Welcome to part two of my takeaways from the 2018 beach volleyball season, inspired by Geena Urango and Jeremy Casebeer, who did a three-part takeaway from each tournament this year and are much better at it than me.

Part one, in case you missed it, was Discovering who you are as a competitor. Onto part two:

Do what works for you

A lot of people seemed surprised, to be honest, at how eloquent Taylor Crabb was on SANDCAST not too long ago.

I haven’t known Taylor for long, nor can I pretend to know him particularly well, but I do know this: He’s not much of a talker. Yet on the podcast, he was free-flowing, both well-spoken and open, a nod, I think, to Tri’s presence on the show. People don’t give Tri enough credit for what he brings to the podcast. Without Tri there, I can assure you that we don’t have guests such as April Ross and Phil Dalhausser or Alexander Brouwer and Robert Meeuwsen. Not only would I, alone, not get them in the first place, there’s no chance I’d get them to open up the way Tri is able to. He makes them comfortable, like they’re talking to a friend, not a reporter, because they are.

And in that sense, though I was the one who asked Taylor most of the questions, it was Tri who got him to deliver the simplest yet most season-changing few sentences for me.

“Be a student of the game,” Crabb said. “Be smarter rather than stronger, faster, bigger. It’s more important than the other things. Learn the game, learn why things work, learn why things don’t work. The more you play, that’s when you get bigger, faster, stronger, going on the beach, just playing every day, you’ll train those muscles naturally. The gym does help also but the IQ of the game is the most important thing.”

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It seems obvious. And it is. But to me, at the time, it really wasn’t. I was struggling to find the balance between playing, drilling, and lifting. An athlete all my life, I had kept my lifting the same as I always had throughout the beach season, which is to say: high weight, low rep. Big loads. Lots of stress. And I was strong, sure. But it didn’t really translate.

I was repping 450 on the trap bar – but I couldn’t jump all that much higher, because my back and hips and ankles were practically locked into place. I swaggered around with 85-pound dumbbells for Bulgarian split-squats – but I had to take Ibuprofen to walk the dog, because my knees barked every time I took a step. I was hang-cleaning my body weight – but I couldn’t get my feet to the ball on a set that drifted outside, because I spent more time on hard surfaces than on the beach.

All of that weight, and none of it was functional. For some people, this type of training works. Hagen Smith, one of my favorite people I’ve ever played with, is an animal in the weight room and on the court and he’s improving at an alarming rate. Tim Bomgren only trained on the sand five times – side note, I’d like to be Tim Bomgren when (if) I grow up – between Chicago of 2017 and Austin of 2018, where he made his first final.

He understands the value in reps, and he acknowledged as much on the podcast. He just doesn’t need thousands of them like the rest of us mortals.

I do. I’ve always needed them. In golf, there was a noticeable difference in my game when I’d spend an hour on the driving range and two hours on the putting green for practice than if I played 18 holes. In basketball, when I’d make myself hit 30 shots from the left elbow, 30 from the right, 30 from the free throw line – all spots where our offense was designed for guards to roll around picks and catch-and-shoot – I was far more accurate than if I just played pickup and lifted.

Yet for whatever reason, I never applied that to volleyball. Until, of course, we had Bug on. So I began tweaking and messing with my training schedule, finding what works for me, similar to how Caitlin Ledoux has done since her three-month sojourn to Brazil this past off-season. She, too, had been a weight room savant, getting as strong as she’s ever been from the USAV weight training program. Like me, her body also didn’t feel all that great. There was potential on the table.

In Brazil, a beach culture that emphasizes, above all else, reps reps reps and more reps, she found a training program that worked for her, nutritional guidelines that she’s stuck with, and a weight program that has her feeling as good as she’s felt despite playing a demanding schedule.

And, would you look at that, she enjoyed her best season yet.

All because she found the training program that worked for her.

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With Crabb’s emphasis on getting in the sand – an ideal repeated by Nicolette Martin, Rafu Rodriguez, and Katie Spieler – I tweaked my training (BONUS TAKEAWAY: You can learn something from everyone around you, so listen, especially when those people are future Olympians). I spent less time in the weight room and more time in the sand. And even when I got on the sand, I changed that, too. I had been doing five intense, competitive practices a week, replete with max jumps, swings, jump serves, cardio – the whole nine. I swapped it to two competitive days and four of what I call ball control days, with loads of passing and setting where I don’t leave the ground much (alright, so even when I do max jump, I barely leave the ground, so there’s not a great deal of difference there).

My body feels better now than it did in Austin, where the trainers were so comically fascinated by my lack of care for my own body – BONUS TAKEAWAY: Foam rollers are your friend (meant to be read in the sharks’ voices from Finding Nemo) – that I was a walking physiotherapeutic experiment the whole weekend. My ball control, once an oxymoron – alright, it’s still an oxymoron – is passable. Occasionally, I make proper hand contact on the ball.

Sometimes, I – gasp – even get my feet to the ball on a set that drifts outside.

Maybe you’re like Bomgren, where you don’t need a billion reps to be one of the best blockers in the country. Maybe you’re like Ledoux, where the Brazilian style works best. Maybe you’re like Hagen, and you’re just an animal who never fatigues or gets sore or shows any kind of weakness, because you’re bionic.

Whatever it is, find what works for you.

And foam roll.