Don Patterson | AOC senior content manager
I used to think Angela Rock was taller. That was before I met her. We both went to San Diego State years ago, and I’d seen her picture in The Daily Aztec, high over the net, towering, ripping volleyballs, playing her way to two final fours, first team All-American honors and, eventually, induction into the school’s Hall of Fame.
But Angela is only 5-8 – undersized by volleyball standards, especially in today’s game. The first time I interviewed her face to face, I realized it was her springy hop that gave her an elevated presence on the sports pages.
That hop, combined with her elite athleticism and strong work ethic, served her well for a long time. After graduating from SDSU, she went on to a notable pro career in both indoor and beach volleyball while also working as a firefighter. She was a starter on the 1988 U.S. indoor Olympic team in Seoul, South Korea, then won 27 titles in the pro beach game in the 1990s. In 2010, she was inducted into the CBVA Hall of Fame.
Like all great athletes, Angela eventually had to adjust her game to accommodate an eroding vertical jump that forced her to play at a lower altitude.
“For the most part, I could swing (earlier in my career) and I didn’t get blocked a whole lot,” she says. “But as I got older and my knees got worse, I had to find solutions to beat the block or make the blockers uncomfortable because the blockers were big and I couldn’t jump as high.”
As she began giving more thought to the game, she took notes. Then she took more notes as she transitioned from a player to a coach, working with top athletes like current Florida State beach head coach Brooke Niles, two-time Olympic medalist April Ross and longtime standout Dianne DeNecochea. Adding to her knowledge base, she swapped ideas with other top coaches – Liz Masakayan, Barbra Fontana and Holly McPeak, among them.
Recently, Rock pulled her notes together and wrote a book: “Angela Rock’s Advanced Beach Volleyball Tactics.” If you’re serious about your beach game, this should be on your reading list. Rock communicates all the important aspects of fundamental strategies from the perspective of someone who understands the game on a very deep level.
Here are 5 samples:
- Opening shot. Players frequently hit the same shot on their first attack of every match to show the opponent the hit they want them to try to take away. Rock explains that most players don’t use that same shot very often the rest of the match.
- Hitter’s head bob. Taking a quick look at the opposing defender before hitting allows you to make a better decision about where to put the ball, but you don’t want to look too early. If you do, Rock writes, you’ll be basing your decision on “old information.”
- Blocking in the wind. If you’re on the good side (with the wind in your face), it’s usually better to stay and block rather than dropping off because the wind will take the ball close to the net. Conversely, if the wind is at your back, it’s often a better choice to pull.
- Who takes the trickle serve? Contrary to what you might think, the person who should go for this serve is not the player who would have made the pass if the ball hadn’t hit the tape, Rock says. It’s the person who would have set. Why? The setter has already released toward the net, so he/she is closer to the ball.
- The fake block – a true weapon. The hitter thinks you’re off the net, then all of a sudden you’re in their face. A great way to stuff a ball or get a good touch.
When I asked Angela what her ultimate goal was for this book, here's what she said: “I just wanted to get it all out there. Everyone protects their own interests because you don’t want your opponent to know the chess game you’re playing with them. You don’t want anybody to know. This week’s friend is next week’s foe. I didn’t want future generations to suffer the same learning curve that I went through.”
Don Patterson is the editor of VolleyballUSA and DiG magazines and the senior content director for Art of Coaching. Previously, he was a sportswriter for the Los Angeles Times and an editor at CBS Sports.