2019-02-14 10:00:00 CEST

Sax on the Beach: Love and beach volleyball

Ben Saxton explains the relationship phases within beach volleyball

Beach volleyball professional Ben Saxton explains the relationship phases within beach volleyball...


This one goes out to all the players out there who’ve had to explain themselves when they want to tell a story about their partner. To us, partner means teammate. To everyone else, partner means significant other. But if you really stop to think about it, are the two really that different? A beach volleyball relationship is a real thing, and though it is a professional partnership and isn’t likely to end in true love, there are a lot of similarities with the romantic kind of relationship. Just like the regular dating world, there are phases to any beach partnership, so I’m giving you my take on the beach volleyball dating game.

Courtship phase:

“Hey, you play beach volleyball? So do I! AND we’re from the same country?! We have so much in common, would you maybe, kinda, want to go play a Beach Major Series with me sometime?” *blushing*

That’s more or less the conversation that happens at the start of any partnership. Okay, maybe not quite. When beach athletes are on the prowl for a new mate, we look for someone who can complement our weaknesses, or someone that won’t make us go crazy over the course of a season or career. This phase can sometimes be skipped in certain countries where the national federation selects partnerships (aka arranged marriage). During this phase, players will sometimes go on a few dates (domestic or continental tournaments) to see if the connection is the real deal. It usually happens between seasons, but every so often you’ll get some experimentation at the big events. 

Honeymoon Phase:

This is the most talked about part of a beach volleyball partnership. Generally, it defines a team’s first few tournaments or first season together. It’s called the honeymoon because it’s fresh, new and exciting. The two players are still trying to impress each other. They often haven’t even had their first big fight, and are still blind to each other’s little nuances. Sometimes it’s a mess right from the start, and doesn’t last, but quite often teams find great success during the honeymoon phase. Because honeymooners aren’t yet very well scouted, opponents often also get caught off guard so there’s always at least a few new pairings that shoot up the rankings quickly. 

Spaniards Herrera/Gavira have been together for 10 seasonsSpaniards Herrera/Gavira have been together for 10 seasons

Old Married Couple Phase:

This phase covers pretty much every other partnership. A few years on tour together and there aren’t many more surprises. We play together. We eat together. We live together from hotel room to hotel room. We apply each other’s sunscreen occasionally. Either the trust is there or it isn’t. Watching teams who’ve played together for some time, you can come to expect certain behaviors. Some bicker and yell at each other, others stay calm, but it’s always familiar. Performance in this phase can fluctuate greatly with many ups and downs, but generally the teams that make it through the hard times come out much stronger in the long run. One of my favorite examples of an old married couple is Poland’s Piotr Kantor and Bartosz Losiak. Even though they are one of the youngest teams on tour (both 26), they’ve been playing together for a decade. From the outside, you can barely notice if they even speak to each other and yet they always seem to be on the same wavelength and have one of the most dynamic and surprising offenses out there. 

Divorce Phase:

100% of beach unions will come to an end. Sometimes it’s messy, other times mutual. Often heated rivalries sprout up as a result, if one partner takes offense at the way their Ex handled the break-up. Almost every year someone retires, leaving a volleyball widow(er) behind. Since there are no singles in beach volleyball, there’s no time for grieving, you either move on or get left behind. 

And then the cycle begins anew. Every beach volleyball player in the world is in a volleyball relationship, hopefully our romantic partners are alright with sharing.

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