2018-12-05 16:00:00 CEST
Where would we be without them?
Ever wondered how beach volleyball athletes were inspired as budding up-and-coming youngsters? As they reveal, it’s their enlightening experiences as volunteers that paved the way for their success.
Whether you're an aspiring beach volleyball athlete or a super fan who wants to rub shoulders with the stars of the sport, the advice from the greatest players is simple: volunteer! Sign up for the #FTLMajor 2019 here: https://us.beachmajorseries.com/en/volunteers/application
We know what we are, but know not what we may be. – William Shakespeare
They were standing right there.
A striking, sweaty and sandy bundle of energy, smiling from ear to ear. Their happiness seemed so out of place, so wrong, that a second glance of the scoreboard was needed to check that, yes, they had indeed lost a tight match in three sets and were already subconsciously packing their bags home.
Yet there they were, just metres away. Smiling back at you as if nothing had happened.
They know they lost, right? You ask yourself.
But this is your hero, your idol, the one person in the world right now that you want to be when you grow up. They are a beach volleyball player – but that is not the reason why you want to emulate them and practise every spare minute of diving on the sand.
No, it’s because your new hero, milliseconds after they experienced that gut-wrenching sense of frustration that only comes when losing a rollercoaster three-setter, turns to you, a volunteer, opens their face with the biggest smile you’ve seen all day and simply mouths “thank you”.
When you’ve grown up to become a player, and when that same moment comes around when you’re on the sand for real and fighting for your own career, you remember the scene that helped you get this to this place. That’s why you make the effort to thank the ball kids and sand-rakers; say hi and share a joke with the court managers, and bop back and forth for a silly boomerang for social media.
In doing so, you hope your actions can inspire endless generations just like it did for you. And all because one day you took a deep breath and filled in an application to be a volunteer at a beach volleyball event.
Teamwork makes the dream work
Volunteers are the backbone of every sporting event around the world, from the Olympic Games to the FIFA World Cup.
The Beach Volleyball Major Series is no difference. Throughout the hectic 2018 season, over 1,100 magnificent volunteers pitched in and selflessly offered their own time to ensure the events ran like clockwork. Armed with their infectious passion for the beach and desire to be part of a hard-working, fun, friendly team, their unwavering support and limitless enthusiasm makes the Majors Series a firm favorite with the fans and players alike.
Without these unsung heroes, Fort Lauderdale, Gstaad, Vienna and Hamburg would be… Well, who would show you to your seat in the Red Bull Beach Arena? Who would post that behind-the-scenes video that got you off your couch at home and into the stadium? They’d be players retrieving balls from the sea themselves, frantically printing their names on their own shirts minutes before a match, and finding their own way to the side courts.
You get the idea. Nobody wants to see the Phil ‘The Thin Beast’ Dalhausser wading half-naked into the Atlantic with a game delicately poised in the second set.
However, being a volunteer at a Beach Volleyball Major Series tournament is more than just a chance to beef up and a brag a little on your resume. It’s a doorway to life-long friendship, a potential pathway to enlightenment. It’s an opportunity to reach out and touch real-life, living legends, to rub shoulders and befriend champions and down-to-earth heroes that, let’s be honest, everyone on the planet wants to best pals with at the Olympics every four years.
Just take it from the professionals. Want a life like them? Then start like they did, as a volunteer.
Almost every member of the beach elite has recognized the importance of volunteering from a young age, looking up in awe at the stars they dreamt of following in the same sandy footsteps.
They includes uber-consistent Dutch stars Alexander Brouwer and Robert Meeuwsen, who were once nervous teenagers helping out in The Hague. 15 years later the pair would go on and fulfil their childhood dream, and stand on the podium at an Olympic games. How’s that for motivation?
“Volunteers play an essential role in beach volleyball on so many levels,” says defender Alexander, who won bronze in Rio in 2016. “I remember when I was younger raking the sand in The Hague on the center court. Watching players like Julius Brink and Jonas Reckermann, Reinder Nummerdor and Richard Schuil… I had just started playing myself and took the opportunity to get closer to the highest level players. Back then, I looked up at these players as they’re big examples, they’re idols. Now as players, we hope to be every bit as inspirational to the volunteers on the Beach Major Series.”
A unique insight
As inspirational players go, none rate higher than Kerri Walsh Jennings. The 40-year-old is arguably the most decorated player in the history of beach volleyball, with no less than three Olympic gold medals taking pride of place in her overflowing trophy collection.
Kerri’s illustrious career is still very much going strong today such is her passion and zest for the sport – but if you’ve ever had reservations about stepping forward to volunteer, then just take a leaf out of her book and go for it.
“I volunteered at beach volleyball tournaments at Stanford University when I was a shy kid,” explains Kerri, also a three-time World champion. “I was lucky that my parents would take me to places to plant seeds of inspiration in my head. At Stanford I saw these players as my role models.
“Rubbing shoulders with the stars is one of the most special thing in beach volleyball; that access to the athletes. Sometimes I feel other sports have more of a prestige because there’s a mystic about what happens behind-the-scenes, that almost makes them seem untouchable. But I would rather see the closeness of the fans and volunteers as in beach volleyball because that shows that players are humans. We play with our hearts, for the fans. I hope that never changes.”
While mainstream sports stars may enjoy a quieter life away from the pitch, court or field, shrouded from star-struck fans screaming for a signature, the beach elite on the other hand embrace their closer, intimate connection to the youngsters who throw them a ball or those who serve them their lunchtime meal.
“It’s a community and volunteers are a big part of it – this is what makes this sport so great,” smiles Canadian Melissa Humana-Paredes, who won the Gstaad Major with teammate Sarah Pavan last season.
“As players, we’re here, we’re personable, we know what it’s like, we appreciate their work. We’re not these untouchable people that you have to go through management to talk to. I was a ballkid when I was younger, and I never knew where to toss the ball. Sure, I’d get in trouble from the ref, but the players would reassure us with a smile. Now I’m a player, it reminds me of those days growing up.”
But while being able to buddy up with the best of the beach might sound like the perfect way to spend a day courtside in the sunshine – being a volunteer is not easy.
Just ask German Olympian Karla Borger.
In 2017, the 29-year-old defender stepped into the shoes of a ball retriever during one memorable night session on the Red Bull Beach Arena at the Poreč Major and experienced just how much of a daunting responsibility it is to be a volunteer.
“It was an amazing experience – but a tough one,” recalls Karla, who was asked by the Major Series event team to put her skills to the test. “As a player I know the game, when to serve and when there’s a timeout, but when I was a ball girl night, all of that was quickly forgotten. My fellow ballkids were so quick, so on the ball, it was surprising how fast they worked and how quickly they could throw the ball in the right direction. It sounds silly, but with timeouts and side-switches you’ve got to concentrate and follow the game. You don’t want to look out of place or mess things up. This is a professional sport with a lot on the line.
“It was difficult, but one thing’s for sure, I don’t think you can ever get an experience like it being so close to the stars.”
Karla’s experience reinforces the point of not only how fun it is to be a volunteer – but also that this is serious business, and that the need for volunteers to carry out a wide array of tasks is hugely important to the smooth running of any five-star, Beach Major Series tournament.
“Beach volleyball events would never function properly without the help of volunteers – somebody has to be running the show!” laughs Czech Republic star Marketa Slukova, the winner of the Vienna Major in Austria and runner-up at the World Tour Finals in Hamburg, Germany with teammate Barbora Hermannová.
“There are so many people working behind-the-scenes doing all sorts of jobs, all because they want to help, have fun, be part of something special, meet new people and get closer to the athletes. We are humans after all, and that relationship with the volunteers is what makes these events so special.”
Going the extra mile
The Beach Volleyball Major Series means so much to some players that volunteering can fill the void when injury keeps them off the sand.
If you know your volleyball and eat, sleep and drink the sport 24/7 then you won’t have failed to notice the exploits of Norwegian hotshots Anders Mol and Christian Sørum during the 2018 season. The Beach Volley Vikings slayed all before them on their way to winning a string of incredible gold medals in Gstaad, Vienna and Hamburg.
For 21-year-old Anders, the FIVB’s Player of the Season, his passion for the sport knows no bounds. When an injury ruled the blocker out of the 2015 Major in Stavanger in his native Norway, he didn’t just want to watch the action from the grandstands.
“I was a live ticker in Stavanger, recording the points… At one point I said to my manager, ‘one day I’ll be playing in the final and you’ll be taking down my game!’” explains Anders, with a grin so big it’s visible in the gleaming Gstaad cowbell sitting on his lap, the very iconic cowbell that signalled the start of the Vikings’ invincible golden streak.
“But he just laughed – he didn’t believe me,” continues Anders.
“I volunteered because I wanted to play a part somehow. It was a lot of fun. I’ve always had a lot of passion for volleyball and was interested to see how the inside of a tournament worked. I liked it. They took good care of me and I met a lot of good people that I’m still in touch with now.”
If you’re a sports enthusiast, or your heart beats for beach volleyball as strongly as it does for Anders, and you would like to be part of the team that helps provide those famous goosebumps at the world’s biggest international beach volleyball tournaments, then this is the season to do something about it.