- November 16, 2022
People in Florida usually have a good reason not to take up a new activity in the summer.
It is scorching outside.
On July 10, it was approximately 96 degrees at midday. The last thing I wanted to be during in that temperature was strenuous exercise in the sand.
Yet, that is what a brave group of athletes do on a regular basis at Waterside Park in Waterside Place at Lakewood Ranch.
They play beach volleyball.
These were not pros. They were barely amateurs, in fact. They were participants in Lakewood Ranch Community Activities' Volleyball for Beginners class, which is run by MVP Sports and Social's Chris McComas.
I was curious what type of person would sign up for such a class in the heat.
Would people seriously go to this length to make friends? Would older residents brave such heat to ease into a new activity? Would younger people who, for whatever reason, never learned the game in gym class choose such a time to learn?
Turns out the answer is yes.
The class started with the absolute basics — bumps and sets. McComas took a group of seven participants through each type of pass, noting that they want to use the flat part of their forearms for bumps. For sets, they want to form a spade pattern with their thumbs and pointer fingers and spread the rest of their fingers wide, getting under the ball and tapping it toward the sky, not at their teammate's chest.
After some initial struggles, the players began to learn and eventually delivered some perfect passes back to McComas — who, it should be noted, ran the class after playing in MVP's own Sunday beach volleyball league earlier that morning. The guy was clearly tired, but gave his best wisdom and charm to his participants anyway. He's a real pro.
After the basics were learned, McComas tested their dexterity.
He asked the participants to move to the left to receive a pass, come back to their starting position for a set, then move to the right to bump a third pass. Having to complete three passes while on the move proved more challenging, but for beginners, they did well.
After this part of practice, everyone took a water break — and the water break turned into a chat fest. They decided to get to know each other better instead of heading back into the heat for the final few minutes of practice. That was a smart decision to me.
While they talked and got to know each other, I got to know them too. Lakewood Ranch's Jackie Smith was there with her son Brandon Smith. The pair were there to enjoy a Sunday morning, but more than that, they were there to try something different.
Jackie Smith said she had dabbled with the sport on a recreational team while attending the University of South Florida. That wasn't competitive, but purely for fun. She felt she needed a refresher course before jumping into a league.
"I have played so little in my life that I felt this was my best bet," Jackie Smith said. "I'm going to keep working at it. We had a lot of fun and a lot of laughs."
Brandon Smith said he had never played the sport before, but McComas' teaching methods made him feel at ease right away. He ended up learning a lot and having a great time, he said.
Lakewood Ranch's Tom Wozniak, 68, got a bit of volleyball education at Maryville High in Cheektowaga, New York, and he played a few recreational matches up in Briarcliffe Manor, New York, where he previously lived. That was 35 years ago, he said.
"I am rusty," Wozniak said. "I needed to remember the moves and get back in shape. But I love anything involving outdoor sports except skydiving or bungee jumping. I love meeting people and I have played in some of the different MVP leagues before, so I wanted to give this a try."
Maria Cappai, who is originally from Long Island, had roughly the same amount of experience as Wozniak and the Smiths. In other words, not much. But Cappai picked up the sport quickly — perhaps, she said, because of her penchant for pickleball, which involves similar coordination, only with a paddle and not your arms and hands.
"Oh, this was great," Cappai said. "There's great people here and I even got a few good serves in."
McComas kept the practice light and played a high-energy mix of modern pop songs from a loudspeaker to keep the energy high. For anyone considering the class, there is no reason to be hesitant. The class was welcoming of all skill levels. I should also note, as an added bonus, the courts at Waterside Park are gorgeous.
There are four of them, allowing plenty of people to play at once, and the view of the courts against the backdrop of the park's lake is easy on the eyes. I will not pretend to be a beach volleyball sand expert, but the sand making up the courts was soft and did not get too hot, even in the extreme sunshine. That seems good for diving after spikes and other volleyball maneuvers. It was my first trip to the park, but it will not be the last.
It will not be the Volleyball for Beginners participants' last trip to the park either. After the hour-long session, everyone exchanged contact information so that they could form a "core" that sticks together and plays week after week. If you want a similar experience, you can sign up for the class at mylwr.com. It is free for Lakewood Ranch residents and $10 for non-residents.
The next Volleyball for Beginners class is not until Aug. 14, but the Lakewood Ranch Community Activities website has plenty of similar options, like a Volleyball for Kids class on July 17 and a Volleyball for Seniors class on July 23.
There's even a weekly event called Sunset Volleyball, held at 6 p.m. each Wednesday at Waterside Park. That one is a chance to get out of the midday heat, which I highly recommend. Florida is beautiful, but that sun can sure be unforgiving.