Beach Volleyball: What It Takes To Be A Professional
Professional beach volleyball might be a sport that only lasts during the summer months, but it takes a year-round commitment to compete at the highest level of competition.
For teammates Jake Gibb and Casey Patterson, it has become second nature and while the sport seems routine, it continues to bring about a level of excitement and an opportunity for improvement. That opportunity will come this week at the inaugural Swatch FIVB World Tour Finals, which take place Sept. 29-Oct. 4 in Fort Lauderdale. There, the world’s top men and women duos will compete for a $100,000 first place prize – the most ever for an international volleyball tournament – and with almost 30,000 spectators expected to attend, it has the makings of the most exciting volleyball event of the year.
Gibb, 39, and Patterson, 35, understand just how important the World Tour Finals is in continuing to build the sport’s sustainability, something that proves to be a challenge after the Olympics.
“Usually, we’re an every-four-year kind of sport,” Patterson admitted. “Everyone kind of just recognizes us during the Olympics. After that, it kind of deteriorates or slowly loses a little bit of momentum – I feel like the trend needs to change. Every summer, these events are just as exciting, or more exciting, than the Olympics. I think the attention is helping a ton [for the sport].”
Gibb and Patterson have achieved a level of success that allows them both to focus their career solely on beach volleyball, playing for money to support their families. And while the offseason is spent focusing attention on their family, they must train and prepare for what lies ahead.
“All we do is play for money – we plan making all of our money in the summer months and the rest of the time is our offseason and we’re just preparing for the next season,” Patterson added. “It acts as motivation and excitement – it never really creates any stress. It’s more strategy than anything.”
Once the season comes to a close, there’s a little time off before getting right back into things.
When the holidays begin to roll around, that’s when Gibb and Patterson begin their preparation. Their focus turns to gym training, where lifting weights are important, along with a proper diet. During that time, the duo gains a lot of mass, in the hopes of building a lot of strength and turning it into power. Gaining mass and power allows Gibb and Patterson’s bodies to peak just at the right time of the summer. Leading up to the season, the team lifts four times a week, along with specific drills for passing, setting and serving, as well as drills for their technical skills. Once the season gets underway, twice a week is dedicated to watching film and breaking down their opponent.
“We watch a little more film than anything, because every match is just so huge,” Gibb said.
It can be a grueling process, but one necessary for success – and the duo are hoping it pays off immensely when it comes time for the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio. Beach volleyball is one of the quickest sports to sell out during the games and earns primetime national TV slots. And although it’s just under a year away, Patterson admits that he cannot help but think about participating.
“This is my first run at the Olympics – I’m really excited and really nervous. We find out like three or four weeks before we have to buy our flight if we’re going. I’m super excited at the thought of going to the Olympics but I can’t ever admit it’s going to happen until I have a ticket in my hand.”
But fun is certainly the name of the game for the United States twosome. This year, Patterson took part in the Manhattan Six Man, a celebrity tournament in Southern California. Nicknamed “Team Fletch” in honor of the 1985 Chevy Chase film, Patterson helped lead his team of former pro athletes to a win.
“We had Luke Walton on our team, Richard Jefferson and a bunch of other guys,” Patterson said. “We were all dressed in [Los Angeles] Lakers gear and afros – they are getting so good.”
And of course, like most professional volleyball players, they have an opinion about Top Gun.
“That’s like the worst representation of beach volleyball you could ever imagine” Patterson claimed. “They have their dog tags on and their cutoff jeans, with their wrists taped and they’re hitting the ball with like a closed fist and netting [laughs]. Everything they’re doing is absolutely illegal – they’re absolutely slaughtering the sport. But when people think of beach volleyball, they think of Top Gun.”
Photos courtesy of Red Bull Content Pool.