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If you are one of the rare few who have been living in a hole for the past few years or perhaps have just awoken from a coma, then you are probably unaware of the growing popularity of beach volleyball among juniors. As for the rest of us, we are witnessing a time when the sport of beach volleyball has and will continue to grow exponentially at the juniors level. Since 2007, participation in the sport has grown 85%—mostly from girls between the ages of 13 and 25. According to an AVCA (American Volleyball Coaches Association) poll, that’s nearly 500,000 new participants in the last few years!

Ever since the game of beach volleyball became a collegiate sport, young athletes have begun to flock to the beach, trading in their kneepads and tennis shoes for sunscreen and bikinis. The game is growing rapidly and we can all feel it. Tournament directors are having to add courts as the demand increases, and young athletes across the nation are dreaming of what it would be like to play on their favorite collegiate sand teams. Wilson hasn’t seen such a spike in sales since the premier of Cast Away in 2002, when Tom Hanks infamously lost his best friend, a volleyball, to the sea.

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Just this past weekend in Huntington Beach alone, there were two large juniors tournaments being played less than a quarter of a mile from each other. I was amazed by the number of teams, both male and female, that came out to play. There must have been two hundred athletes or more—and that was just on one beach! The competition was fierce and the athletes were skilled, many having grown up playing on the beach.

The days of post-college indoor players turning to the beach might soon be behind us, and with the way things are going, athletes might soon have to choose which discipline they want to pursue.

While it’s wonderful to see growth
like this, there is a looming shadow
that grows with it

Here is what I’m talking about: A young athlete decides she wants to play sand volleyball. If she is coordinated enough, tall enough and expresses  enough talent and interest, then more than likely she will experience the world of college recruiting, version 2.0. In the world of sand volleyball, rules are being written and amended with each passing year. Both parents and athletes are confused by the process and justifiably so. Many wonder how to even get noticed by these colleges through it all. Sand clubs have emerged to help guide these athletes and answer some of the more complex questions, but the biggest problem is still being overlooked :

In sports we spend too much time
focused on the end goal.

I know you are probably shaking your head at me right now, but before you completely disregard what I have to say, let me explain what I mean. If it weren’t for endings, we would have no beginnings. The goal is the prize that we all want in the end, and it’s the ultimate motivation that sees us through the middle. The end goal is important, but it’s not everything. The end goal only lasts for a second in time. It’s the work needed to get there  that influences  the rest of our lives.

When we put too much emphasis on the goal, we tend to forget to enjoy the work. The work is what makes the goal, the goal is not what makes the work. Goals are the future, but the work is now.

I can’t walk into a gym or onto a beach without someone talking about a college scholarship. It feels like the pressure to impress college recruiters has become the forefront of the game we play, and our kids feel that pressure. Did you know there are over seven million high school athletes and only one percent of them will ever compete at the NCAA Division I level? Two percent of all those athletes will have a chance to play in everything else.  The opportunity to play sand volleyball collegiately is even less. Unfortunately, athletic scholarships aren’t available to every athlete who plays the sport, even those who are talented.

Sports, and beach volleyball in particular, can do so much more for an athlete than provide them with a college scholarship. Through playing sports, athletes learn invaluable lessons such as teamwork, discipline, goal setting and fortitude (just to name a few).

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Don’t get me wrong, I celebrate with those athletes who have worked tirelessly to earn a collegiate scholarship, but there are thousands of other girls who don’t qualify. What about them? Can they feel like they have had a successful beach volleyball experience even if they never go on to play collegiately? How can we teach our children to set goals while enjoying the pursuit of them?

As a society I think we need to reevaluate how we view youth sports. I fear it has become an arena where only the select few make it through unscathed with a scholarship to show for it. The rest walk away disappointed, feeling like they have somehow failed themselves or maybe even their families.

Can we, as athletes, as coaches, and as teammates, reverse this trend? Can we continue to compete at the highest level and yet not lose sight of those who aren’t? I think it’s a conversation worth having.

-Traci Weamer

TRACI

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