Interview with Danny Wood about the differences and similarities between the men’s game and women’s game

Dani Wood is one of the coaches on the world tour who worked with both genders at a high level. In this interview he answers how he worked with men compared to women and what he changed in his approach and what remained the same. If you are interested in switching from coaching men to coaching women or the other way round or if you just want to hear what an experience beach volleyball coach at the highest level has to say, this is a good read for you!

Short question – short answer: Is it 2 different games or are the styles so similar that you would call it the same game?

I can’t answer with a short answer, as this depends also on the ranking. Styles in 2020 are similar if we talk about the top ranked women teams; as much as we go lower in the ranking the difference between genders becomes bigger.

In which parts of the game are they the most similar?

Sideout and defence strategies (considering the differences I name later on in the interview)

In which parts of the game are they the most different (name them only – don’t explain)?

Serve, pulling, and block

What – now in detail – are for you the biggest differences?

In women, serve speed, and effectiveness in float serve is really important, and it is related to ranking (higher ranked teams usually serve better), while this kind of technique is not such a big factor in men. On the opposite, power jump serve is a big factor in the men’s game, being a big advantage in this gender.

Additionally, you see the power spin jump serve almost only in high ranked women’s team while on the men’s side, both kind of serves (spin and float) are used by top and  lower ranked teams. Of course all this is the consequence of the differences in anthropometric and athletic parameters as well as the different net height (2.24 vs. 2.43 m).

Dani Wood celebrating a medal at the world championships with his male team

About block and pulling, first let me explain why I think they are different. The proportion of points won by the serving and receiving team might be similar in men and women, but this comes, in my opinion, as a result of different actions, which vary distinctly in power in all elements, starting from the height of the blocks, to the smashing power spike at the net. Consequently the evident difference in muscular power between the two genders makes block techniques and tactics different, although I believe top teams in women, start to look more similar to men.

Dani with one of his female teams

And pulling off the net is a consequence of the other two big differences I mentioned before: the net heigh allows women to serve faster, and thereby keep the siding out team away from the net more often than in men’s. Also the power and jump of male players allow them to spike hard and with more distance from the net with success. That translates into the fact that in men, pulling is not as important as it is in women beach volleyball ( unless you were the coach of Baracceti/ Conde haha).

In terms of training technique (meaning: movement / motor execution: what exact movements should the body of the player do): are there elements or skills which differ between men and women? Do you teach different movement/technique to a boy/man than to a girl/woman??

I strongly believe that the net height should compensate for the anthropometric and muscular differences between genders, and in consequence women should play the same style as men. For example, I worked with my women teams to be always aggressive in their approach, and put power in all their moves, even when they come in for a shot or transition balls. I work more time on those aggressive approaches in women than in men, since male players do that more naturally anyway.

So I don’t teach different moves, but I do spend more time working in different skills in consequence of those physical differences. In men, I do spend more time improving the skills of my blockers, tactically and technically, than pulling for example. I also work more time in pulling and from different positions and situations with female teams.

The differences in the physical part of the game are obvious: what about the mental aspect – mindset, psychology: do you see differences there?

I believe that women have a different (more precise/detailed – in many occasions) perception of things and situations. As a joke, I always say that us men only have one neurone, and if a coach asks for something, we just do it. Girls have many more neurones than us, so with the same correction they think: “why did the coach corrected me’”, “will it work?”, “is his tone nice or angry??’”…”ok, I’ll do it”.

Now I was kidding a bit, but seriously:  do I see differences? We could have a full interview about it!

First let’s remember that we are always talking in general terms, and every person is different… there are many differences: for example, women tolerate pain to a higher point than men, and in consequence they are more sacrificed in terms of practicing.

They way of dealing with aggressiveness is also different: while women have more difficulty expressing it with striking behaviours and tend to live it more internally, men tend to show with external behaviours.

In both genders, self-confidence and self esteem is crucial for the sport, but I feel that in women, external things also influence more this confidence. In general women are much harder with theirselves facing sport failures.

I could go on and on… perception, anxiety, expressing feelings, nonverbal language interpretation, just to name some of them.

Looking back at the evolution of the game in the last 10 or 20 years: Have the styles of men and women game become more similar, more different or stay the same different/similar? Explain in detail!

I think that over the years the difference in the game between men and women has shortened quite a bit, but as I said before, I also think that it depends a lot on the ranking of the teams. While in men all the  32 Main Draw teams as well as the qualification tournament players ( around 16 or 18 of them) have a similar style, in women I think there is still a huge leap in level and style among the 24/26 first teams and the rest. Still, it is also true that 10 or 20 years ago the difference was between the 8 or 9 first teams and the rest.

As an example of both styles coming closer, I can name the World Championship in Hamburg last year: all the semifinalist teams, both men and women, had the physical pressure by the blockers on the net. That, 15 years ago was not as important, especially in women (with permission of Ricardo Santos, Fabio Luiz and Dalhausser , as big exceptions)

Do you believe that generally the women’s game is developing according to the men’s game, always with some years of delay? Or is the development more unique, depending on the specific characteristics (male and female physiology/strength/speed, and maybe also net height etc)?

Yes, I do think that the tendency is to follow the men’s game. With the differences (due to male/female physiology and net height) which I described before.

 Looking in the future: how will the men’s game and the women’s game develop? Will they become more similar?

There always will be those physical differences that will be  hard to break.

How they will develop? In my opinion, in the last years, we have seen men’s beach volleyball grow in centimetres, specially at the net, where blockers are bigger and bigger, and also with well coordinated and talented skills. Pressure at the net is crucial for men beach volleyball in 2020.  I believe that we will be seeing the same pattern in women, as the example I said before in the World Champs semifinal 2019.