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2017-07-11 10:43:00 CEST

Sax on the Beach: Love and beach volleyball

This week Ben Saxton explains the relationship phases within beach volleyball

 Ben and teammate Chaim Schalk have been teammates since 2013 Ben and teammate Chaim Schalk have been teammates since 2013

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 today 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 Swatch 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 (so far so good, Chaim). 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. The Norwegians Christian Sørum, Anders Mol, and Mathias Bernsten have been mixing and matching this season and people are taking notice of their strong play, all three possible combinations have top 10 finishes this season, most notably here in Gstaad (ninth) and last week in Poreč (ninth). It will be interesting to see whether they’ll continue switching around or if they’ll make the big leap to commitment.

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. The most notable pair in this phase right now has to be Canadians Melissa Humana-Paredes and Sarah Pavan. They are the only team to make two semifinal appearances in a row on the Swatch Major Series for either men or women. They followed up their Poreč gold with a bronze in Gstaad. There will be bumps in the road for them – there are for everyone – and if they can overcome those they are looking good to be a power couple for a long time to come.

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 behaviours. 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 25), they’ve been playing together for over seven years. 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. They came away with the silver in Gstaad, and the three other finalist teams (Germany, USA and Brazil) were in at least their third season together, proving that spending time to develop your team does pay off.

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. As far as I know, Gstaad wasn’t the last tournament for any team, the middle of the season usually isn’t the time for that, but player’s who aren’t satisfied with the way things are progressing will certainly be looking at their options.

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.

Much love,

Ben

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