Category Archives: Beach Volleyball

So You Want to be a Lawyer…and a Professional Athlete?

If Noah Webster was working furiously in 2011 to define the words to be compiled into his first Am American Dictionary of the English Language, after hearing this story, he’d likely rethink his definition of “ambitious.”

Most people in this world aspire to have one career.  Some never even get that far.  Thus, it’s aspirational for one to desire to have two careers, let alone to be successful at both.

In 2011, Bill Strickland defines “ambitious.”

Strickland is an attorney.

Strickland is also a professional athlete.

Amidst juggling two time-consuming careers, Strickland finds time to give back to his community by helping Karma Rescue, which saves dogs from kill shelters in Los Angeles.

And if his two careers and community service efforts aren’t enough for you, in 2009, a little lifestyle magazine by the name of Cosmopolitan named Strickland its California Cosmo Bachelor.

If someone who is an attorney, professional athlete, dog rescuer and the most eligible bachelor in the most populous state in the United States doesn’t define ambition, what does?

Strickland attended Stanford University where he was a member of the Men’s Volleyball team.  While at Stanford, Strickland pursued and ultimately graduated with a degree in Political Science.

After graduating from Stanford, Strickland decided to further his education by pursuing a law degree.  “I studied political science, so law school felt natural and I wanted to continue with my education,” said Strickland.

Law school provided Strickland with an opportunity to not only further his education, but to further his volleyball playing skills.  “I specifically chose a law school in Los Angeles to attend, so I could keep my toe in the ‘volleyball water’ so to speak,” said Strickland.

Entering law school in 2004, Strickland found time outside of studying for torts and constitutional law exams to develop his skills to a level which would allow him to become a professional volleyball player.  “I didn’t really think I could play professionally.  I started playing during the summers, because I was in L.A.  With school, you had a flexible schedule so you were able to get down to train,” said Strickland.

In 2007, what Strickland didn’t think was possible became a reality:  Strickland went pro in volleyball.  That same year, he graduated from law school.   “After graduating, I waited to take the bar examination.  I tried explaining to some of my teachers I was going to play volleyball and they thought I was crazy,” said Strickland.

Ultimately, Strickland sat for and passed the February 2007 California Bar Examination.  Thereafter, he worked for a law firm in El Segundo, CA.  Many lawyers have a difficult enough time balancing their first year of practice.  Can you imagine balancing your first year working as attorney while also developing your career as a professional athlete?  Strickland described his good career fortune by noting:

I was very fortunate.  The law firm I was at was in the South Bay [a location in California known for volleyball] so they understood and appreciated beach volleyball.  My boss was willing to work with me and be flexible.  I’ve been fortunate to find jobs with people who appreciate the athlete lifestyle and what I was trying to do.

While he was appreciative of the law firm which gave him his first post-graduate position and understood his training schedule, Strickland’s legal career path ultimately led to a natural destination:  general counsel for the Association of Volleyball Professionals.  If any employer understood Strickland’s need to balance his legal career with his career as a professional athlete, it would be the organizing body of the sport he played.

However, Strickland’s perfect marriage of careers ended in 201, when the AVP filed for bankruptcy.  In the aftermath of the AVP’s folding, Strickland found himself in a position familiar to many in the legal profession:  unemployed.  “It caught everyone off guard when the AVP folded up their business,” noted Strickland.

However, Strickland made the most of the cards handed to him.  Strickland explained:

I went back to the law firm I had previously worked at and I was working for them on a contract basis.  I did a little bit of traveling, too.  I think like everyone else, it was such a shock [the AVP filing for bankruptcy] which didn’t let anyone prepare for finding a new position after [working for] the AVP.  I took advantage of it by traveling.  I went to Peru and then over to Brazil.  I got to play a little volleyball in Brazil.  They had one of their big tournaments while I was there, so that was fun to see.  I’ve always heard the Brazilian players’ names, but I had never gotten to see them play, so getting to check that out was awesome.

Outside of working full-time, Strickland has a heavy training schedule:

I go twice a week on the sand, from 6:30-8:30 p.m.  The other days, I’m in the gym either in the morning, afternoons or evenings.  Monday, if I’m in the sand practicing, then Tuesday I’ll run steps or do a track workout.  On Wednesday we’re back in the sand in the evening.  Then Thursday, I’ll be in the gym lifting weights.  If there’s a tournament, I’ll rest a little on Friday, and do a light jog to clear out any cobwebs.

Strickland enjoys balancing two highly time-consuming careers.  He explains:

I think there is something nice of having the balance about it.  During the 2008 season, I wasn’t working.  Everything was just volleyball.  With volleyball there’s these necessary ups and downs.  And when you’re just focused on volleyball, those downs can seem like a black hole.

In his down time (if any truly exists), Strickland plays guitar and enjoys what he calls “regular stuff”–watching movies, hiking and playing the occasional video game.  He’s also become involved with Karma Rescue.  And since he was Cosmo’s California Bachelor in 2009, there’s likely the occasional groupie to fend off.  However, Strickland is fairly modest when it comes to groupies, reasoning, ” My partner has all of the groupies.  He’s the better looking one.  Unfortunately [for the groupies], he has a wife.”

A flock of groupies following him or not, one thing is certain:  Strickland’s full-fledged pursuit of two careers is nothing short of ambitious.

This is the first story in RulingSports.com’s “Professional” series, discussing attorneys working in the world of sports.

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The Manhattan Beach Open: A Rebirth

Beach volleyball should be the most popular sport in the world.

The sport’s name boasts a reason in and of itself why beach volleyball should be regarded as the world’s most popular sport:  it’s played on the beach.  Players and spectators alike enjoy the sounds of crashing waves nearby and work on perfecting sun-kissed tans, all whilst watching a fast-paced and enthralling game.

Outside of its geographic advantage, the players who grace the sandy courts provide another basis for the sport’s deserving dominance.  Professional beach volleyball players embody the word “athlete.”  These men and women are fierce competitors whose physical prowess is so great that they don’t even need to protect their feet from the 100-plus degree sand that is their court with shoes.  Shoes are for amateurs.  Their physical stature makes Michelangelo’s David look obese, as every player is cut enough to be a walking spokesperson for the Ab Roller.

Their athleticism is paramount and on par with other professional athletes of the highest caliber.  Yet, what makes professional beach volleyball players unique is their relationship with the community that supports them.  Fans refer to players as “friends” and can quickly rattle off an assortment of facts about each player, ranging from simple ones like hometowns to more involved tidbits like parents’ professions.  Sports writers (at least this one) are taken back by the genuine friendliness of the athletes, to the point that upon completion of interviews, they contemplate whether it would be inappropriate to suggest striking up a friendship and grabbing lunch sometime.

Beach volleyball shares other particularities with those sports deemed the “most popular” by general society.  The National Anthem is sung before matches, albeit not by major recording artists, but by the likes of Los Angeles’ Best Dog Walker (it’s no lie–this woman can sing and walk dogs).  Overzealous fans seeking camera attention pop up in the stands intermittently to perform whatever wacky task is necessary to gain attention.  Pretty girls in string bikinis and really short shorts throw a random assortment of junk into the crowd to engage fans.  And like the “most popular” sports, beach volleyball isn’t immune to bad officiating.  Matches are delayed for serious periods of time whilst players debate bad calls, going so far as to punch nets to demonstrate their distaste over a call.

The case for why beach volleyball should be the most popular sport in the world is clear.

However, unlike the Superbowl, World Series, and NBA Finals, the future of beach volleyball’s pinnacle event, the Manhattan Beach Open, was recently jeopardized.

Debuting in 1960, the Manhattan Beach Open is viewed as the “grand daddy of beach volleyball tournaments.”

“Other than the Olympics, it is the biggest volleyball event for pretty much anyone that is playing domestically.  This is like the mother lode of it all.  Your name goes on the pier [winners’ names are engraved on plaques placed on the Manhattan Beach Pier].  The whole town comes out to watch.  People drive from two to three hours away to watch.  It’s a pretty big deal,” said player Jesse Rambis.

In the tournament’s 50th year of existence, the Manhattan Beach Open was set to be part of the Association of Volleyball Professionals’ (“AVP”) 2010 tour.  However, on August 13, 2010–less than two weeks before the 2010 Manhattan Beach Open–the AVP folded.

Thereafter, on October 29, 2010, the AVP filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.  The AVP’s bankruptcy petition reads like a who’s-who of sports:  creditors named included ESPN, while shareholders listed included New Jersey Nets CEO Brett Yormark, Fox Sports Net, bigwig sports agent Leigh Steinberg, and Major League Baseball.  Shaq even threw himself into the shareholder mix.

With the AVP closing its doors on the heels of the 2010 Manhattan Beach Open, the City of Manhattan Beach moved swiftly to ensure that the tournament was held.  “It was a bit of a stretch to run anything professional at that stage.  The City did what they could to put together something for the 50th anniversary.  There were no bleachers, no stadium, no real infrastructure or sponsor village.  It was just an old school beach tournament,” said player and AVP employee, Hans Stolfus.

The City of Manhattan Beach was not alone in the pressure felt from the AVP’s demise.  “It was pretty earth shattering for me.  My number one goal in life was to be on the AVP and succeed on the AVP.  It consumed my entire life.  And all of a sudden,  it just exploded.  It seemed like there was nothing.  30 people depended on pro beach volleyball for their livelihood, and all the sudden it was taken away,” said player Bill Strickland.

With 30 people depending on professional beach volleyball for their livelihood, evaporation of the AVP caused many players to seek income elsewhere.  Because many players now work typical 9-5 jobs, players are forced into a difficult corner when trying to train for the sport.   “There’s not as many guys to train with.  Most of these guys have jobs.  We’re calling and we almost get the same team, over and over again, to train with because everybody has to work. So it’s really tough out there right now.  Hopefully guys can start looking to train a lot more and maybe find part-time work and the level of play will come up.” said 2011 Manhattan Beach Open champion John Hyden.

Beach volleyball has turned a page since 2010.  In 2011, the Manhattan Beach Open experienced a rebirth.

In 2011, the grandstands returned to the beach and a sizable $200,000 purse awaited the tournament’s winners when the City of Manhattan Beach partnered with IMG and USA Volleyball to produce the event, which was sponsored by Jose Cuervo.  ” I actually feel like I’m at one of the AVP events this year, which is really nice,” said player Duncan Budinger.

The event also received a boost in media attention when another professional athlete threatened by his sport’s economy took his skills from the basketball court to the sand court.  NBA All-Star and Minnesota Timberwolves Forward-Center Kevin Love teamed up with Hans Stolfus for the tournament.  “Kevin Love brings a lot of media attention to the sport. . . Believe it or not, it was not nearly as profitable for Kevin Love as everyone thinks, like some sort of massive contract.  He wanted to play. . . But, the reality is it brought a lot of media attention that wouldn’t have come otherwise and that’s big for the sport.  We need positives at this stage,” said Stolfus.

The leadership surrounding the event along with the players who devote much of their lives to the sport, seem poised to ensure that the 2012 Manhattan Beach Open builds upon the momentum gained in 2011.

Dave Williams, Managing Director of Beach Programs for USA Volleyball believes that the new production model adopted by the tournament in 2011 is necessary for the tournament’s continued success.  “I always believe that events can make money, tours lose money.  I think that the administration of the tour became so cumbersome that it financially crushed the AVP,” said Williams.

Stolfus echoed Williams’ sentiments of the need to outsource production of tournaments.  “Just like the ATP and PGA, we need promoters to run and operate events, versus [paying for all events] with one checkbook, which is what the AVP had done for the last 10 years.  It’s just not financially viable,” said Stolfus.

Stolfus’ thoughts expand beyond the production of beach volleyball tournaments and delve into how the AVP must restructure itself to sustain the sport of beach volleyball.

“You need obviously, solid leadership.  You need a great marketing platform.  You need a positive guerilla outreach.  You really need to be able to go out and reach the fans who are playing the game and restore their faith in the brand.  You need an operational model that is sustainable—not six semi-trucks driving coast to coast, setting up events and costing us hundreds and hundreds of thousands of dollars before we’re even getting a dollar back,” said Stolfus.

While the infrastructure and organizational goals which will define the Manhattan Beach Open and AVP in the future are to be seen, one thing is for sure:  the men and women devoting their lives to this sport deserve first-class leadership, sponsorship opportunities and fan bases.

Because you see, beach volleyball should be the most popular sport in the world.

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