Learn to Play 4 Man with Doug Partie
Reproduced with the permission of Volleyball Magazine.
Four-man beach volleyball is the perfect marriage of the traditional indoor game and the two-man beach game. It allows players like me, who have spent most of their careers playing indoors, to use the skills we have developed over the years and still get a tan and some fresh air at the beach.

For many people, four-man is a good alternative to the two-man game because it is more specialized, allowing players to do what they do best. And there is always the potential for a great rally. It's not uncommon for the ball to go over the net eight times, and that makes it exciting for both spectators and players.

As a middle blocker, I particularly like four-man because it allows me to use my quick-hitting skills, and it gives the team an opportunity to put up a two- or three- man block, which you obviously can't do in two-man. Those are a couple of the reasons I think we'll see four-man become more and more popular in the next few years. It's a lot of fun for every level, whether you're just starting out or have played indoors in high school and college.

To defend a "four" set, the left-side blocker drops back to play defense while the middle blocker and right-side swing hitter block, and the defensive specialist rotates to the right.

In the "Basic X," the quick hitter approaches for a front "1," and the right-side swint hitter goes behind the quick hitter to hit a "2" set just off the left shoulder of the quick hitter.

Four-man players come in all sizes, too, so nobody has an excuse for not giving it a try. It works for the big guy, like 6-9 Mark Miller, who can put up an intimidating wall at the net. But it's also fun for someone who is shorter, a guy like Jim Nichols, who is only 5-10 but is one of the Bud 4-Man Tour's best players because he plays incredible defense.

Really, anybody who likes volleyball will enjoy playing four-man. In this article, I will explain the responsibilities of each position on the court (setter, left-side hitter, right-side hitter, and middle blocker) and include some tips that should help you develop a better understanding of the game and send you on your way to becoming a threat on the beach.

A four-man setter uses many of the same skills that an indoor setter does. He needs to be able to run the quick set and know the different options, from the 4-1-5 so the fake X. He also needs to be a good defensive player, so he can play back as the defensive specialist, and /or a strong blocker, so he can help out up front.

In contrast to the two-man game, where there is only one option for the setter, a four-man setter has at least options and the multiple combinations off those. There are no back-row hits, but there is just about everything else.

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Perhaps the biggest adjustment a setter makes from indoors to the beach is dealing with the elements. Indoors you don't have to worry about where the wind is going to blow your set or looking into the sun or ending up like a sugar donut after diving in the sand. When the wind is blowing the length of the court, there is a good side and a bad side. It's better to be on the side where the wind is in your face because it's harder for your opponent to serve tough and easier for your swing hitters to pass the ball so you can set all the options. If the wind is blowing side to side, you might have to push the ball harder to get it outside or lay it up softly and let it blow to the proper spot. On windy days, teams often compensate by setting more quickes because a quick set doesn't travel as far and stays below unpredictable gusts.

A good player to watch when you're learning the art of four-man setting is Jeff Stork, who plays for Team Club and is also the starting setter on the U.S. national team. Beside his advantage of being left handed, which enables him to hit over on two, Jeff can set the quick set as well as anybody in the world and is also a good defensive player and blocker.

It's always good to have a setter who can hit a pass over on two because it gives your team one more offensive option. Watching the tendencies of a player such as Stork or Team Speedo setter Wally Goodrick will help you get a good mental picture of the best way to play.

Swing Hitter
This position is the most similar to the two-man game. A four-man swing hitter lines up the same way as the two-man beach players, but there is a difference between the left-side hitter and the right-side hitter.

A right-side hitter usually hits a lot of play sets such as Xs, fake Xs or five sets, which are higher sets to the right. A left side hitter hits more of a regular set, a high ball that is set wide to the left. Left-side hitters will also run an inside X, which is a set just off the right shoulder of the quick hitter approaching for a "31" or a "shoot" set.

At a high level of competition, it's essential that the swing hitter play on the side he is most comfortable with because players don't rotate in four-man. Indoors since everybody rotates, the swing hitter usually has to pass on both sides, but a four-man swing hitter stays on the same side. So a team with two right-side players, for example, could be in trouble. It isn't easy to adapt to a side you're not used to.

If the opposing setter sets the ball to your side, you have to get in front of the hitter and block. But if the ball is set in the other direction, you have to drop off and over your side of the court as a digger. That's crucial because there is only one other defensive player in back,

and you need to help him. It's different from indoors where the off-blocker will stay near the net and look for the dink or drop off a few feet (not as deep as four-man) and dig. Defensively, a four-man swing hitter is also the end blocker and needs to be mobile.

If you're a beginner or haven't had a lot of experience, the skills you need are passing, ball control and the ability to hit a higher set on the outside. Ideally, you want to be good at blocking and defense, but if you're not a great blocker be sure to work extra hard on your defensive skills. Team Ocean's Jeff Williams is a good example of a swing hitter who is not a big blocker but makes up for it with a strong defensive game.

Middle Blocker/Quick Hitter
My area of expertise. I guess one of the best things about playing four-man is that it allows a middle blocker to use so many of the same skills he uses indoors. For example, the quick set, where the hitter is up in the air while the ball is being released from the setter's hands, isn't something you can do in the two-man game.

Since there is no rotation, I'm in a hitting position on every serve. But on the sand, you're much more limited in your hitting range. Indoors I could start on the left and hit a quick set on the right, but that's not an option on the sand because it's just too hard to move. Also, you'll have to start

This defense is used against a front "1" or back "1" (indicated by arrows). The left-side blocker shifts to help the middle blocker; the right-side hitter drops back, and the defensive specialist moves left.

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your approach earlier on the sand and jump in more of a straight, up-and-down motion because it's difficult to move and hard to broad jump the way you do on an indoor court.

On Team Speedo, we run just about all the sets that we would run indoors: the "Front One" (next to the setter in the middle); the "Back One" (in back of the setter in the middle); the "Front and Back Slide", which are just a little farther from the setter in either direction; and the 31, a low shoot set about 10 feet in from the left side of the court.

Defensively, my first priority as a middle blocker is to stop the quick hitter. This can be accomplished in one of two ways. First, there is the "Read Block." When the play starts, I'll be standing at the net with my hands high, watching the quick hitter out of the corner of my eye but playing most of my attention to the setter. The key is to "read" the setter and react while the ball is leaving the setter's hands. If it goes to the quick hitter, I have to react quickly and try to block the quick ball. If the ball goes out to one of the swing hitters, I have to get out there and help forma a two-man block with my swing hitter.

Another blocking system is called the "Commit Block". In that, I concentrate on the quick hitter and follow him wherever he goes, paying little attention to the setter. As long as it's a good pass, I'll jump with him regardless of whether he gets the ball or not. That way, I'm in a position to stop him if he gets the ball, and if he doesn't, I've taken him out of the offense. If the quick hitter isn't set, it's still my responsibility to try to get up again and help out the end blockers.

Beach players are good at tooling the block, so the farther over the net you penetrate with your hands, the better.

If you're a novice or not tall enough to put up a good block, get back and dig. There's nothing wrong with that. And actually, we do a lot more dropping off the net and digging a "down" ball in four-man than in indoors because the hitters

don't have as much range when they get an imperfect set.

By contrast, if the set is back at the 10-foot one indoors and you're facing a good hitter, you stillhave to get up there and blci. If you don't, the opposing hitter will probably bury the ball. But hitters have a harder time getting up out of the sand doing that, so it's better in four-man for the blocking team to drop off.

A couple of Tips 1. Serving. I serve a lot of sky balls in the four-man game because it gives me time to get up to the net and block, and it also makes the opponent deal with the sun and wind.

Jump serving has become a big part of the game, and the reason for that is you can make a lot of auto9matic points if you're good at it. Watch Eric Sato on Team Paul Mitchell. He's got a great jump serve.

2. Communication. Get together with your team before you plan and talk about what you want to take away from the opposing hitters.

Be sure to study your opponent's tendencies so you know what to expect and can try to counter it. Quick hitters, for example, often like to hit the 31 cross-body and the "One" set away from their body. So we'll usually try to block this "strength" and align the differs in position for the weaker shot.

A Final Thought
If the four-man tour makes a stop in your area, it's great to watch live. Otherwise, maybe you can catch it on TV. Better yet, get out here yourself and give it a shot. Four-man volleyball can be fun at any level, and the way to improve is to get as many setting, spiking, blocking, and digging repetitions as possible. Soon it will become second nature.

So give it a try. And have fun.

The four man lineup includes a left- and right-side swing hitter, middle blocker, and a setter. The game is a challenging mix of two-man beach and six-man indoor.

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