Friday, 24 September 2021
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Sandra Pires - Confidence key in an Olympic Year

Talita and Maria Elisa started the year very well, with an aggressive attitude, and confidence, which is extremely important on an Olympic year. It’s important to be able to take the pressure and play balanced games because it helps build the teams’ confidence. They have been doing just that.

Juliana and Larissa were not able to sustain last year’s performance at the beginning of this year but I totally believe in them, they have gone through some tough times before and have always turned things around. They need to have a little more patience because they are the team to beat and all the other teams study them intensely. And it is important to remember that some teams are improving, or some players individually and consequently their team. A good example of that is Chen Xue China. She lost weight, she’s making less errors, has improved her block and it has made the Chinese team improve.

Teams will need to win as many competitions as possible before the Olympic Games in order to arrive in London with confidence and maintain respect. Because when they have to play a tough game the team will know what to do and will believe in the victory.

One area of improvement for the Brazilians could be their serve. When a team serves well it’s half way to winning the game.

You cannot compare an Olympic event to a World Tour or a Grand Slam. The Olympic Games happens every four years and the World Tour and Grand Slams are played throughout the year, every year. The Olympic Games are seen all over the world! It means a lot to an athlete to be selected, to qualify and to know that he or she will be representing their country. It becomes the country’s victory and not only the athlete’s victory and along with that comes responsibility which can become a heavy load to carry. That can be stressful for an athlete. Everyone stops to watch the Olympic Games. It is a unique event. Athletes of all sports come together on the same site. As soon as the athlete arrives at the Games he/she realizes all of this. The magnitude of the event can sometimes be a distraction for an athlete, after all there is nothing like it!

I have participated in the Games four times, three times playing (Atlanta, Sidney, Athens) and in Pequin as a commentator. I am a two time medalist, I have lived the Olympic experience but I always look forward to the games and I am already anxious to get to London. You can imagine what it is like for someone that is going for the first time. Someone that has the chance of bringing back a medal. It’s the chance of a lifetime. It is very exciting! But you need to keep your cool and not lose focus. I will be there as a beach volleyball commentator for both men and women's games working for Sportv/Globo.

Kerri Walsh/Misty May usually do not start off the year well because they stop competing for a long period of time and lose drive, which is crucial for a team. But over the year they grow, gain confidence and get into shape. They are two time Olympic champions and know that they need to win and get their confidence up so they will get to London well respected by their adversaries and I think they are willing to do it.

In the Brazilian’s case, our national circuit started in January and we always have the advantage over our foreign competitors in the beginning of the season.

Chen Xue/Zhang Xi are playing extremely well. As I said before Chen Xue has improved several fundamentals and the team has gained with it. Zhang Xi has always been an exceptional player. They form a tall team, Zhang Xi, 1,83 cm defending and Chen Xue, 1,89 cm blocking. Besides that they have experience in the Olympics, they were third place in Pequin. At the moment they have achieved better results than the Americans and that makes it more difficult for the Brazilians.

Kessy/Ross are experienced players and although they have not had expressive results this year they have been world champions and have excellent results in the Open and Grand Slam.

Sandra Pires is a former beach volleyball player who famously won gold at the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games with partner Jackie Silva, becoming the first ever Brazilian women to win a gold medal at the Olympics. She followed this up with bronze at the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games and fifth at the Athens 2004 Olympic Games. She is also the only woman to carry the Brazilian flag at the event. A three-time world champion she won 1,068 matches and was named player of the decade between 1990-2000. She is now a Member of the Athlete’s Commission of the Brazilian Olympic Committee, a commentator for Sportv/Globo and a member of the Sports Ambassadors Project for "Banco do Brasil" where she travels around the country encouraging sports and physical activity, helping to improve the quality of life.

Sinjin Smith - No holding back on road to London

The likes of Misty-May Treanor and Kerri Walsh, and Todd Rogers and Phil Dalhausser will get stronger and stronger as we get closer to the Olympic Games later this year. Both teams have had injuries over the last 12 months and I expect they will not start the World Tour season at 100 per cent.

That’s going to be a bit different with the Brazilians though as they come into the tour almost at full strength following their national tour. However, I expect it will even out among all the teams as we get closer to the Olympics, leaving an exciting competition.

Juliana and Larissa will start this year very strong. The question is: “can they hold it together as it is a long time between now and the Games?”

I don’t think anyone will hold back starting the year, despite London being months away. Although there has to be a question whether you start the season working out too hard too early and not being able to take it up to another notch for the most important competition of your life, but it’s hard as an athlete to hold back when you get on that court. I think that most teams will probably start the season the way they usually do but they will naturally be looking ahead to the biggest event of all. There were several teams training here in Southern California, and in other warm whether locations around the world, but many will be trying to focus on the Olympic Games and trying to peak in time for the big event.

The fight for the second US spot between Fuerbringer and Lucena and Gibb and Rosenthal in the men’s rankings should make for an interesting story early on in the season. Before last year, many would have given the ticket to Gibb and Rosenthal, but Fuerbringer and Lucena have come on strong in the last 12 months with a great effort. Right now you almost have to give preference to the team that’s performing better at the moment, although that could change again this year. I just think it’s fantastic for the country to have that competition at the moment, and it proves that beach volleyball in USA remains incredibly competitive.

However, looking ahead to Brasilia, you have to look at the Brazilians and say “they’re the top team.” They will be on home sand and will be in the best shape.

Sinjin Smith is a former USA beach volleyball player who won the FIVB Beach Volleyball Swatch World Tour four times from its foundation in 1989 to 1992 with Randy Stoklos. Winning a total of 20 medals on the World Tour, including 10 gold, he was a driving force behind the growth of beach volleyball in the 1980s and 1990s and was the first player, along with Stoklos, to clinch 100 career open victories, a record he still holds to this day at 146. Often regarded as the original “King of the Beach” he was honoured as part of the FIVB’s Greatest Team in Beach Volleyball history in 2003 and is currently a member of the FIVB Beach Volleyball Commission. He has been a part of the FIVB since the inception of the beach volleyball programme and helped build and develop the World Tour, as well as playing a vital role in getting the sport into the Olympic Games. Sinjin is a longtime resident of Pacific Palisades where he lives with his wife, Patty, and the couple’s three children, Hagen, Stanton and Sinjin, Jr.

Kerri Pottharst - Players' preparation needs to be top

Preparing for the start of the World Tour is a challenge in its own right, but that becomes all the more important in an Olympic year.

Essentially, players are on the road for months at a time, and so much goes into preparing for that. I was talking to Natalie Cook just before she left for Brazil [to compete in the Brasilia Open] and she had so much going on. She was busy raising funds to help her and Tamsin for the upcoming season, she was competing in the Australian National Championships, she was still trying to run her own business and on top of that, the media attention on her was crazy! Especially because if they make it to London, it will be Nat’s fifth Olympics and that’s HUGE for our sport.

I think all the media around the world are really starting to ramp up the coverage of their athletes, so most players are juggling their time between training, media, sponsors and any other personal commitments they may have.

This all creates extra pressure and it depends on the attitude of the athlete on whether they take it all in a positive way or a negative way. Most pro beach players understand that this is now the life of a professional athlete and they take it all in their stride, Natalie and Tamsin, included. It’s also important to have fun with it all so it doesn’t seem like a chore.

Speaking of preparation, there is a long list of things players will have packed and double checked before setting off on tour this year. Passports, Visas, travel insurance and making sure Nominations have been made for tournaments will be high on this list. There would be nothing worse than turning up to a tournament to find out you haven’t been entered – it has happened!

Accommodation is also a major issue and although many teams will have this organised for them, some will have to find it themselves, especially between events. Players will also want to take some of their own food to make sure they can sustain themselves in countries where the food might not be to their liking. That adds almost a whole new suitcase full of protein powders, vitamins, all sorts of packaged food and energy bars to the luggage. Making sure you stay healthy is important, so taking the right medication is also crucial.

Then you need to think about the rehab and exercise equipment you may need. Things like tape, ice bags, exercise bands and, of course, beach volleyballs!

Your basic toiletries will also have to be packed and although you can buy a lot of these things throughout your travel, it’s nice to have items from your own country sometimes, and it saves money along the way. Sun screen is a big one to remember alongside obvious things like towels, shorts, t-shirts, leggings (for the cold weather) and lots of bikinis!

The social media side of sport is now so big that this needs to be considered as well. Players have websites, Twitter and Facebook pages and video blogs to help keep sponsors and fans up to date. That can include a whole new set of equipment like cameras, iphone, laptops and all their cables. Not all athletes will do this, but for those looking to make a living out of beach volleyball and for those looking to create a brand, it crucial equipment.

However, the most important thing athletes need to pack doesn’t take up any luggage space at all....they’ll need to take with them heaps of BELIEF! They should already have a good dose of that because they know they can’t rely on trying to build that up while on Tour, especially leading up to the Olympic Games. There’s just so much pressure to perform at each event. They really need to be believing in themselves right now as they set off to their first event of the season.

In my mind, self-belief is THE most important element to success. You need to be able to leave any fear and doubt at home. For many teams this will be their last ditch effort, fighting to get into that all important top 16. Doubts will just get in the way and distract them from playing the best volleyball they can play.

With so many challenges to be faced by individual players, teams and coaches over the next few months, communication between all team members will be vital to keep any fears and doubts at bay.

So, packing your belief, along with a massive amount of confidence, is going to be important for all players setting out on tour. And, even the top teams in the world, who will be fighting off the ever improving teams below them, will need to maintain their belief and confidence throughout the season. They’ll want to arrive in London feeling fantastic. They’ll want to feel great by the time they step onto the court at Horse Guards Parade because if they don’t, they’ll struggle and their chances of winning medals will be lost.

Finally, the athletes also need to keep a check on their attitudes. They need to be aware of their self-talk and how they are talking to their team mate. They need to make sure they face each day with a positive attitude, especially if things are not going exactly as planned. That can be done in a team of two, but responsibility also falls upon the support staff around them, and the extended team they have built up to help them keep their spirits high and maintain those positive attitudes. Only then will they be ready to win!

The starter’s gun is about to go off. The conclusion of the Rome Grand Slam on June 17 is the finishing line. However, that is only the end of one race. The big one starts after that!

Kerri Pottharst is a former Australian beach volleyball and volleyball player and famously won gold along with Nathalie Cook at the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games in front of her home fans. She also claimed bronze at the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games and competed at the 2004 Athens Olympic Games. She last played on the FIVB Beach Volleyball Swatch World Tour in 2004 but since then has married and had a 5 yrs old son called Tyson. She is a highly sought after Motivational Speaker as well as spending time on the sand coaching beach volleyball. Most recently, Kerri has released a book titled “The Business of Being an Athlete” a step-by-step guide on how the right attitude, the right tools, and the right approach took her from being a part-time athlete to becoming a multi-award winning champion, a hot property for sponsorship, and a successful entrepreneur. For more information on Kerri visit www.kerripottharst.com or www.thebusinessofbeinganathlete.com

Adriana Behar - Brazilian pairs will only have victory in mind

Playing in Brazil is always a fantastic experience for Brazilian players. We have such passionate crowds and fans and they are great for the players. The first event is always difficult and a bit stressful as well.

Juliana and Larissa, and Alison and Emanuel are all looking really good ahead of the World Tour and I think they’ll win in Brasilia. They are thinking about all the details and are totally focused on the next six months. They will aim to be in the best shape for London but it will be hard because that is exactly what other teams will be looking to do as well.

Winning will be on everyone’s mind this season, even though it is an Olympic year. Even for players like Juliana, who had a bad experienced, getting injured before the last Games in Beijing, they will go into each tournament with the top step of the podium as their target. You don’t want anything else on your mind other than winning.

It’s a really short season as well, so the other teams from Brazil need to secure qualification to the Games quickly. For the women, I’d be surprised if Talita and Antonelli didn’t make it. They have been together for three years, have had some good results and I think they will easily qualify.

For the men it is a bit more complicated. Ricardo was previously with Marcio Araujo and they finished last year in an Olympic qualifying place. However, he is now playing with Pedro Cunha and it seems like a better partnership. Sometimes you can have two very good players, but they don’t get the results because they aren’t compatible. Ricardo and Cunha seem to be working well together so far and their personalities are similar. But to qualify they will need to play consistently very well up until the final qualifying event (in Rome).

For some athletes this is likely to be their last Olympic year. Emanuel is one of those players. He’s 38, an amazing player and an amazing person. However, he is used to being the best and that has become a harder challenge for him. To keep playing you need to sacrifice a lot and at some point that becomes too much. This may also be the case with Ricardo. But for Juliana, Larissa, Alison, Pedro Cunha and Pedro Solberg, we hope they will be around in Rio.

As I said before, it’s a really short season, and to be in the best shape in August you need to be at a good level now. We’ll find that out in a few weeks time!

Adriana Behar is a former Brazilian beach volleyball and volleyball player and, along with Shelda Bede, holds the FIVB Beach Volleyball Swatch World Tour record for most gold medals won on the circuit with 31. A two-time Swatch world champion (in 1999 and 2001), she also won the Tour title six times (from 1997 to 2001 and in 2004) and claimed two Olympic silver medals at the Sydney 2000 and Athens 2004 Games. She currently lives in Rio de Janeiro and was a member of the commission for athletes in the bid for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. She also works for the Brazilian Olympic Committee and forms part of the Organizing Committee for the 2016 Games. Additionally, she is involved in the Sports Ambassadors Project for "Banco do Brasil" and travels around the country encouraging sports and physical activity, helping to improve the quality of life. Other projects have included being a consultant and partner in sports projects such as the "Tour do Rio" cycling event and the Center of Sports and Training in Rocinha. She was the first woman to hold the position of Head of Mission of the Youth Olympic Games for the 2010 Games in Singapore and is currently working towards a Masters in Sports Management at the Brazilian Olympic Committee.