competitions during the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, China. In fact, each time the United States has won a gold medal in a sport, the interest in that sport has increased. When America won the gold in ice hockey at the Squaw Valley Winter Olympics, there was a surge in interest which led to the construction of more ice rinks. Today there are 2,000 ice rinks in this country versus only about 100 prior to 1960.

The Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association reports that there are 6.9 million beach volleyball players in this country, with 900,000 playing 25 times or more per year. “We’ve seen an annual growth rate of 5 percent since 1984,” says John Kessel, director of membership development and Paralympics programs of USA Volleyball (USAV), which is the National Governing Body for the sport. USAV expects an increase in the interest in volleyball post-Olympics.

Easy Participation

Beach volleyball is one of the easiest, most affordable, non-contact co-ed sports to play. “It’s a cost-efficient sport from a parks point of view. Volleyball is also pretty injury-free. Another appeal of beach volleyball is that it’s outdoors,” says Kessel. “Parks and recreation departments can do a lot with a beach volleyball program, such as offer courses, host leagues, tournaments, and family-based tournaments, like parent-child team competitions.”

“Beach volleyball is a fun sport that adults and children can participate in together,” says Larry Robles, executive director of the North Pacific Beach Volleyball Association, which manages more than 20 tournaments a year. “It is a very easy sport to play, but is also very challenging and demanding,” says Carlos Jimenez, tour director for Extreme Volleyball Professionals (EVP) Tour, which conducts numerous events.

Digging Down

“Locate the court in a high-visibility site near other sports with lighting, such as softball fields,” says Jimenez. “Build a minimum of two courts, and align the length of the courts from north to south so players are able to play throughout the day without the sun in their eyes.”

There are various seasonal options. “In the northern part of the United States, seasonal outdoor ice-hockey rinks convert to become beach volleyball courts during the summer,” says Kessel.

“This provides recreational opportunities year-round, and works well because these areas often already have lighting and concession stands in place.”

Courts should be 9 meters x 9 meters per side with a 3-meter buffer around each court for triples, quad, and six-on-six events. The court lines can then be brought in to create the traditional 8-meter doubles court. “Considering drainage, if the court doesn’t drain properly, it creates a muddy pond,” says Kessel.

According to USAV, the sand needs to be at least 18 inches deep across the court, and can be as shallow as 12 inches on the side lines. The sand should be kept in the playing area by surrounding it with a railroad-tie barrier. If the area is windy, install fencing to prevent the sand from blowing away.

Double-washed masonry sand is the most preferred; however, if you are at the mercy of sand-for-free, take along an experienced beach volleyball player to help select the best sand for the courts.

One should be careful of fine sand because it tends to be muddy when wet, and be wary of coarse sand, which will be too abrasive. Use only wood poles to support the net, and place the winch on the outside edge of the pole away from the playing area. Generous padding is necessary to prevent player injuries. Poles need to be at least 8 feet above the level of the sand to hold the net at the proper playing height.Just about any net will do. Select a non-metal (no rust) cable, such as one made from Kevlar or Vectran. The ground lines are polypropylene rope that is 3/8 or 1/2 inch in diameter.

One tip from the pros is to keep a sand rake on the premises because players will keep the court in good condition by raking the sand back into the middle of the court after play. “The court should last a year without needing maintenance,” says Jimenez. “Spend the time and money to build the court properly, and you’ll minimize maintenance.”

Speaking Of Money

Parks and recreation departments with limited funding may find a free source of sand via beachfront developments that dredge the sand in order to build. Another resource for sand is the professional beach volleyball tours. Contact management for the tour and ask if it will donate the sand for signage or sell it at a reduced rate.Sponsorships should not be overlooked either. Beach volleyball has a diverse demographic of players, one that commercial companies might appreciate--think “Your-Favorite-Sports-Drink Courts.”

Leagues

“You want to have someone who is knowledgeable about running a league program as well as the sport of beach volleyball,” says Jimenez. “Build the program slowly, and create a solid base by catering to different age groups.”Doubles are great but leagues for three, four, and six players are also popular. “The most profitable for parks and recreation departments are the six-player leagues,” says Kessel. “You can charge less per person but more per team to play.”

Parent-child leagues are also growing in popularity, as parents seek new ways to unplug their children and get them physically active in a sport that also provides quality time together.Tournament rewards are diverse. “Our rewards include cash-in/cash-out, backpacks, volleyballs, sand socks, T-shirts and sweatshirts,” says Robles. “Beach volleyball players really like T-shirts, so we have special T-shirts for all of our events.”

Spiking Interest

“Offer classes for the community to come out and get familiar with the location, program and the instructor,” says Jimenez. Classes for learning how to play beach volleyball may be offered then the programs can continue the fun. “We do a lot of fun events, including the Polar Bear in the middle of winter and St. Patrick’s Day, which is a luck of the draw, in which players put their name in a hat and are randomly drawn for teams,” says Robles. Players should be kept in the loop via e-mail and easily accessible information on a Web site. Also, be on the lookout for new venues to reach people. For example, EVP promoted beach volleyball at the state fair.

Promotion In Motion

In the meantime, while you are waiting for the snow to melt, start promoting your upcoming summer beach volleyball program through indoor winter volleyball leagues, volleyball coaches and schools. Invite the local media for a pre-season peek at your new facility.Don’t hibernate this winter--get ready for the upcoming surge in demand for beach volleyball leagues and programs. After all, the 2012 Summer Olympics in London are right around the corner, and maybe the next gold medalist will come from your court.

Tammy York is a freelance copywriter specializing in outdoor sports and recreation. Her upcoming book, “60 Hikes within 60 Miles: Cincinnati” will be available spring 2009. Contact her at landsharkpr@yahoo.com.

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