Sarah Pavan, originally from Kitchener, Canada, got her start playing indoor volleyball, winning a national championship with The University of Nebraska Lincoln before making her way to the sand volleyball scene. On this episode of The Global Game, you will learn more about her experience, what it’s been like to transition to beach, make it to the Olympics, and find the best partner to play with. Sneak peek below:
What was that transition like, switching from indoor to outdoor?
It was terrible. Like I said before, I thought they were the same sport, because volleyball?!?! Right?! The skills are the same. But turns out, they are not. They are not at all the same. I mean, I started with our indoor team when I was 16 and I left them when I was 26, so it was a solid decade of just grinding with them. My whole life was indoor. So by 26 I had been playing indoor for 20 years. When you play a sport for so long it becomes natural and the movements are natural. They are second nature, you don’t have to think about them anymore. And then all of a sudden, I got to this sport that was supposed to be the same, but wasn’t. I was second guessing everything I was doing and retraining my body to do these motions that were natural my whole life. Everything from attacking, how you jump in the sand, blocking, how you set, it was all similar, but just different enough to make it extremely aggravating. There were a ton of tears. I cried a lot. I had worked so hard to establish my career and my place in the indoor world, and all of a sudden I was like: “did i just mess this up?”
…It was hard. I cried a lot. I would get so frustrated at practices. But I fought through the ugliness and managed to survive.
How did you find your partner?
So beach volleyball in Canada, I didn’t know anybody who played it here. It wasn’t a super successful sport…I had heard of this one partnership that got really really close on qualifying for London. So I randomly sent her a message on Facebook back then. I reached out and was like “hey I know we don’t know each other, but I am considering pursuing this, I was wondering if you knew anyone looking for a partner?” and she wrote me back: “actually, I’ll play with you.” – it was not what I was expecting at all, because she had been on tour for several years at that point. And her and her partner were the top in Canada…but when she said she would play with me I was like, “Ok cool! Just so you know, I’m going to be really bad, but thanks! Let’s give this a try.”…but yeah, she took a chance on me and I ended up going to the Olympics with her in 2016.
How’d you know what to do getting started on beach vs. indoor?
To be honest my first concern was “what do you even wear for a beach volleyball practice?” Like I don’t know. In indoor you wear spandex and a t-shirt and you have your knee pads. I had to quiz some people and really get the scoop on that. Turns out it’s leggings, in case anyone is wondering. So that was step one…
How was it learning how to play with just 2 people vs. 6 with indoor and team atmosphere?
That was a big learning experience. So beach is kind of a hybrid between a team sport and an individual sport. It’s one of those weird ones – it’s not really either. In indoor, you have 12 or more people on a team. Strong personalities can be diffused. There can be 2-3 people you are close with and the rest are more of a working relationship. On the beach, it’s not the same. It’s one person getting everything. It took me a while to learn that. That partner dynamic was the one thing that was missing between me and my former partner. I was used to acting a certain way and being a certain way. I’m hard on myself, the body language is never malicious to my partner, it’s towards myself. But as just one person on the court, seeing your partner’s body language can affect you, even if it’s not directed at you in a bad way. That was one thing that really came to light from playing beach. You need to control what your face, body, and what you’re saying, because it’s all on you…Moving into my next partnership, that is something I really made a priority. To be everything that my partner needs me to be, because that is what is going to make us successful. Because at the highest levels, everyone can play volleyball…the thing that takes the best teams to the top is the partner relationship.