To Hit the Sand or the Court?

Waiting to get into the insanely packed gym to see Penn State face number two Stanford in volleyball was almost as much of an exercise in patience as waiting for a sand court to open up.  It is very clear that volleyball, whether indoor or outdoor, is a very popular sport at Penn State.  Having played indoor volleyball for my high school and outdoor during the summer, I have noticed some basic differences between the two.  Obviously, it is harder to run and jump on the sand court than it is to do so indoors, and beach ball has outside factors like wind and sunlight.  However, since I am often playing beach volleyball with friends, it is harder to tell what some of the other differences might be.  Does one have a higher injury rate?  Will playing indoor help your beach skills and vice versa?  Is it better to go from beach volleyball to indoor or from indoor to beach?

According to the Encyclopedia of Sports Medicine, the overall number of injuries in beach volleyball is comparable to the number in indoor with 4.9 injuries per player per 1,000 hours of exposure for beach and 4.2 for indoor.  However, beach volleyball has a lower number of injuries during practice, and the types of injuries differ in frequency between the two.  In beach volleyball, it is more common for players to hurt their backs or knees whereas in indoor volleyball, ankle injuries are more common.  The Encyclopedia states that the reason for this may be due to the surface played on and the number of players on the court.  Based off personal experience, I believe the number of players on the court would affect the number of ankle injuries because, with six players on a side in an indoor court, there is a much higher chance of a player landing on another’s foot than in beach when there are typically only two people per side.

These results were backed up by another study found on  295 players’ injuries were recorded for a beach volleyball season and then an indoor one.  There were an equal number of men, women, elite, and recreational players who answered a questionnaire for each season.  They also found that there was “an incidence of 4.9 injuries per 1000 volleyball hours in beach volleyball and 4.2 in indoor volleyball.”  Additionally, a pattern was observed that showed that overuse injuries resulting from spiking and field defense were common in beach volleyball, while indoor players usually injured their ankles and fingers while blocking and spiking.

Ed Drakich, Canada’s Beach High Performance Director, wrote a piece on the symbiotic relationship between beach and indoor ball.  He found that both sports are beneficial to the other.  For example, playing beach in indoor’s offseason helps strengthen joints because there is less stress on them due to a lower amount of impact when a player jumps, and the sand is harder to move in, so more strength is needed to move.  On the other hand, playing indoor will improve a player’s spiking skills.  Since it is harder to jump in the sand, the power of the hit is not focused on as much in beach.  So playing indoor ball will help the player to focus on developing a harder swing.

While I could not find a study for which sport is better to start out with, there are simple studies that could be done.  A simple random sample of girls and/or boys of the same age starting volleyball could be taken.  Half would start by learning indoor volleyball first, while the others would learn to play outdoor.  Each person would be paired up with another person who has similar physical qualities and condition.  The two groups would switch to the other sport, and the progress would be compared within the pairs.  The results would determine which sport it is better to start out with.

Although there are many differences between beach and indoor volleyball, there does not appear to be a better option in terms of injury risk based on this research.  Additionally, experts believe it is good to play both, and that each can improve the skills needed for the other sport.  So if you’re one of the many Penn Staters who loves volleyball, don’t be upset if you have to trade in the beach court for an indoor court or vice versa.



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