The Wind Is My Friend

Happy Easter! I hope everyone had a very chocolaty weekend. Don't worry, I won't ruin anyone's holiday by telling stories of my fancy fast food and microwaveable Easter dinners. Though I do thank the whole Burrows family for the invitation to theirs. It's too bad the Mike Snow concert came up at the same time, so that I couldn't go to both. The music was good, but I won't be recounting that either. Today we talk about wind. After a the first few outdoor practices, with a few small struggles all around, and big struggles for some (namely me), it seems appropriate.

My dad will be happy to see that it's time to go down memory lane. We'll go back about 6 years to when I was 15 years old, and just starting to decide I like beach volleyball better than indoor (sorry Terry). Myself, 4 other young athletes, Deagan McDonald, Ed O'Dwyer, Will Pasieka, Mike Ruus, and then coach, future partner, Mark Ellingson, all went to live in California for a month to let ourselves become a part of the lifestyle. Experience beach volleyball the way it was intended, as more than just a game as a lifestyle. Eat, sleep, and play volleyball. It was the first time we would be living away from our families. None of mom's cooking, no constant encouragement from family members, we did get Colonel Connie's Cookies (Connie McDonald's specialty, a favorite of all of ours) but only in doses. Nothing but each other, beach volleyball, and the 30-45 minute walk to get to and from Hermosa Beach from Redondo Beach every day for practice to occupy us.

All California beaches have their own personality, and their own differentiating traits. Hermosa, for example, has the reputation of being one of the deepest beaches in the world. One thing they all have in common is a constant side wind coming off the Pacific Ocean. It takes some getting used to, to say the least. To say the most, it takes constantly being aware of what side of the court you're on, which way the wind is blowing, which way the ball is coming from, what kind of spin is on the ball, etc. Almost any skill used in volleyball, can and will be affected by a breeze. We all thought we were pretty good after taking home a silver medal at the U16 Midget Open, which hosted over 120 men's and women's teams that year. A couple minutes in a sea breeze and we were all just about ready to pack it in and go home.

Thank goodness we had Mark there to whip us all into shape, and keep us working at it. It takes a little bit of getting used to, but once you figure things out, you realize that for every disadvantage brought on by the wind, there is an advantage that can be exploited. It's the same story every summer. The first few times outside are always a struggle, but as we get a few more reps under our belt, we adapt, and we grow stronger.

Its been interesting being coached by Canadian greats, Mark Heese and John Child over the past few days and getting their takes on the transition phase. Mark is not one to be shy about sharing his thought process and makes sure that everyone understands why he runs a drill or a practice a certain way. In his opinion, when transitioning, it's almost best to start from phase one when going outdoors. During his practice, there were a lot of passing and setting reps, then we finished with a bit of gameplay. He even made a comment on how he did not intend for it to get so intense, but we are all very competitive athletes so that was bound to be the case in any competitive drill.

John's practice plan seemed to focus a little more on the attack and making sure we were able to get ourselves into positions where we can be as offensive as possible. When it's as gusty as it was today, that can be a struggle. John is not afraid to tell someone exactly why they suck, which at practice I think is a good thing, it tells me exactly what I need to fix. On a day like today, unfortunately, he didn't need to. Every contact seemed to need fixing. But it did get better, by the end of the practice, I was starting to feel at least semi comfortable.

With Mark Ellingson's teachings to persevere, Heese's focus on the basics, and John's offensive interest, I should have everything I need. Like any friendship, my relationship with the wind will take time. By the end of the season, as long as I keep working and focusing, The wind and I should be BFF's (Best Friends Forever for those of you as old as my parents. Just joking mom and dad).

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