Go Spike

Interview With Kirk Pitman

We have had the pleasure of talking to Kirk Pitman (Ex FIVB World Beach Tour player and now Head Coach of the senior womens team) about transitioning into the beach season and the associated benefits of training on the sand.

Kirk provides us with ideas on the initial practices as well as exploring further into key differences of the indoor and the beach game..

The Interview...

Q: How many years have you been coaching?
A: On and off for around 11 years. I started out coaching in New Zealand during the offseason whilst I was playing professionally on the Beach Volleyball World Tour and since then have moved to England where I have been involved in coaching with the national and Olympic teams. 

Q: Who do you currently coach?
A: England Senior Women’s Team.

Q: What is your highest achievement?
A: I don’t look at it like that as you’re part of the team, but not the one scoring points, so it is the success of the players and the whole team rather than anything I would attribute solely to myself.

Q: What is your coaching philosophy?
A: There are a number of things that influence my philosophy at all times, but also I have a basis for the way I work with players that has come from my playing career.
Having had a large number of coaches during my playing career I found that it is important to be a sponge and take in as much information as you possibly can. This means that as I take on new information my philosophy constantly changes.
The basis to my coaching is a formula that has developed from my playing days, which is:

HARD WORK + GOOD ATTITUDE = SUCCESS

Q: How long does it take for players to get used to the sand after the indoor season/ find their ‘sand legs’?
A: It changes dependant on how long you have been playing beach volleyball for and whether you’re still blending indoor training with beach. Generally for those who are predominantly indoor players I would say it takes around a month. Things like getting out of the habits of taking the first ball overhand and getting used to the general movement where the sand moves away as you push off takes a little time to adjust. Following this, the skill aspects of the game, take a while to get on board with and may slow progress if the players are new to the game.

Q: What do you think the key differences are between beach and indoor disciplines?
A:Timing is the key thing for me. There are only two of you, so you have a lot more space to cover, making it more important to give each other as much time as possible. Because of this, and the fact that you don’t have anyone waiting at the net, the ball flight needs to be adapted slightly on every contact to be more straight up and down. In the indoor game the trajectory is mostly flat, so that players can speed up the game.

Q: For those coaching teams and players who may not necessarily have players entering beach events in the summer,
what do you think can be gained from taking sessions to the sand?
A:
Ball control and conditioning. With the sand moving away from your feet as you move, it becomes a type of plyometric in itself, so you may find that the athlete will be a little faster from it come the indoor season. It’s great conditioning.
I find that improved ball control is also one that translates well back to the indoor game. There are only two players on court that cannot be subbed off, so the players are exposed to many more touches of the ball compared to indoors. With the game being outdoors, you also have to adjust to the unpredictable weather elements, so once back in a closed environment, tracking ball flight becomes more natural.

Q: What format would you advise to use for those with larger number of players?
A: There are lots of ways of playing but I stick to 2 v 2 format. If you have a large group, you could set up king or queen of the court type of format, where teams are battling to get on and that way it is easy to manage larger groups of players. Or similarly if there are more players, you could have 2 teams on each side that switch on error. This way everyone gets to practice the game in the 2v2 format and utilise the benefits of training on the sand to the max.

Q: What would be the key things you would focus on in a session initially to get your players ready?
A:With the girls, pulling off the net is key to try and take more space on court. It is a really good tool in the women’s game which can force the opposition to hit the ball harder in order to win the point, which can often lead to mistakes.
Boys can be a little more physical so the focus on the block becomes important. However before that it’s key to establish movement together whilst giving each other time by keeping the ball quite close with a high peak. Unlike the indoor game, you cannot afford to play antennae to antennae, so the ball flight has to be more up and down.

Q: Are there any good examples of drills for pulling off the net?
A: I like to play the standing shot game where no one can jump, (you can also play this in a king or queen format) and the only rule is that you have to start the point at the net. As the players start the point by serving the opposition pull off the net to get into the position and get the game going. There should be lots of rallies working on ball control and movement whilst still training a lot of the essential skills including passing and setting. Because you can’t jump it is tougher for the ball to be put down, creating this great conditioned game that works the skillset and fitness of the players.

Q: With so many tactics involved on the beach and only two players to come up with the solutions, do you place much of an emphasis on the mental side of the game in your sessions?
A: Mental toughness is vital to a player’s skillset and I would look to bring these out through the way we structure the practices. I have a drill that it is called 5 -3. You have to earn 5 points as the receiving team, before the serving team/teams get 3 points.
But there are conditions for the receiving team to have victory. Once they get to 5, they will receive another serve, which they have to win otherwise the serving team gets the overall point. This trains mental composure, simulating the end of the match where often one point can be pivotal to close out a set.Essentially the players have done a lot of work to get to 5, but it will not count for anything unless you win the final point.

Q: Finally, what would be your top tip for a coach taking their players to the sand for the first time?
A: Changing the ball flight to give a higher peak to the ball flight. Indoor players tend to make the mistake of playing the ball flatter, so a big emphasis on changing this initially will help the players experience success more often.